Wednesday, January 7, 2004
Hype fit for a King James
By Bill Simmons Page 2 columnist
Editor's Note: This column appears in the Jan. 19 edition of ESPN The Magazine.
I have an acerbic New Yorker for an editor. Just my luck. A grizzled Jets fan, he loves playing devil's advocate with my ideas. Then again, sometimes I need him -- he keeps me from writing columns like "Who'd win a game of H-O-R-S-E between Larry Bird and Jesus?" and "How Rocky Balboa Ended the Cold War." But when I wanted to write about LeBron this week, his response was as predictable as a Quincy Carter underthrow.
Go ahead, make the comparison.
What else is there to say?
Well, plenty. Someone as gifted as LeBron can't be hyped enough. A high schooler becomes one of the best 15 players in the league in three bleeping months? My buddy House and I discussed him for 20 minutes last week. "How can people not see this?" we kept saying. "How can they not see what's happening here?" When LeBron hits his prime, surrounded by quality shooters and big guys who can run the floor, he'll toss up a triple-double for an entire season. Comfortably. We're talking 33/12/13 every night. Ever think you'd see those numbers? Has there ever been a one-man Roto team?
Many of you were deceived by those first few weeks, when LeBron's clueless coach had him starting plays 35 feet from the basket. Every possession looked like the final frantic play of a quarter. Did they even have a playbook? If that wasn't bad enough, LeBron was saddled with the most inept supporting cast since Michael J. Fox in "Teen Wolf", led by the delusional Ricky Davis, who refused to relinquish control of the team. It was like Yanni battling young Mozart for the piano. Once Davis was sent packing, Paul Silas emerged from his coma and started running LeBron off picks. Now LeBron is playing like a Dream Teamer. Not that the guys who made up their minds about him in those first few weeks would know that.
Meanwhile, NBA diehards like House and myself -- the ones who revere the Showtime Lakers, the '86 Celts, Walton's Blazers, the '70 Knicks, Unseld's outlets, Barry's jumper-passes -- are going bonkers. The savior has arrived. LeBron sees everything in slow motion -- he's always thinking two moves ahead, like he's playing chess. If I dribble here, this guy moves there, that guy moves here and then this should happen. Not since Magic or Bird has someone connected with teammates like this. He controls his body in traffic like MJ. Explodes to the rim like Dr. J. Manages a game like Isiah. From what I've seen, there's nothing he can't do ... except convince skeptics he's worth the hype.
From day one, casual fans cringed at the stories about Hummers, resented his income, bristled at the incredible attention. Heck, even I wrote something negative about him. And with the nonstop Jordan comparisons -- which are wrong, since he plays like a more athletic Magic -- some inevitably expected LeBron to dunk on everyone and score 50 a game. Instead, on the wrong night, they saw a cocky kid with a crooked jumper, an overmatched teenager playing out of position on a crummy team. So they pulled a Lloyd Bentsen: "I watched MJ, I cheered for MJ. You're no MJ."
But doesn't that say something about us? With everyone in such a rush these days, we never give anything a chance. Why spend time forming an opinion when we can make a hurried evaluation and move onto something else? For many, sampling LeBron was like trying out the new Chicken McNuggets: "Yeah, I saw him once, he wasn't that good." And that was that.
Well, if that's you, you're missing out. Watching LeBron blossom -- a once-in-a-generation player learning on the job -- has been one of the most rewarding fan experiences I can remember. It's like my dad once said about Bobby Orr: "You stayed home every night to see what he'd do next." I get to say that about LeBron's rookie season someday.
And it won't even be hype.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine, as well as one of the writers for "Jimmy Kimmel Live" on ABC