LeBron must keep his head in game

LeBron James will need to keep his head in the game off the court to become of the game's greats.

Updated: November 3, 2003, 5:07 PM ET
By Bill Walton | Special to ESPN.com

Paradise awaits
on the crest of a wave, her angels in flames

LeBron James
After LeBron scored or assisted on 24 of Cleveland's 39 baskets, how can we not show his picture?
In case you might have missed it: LeBron James started his NBA career last week. One of the biggest keys for his long-term success will be whether or not he'll be able to keep all the extraneous "stuff" that comes his way at enough of a distance so he can deliver on the court. One of the real tributes to all the great ones -- particularly those who have played more recently in the growing blend of sports and entertainment -- was their ability to never let the show get in the way of the game.

But in watching LeBron's team play -- to say nothing of the majority of the league -- I'm always amazed why everybody is so intent on playing the entire game the way Michael Jordan used to play the closing ticks of a 24-second possession. And how long will it be, now that LeBron only scored eight points in his last game at Portland on Saturday night, before people start piling on the way they did with Yao Ming a year ago? Remember all the way back to the start of last season, when Yao showed up on the eve of the regular season, and he couldn't get started? That certainly is not the case for Yao now, who through his first two games has only missed six shots. Can another of Wilt's most sacred records -- that of shooting 73 percent from the field for an entire season -- be in jeopardy? What will be the last of Wilt's records to fall? I'm not going to go within 20,000 leagues of that one.

She has no pain
Like a child she is pure, she is not to blame

  • Got to go to the Lakers game Sunday night at Staples against the Warriors -- as a dad. And while those times are always special, there is nothing quite like the first time. The first time for me took place just a few weeks ago at the exhibition game between the Lakers and the LeBron Cavaliers. To be there, at Staples -- the stadium of champions -- to see our son, Luke, play in his new home in an NBA game was beyond description. The chants of "Luuuuke!" rolling through the halls, the longtime Lakers fans teasing me about smiling so much, as small tears of pride trickled down my cheek. In the second half, things started to go the Lakers' way. Luke was playing with Gary Payton and Karl Malone and chatting it up on the bench with Shaquille O'Neal. There was a particular play involving multiple players including Luke and Malone that drew a resounding roar from the masses. Beaming and applauding politely from my seat, I felt a light tap on my shoulder. Looking to my right, there was Hall of Famer James Worthy telling me that he had now seen it all: me, at Staples, in a gold T-shirt, clapping for Karl Malone. My, oh My!!! What a long strange trip it's been ...

    Poised for flight, wings spread bright
    Spring from night into the sun

  • With the burgeoning feud in the world of superstar entertainers about who's better and more important, the biggest surprise for me at the Lakers game at Staples on Sunday night was that Sting and Rod Stewart did not sing the National Anthem as a duet before the game.

    Tell me the cost
    I can pay, let me go, tell me love is not lost

  • By the way, the Lakers are pretty good. They are now only 31 games shy of the all-time record for consecutive victories to say nothing of the mere 79 needed for that perfect, undefeated season. How nice it is when you're better than your opponent at every position. You forget how good a guy like Payton is after all those years on bad teams and how flawless his game is now that all he has to do is his job. With such great individual talent in L.A. -- defense, size, athleticism and rebounding prowess at every position -- you better have a real game and be ready to do some serious board work if you're even going to have a chance. We'll find out a lot more this week as the Lakers take to the road with the most important stop Thursday in San Antonio. One can only hope that things will get better -- much better -- for Rasho Nesterovic and soon. Spurs fans have been crooning "Where have you gone, Mr. Robinson?" as they turn their lonely eyes to Rasho's five-point, five-rebound averages for his first week. Fortunately, day trading has gone out of style and Larry Brown is now in Detroit.

    Sell everything
    Without love today, insanity's king

  • Speaking of Detroit, who was the more satisfied victor this past weekend: Rick Carlisle in his classy and triumphant win over his former Pistons, or Darrell Armstrong leading the Hornets at Orlando? When will they ever learn? Now that New Orleans has started out 3-0, without Jamal Mashburn, the statisticians are scrambling to calculate how long, at this pace, will it take Tim Floyd to no longer be, numerically, the worst coach in the history of the NBA.

  • I noticed that Ray Allen had "successful" surgery the other day. What does that mean? That the doctor got paid? That the insurance check cleared? That the patient didn't die? This surgery will be "successful" when Ray Allen is playing again like the All World Player and person that he is.

    Crippled but free
    I was blind by the time I was learning to see

  • Granted it took place on the other side of the world, but did anybody else notice that Elton Brand in the Clippers opener had 21 points, 15 rebounds and eight blocks while playing most of the game on a broken foot? Elton is either the greatest player ever or Seattle has the worst frontcourt in NBA history.

    Help on the way
    Well I only know this, I've got you today
    Don't fly away
    'Cause I love what I love and I want it that way

  • It must be so frustrating for veterans like Charles Oakley, LaPhonso Ellis, Shawn Kemp and Mark Jackson -- all still more than capable -- who are all sitting at home, watching an ever younger league, waiting for that phone to ring with an offer to restart their careers. Solace and inspiration can most certainly be found in Cher, who in Toronto just last Friday night -- on Halloween, no less -- wrapped up the biggest and most successful tour ever by a female artist.

    Without love in the dream, it'll never come true

  • I know it's early but I don't think that the Washington Wizards are going to lead the NBA in road attendance this year.

    In another time's forgotten space
    Your eyes looked from your mother's face

  • In Salt Lake City on opening night last week -- in front of the smallest home opening crowd in the history of the Delta Center, Carlos Arroyo lit up the Trail Blazers with 18 points and 13 assists. Jazz fans pranced out into the night wondering, "What was that guy John's last name anyway?" With lowered expectations, an outstanding preseason and a solid start, might this be the year that Jerry Sloan, now in his 16th season with the same team, finally wins his first Coach of the Year award? I know you're not worried about this Jerry, but you can find consolation in the fact that both Jack Ramsay and Chuck Daly -- who are both in the Hall of Fame and were named two of the top 10 greatest coaches in NBA history -- never won the Coach of the Year award.

    Wildflower seed on the sand and stone
    May the four winds blow you safely home

  • Let me get this straight. Stephen Jackson, who started in the backcourt for the world champion San Antonio Spurs last season, turned down five times the money from San Antonio to go play for the Atlanta Hawks. And now Stephen is bad-mouthing his former employers in Texas who wanted to pay him $10 million to play basketball alongside Tim Duncan. Were the new Hawks owners -- who worked the concourse at the Phillips Arena prior to the league opener -- really welcoming the few remaining diehards, or were they seeking psychiatric help for poor Stephen?

    I tell you where the four winds blow
    In Franklin's Tower there hangs a bell

  • This is such a feel-good time of year, everybody still so optimistic about their chances before the wheels have a chance to fall off. But you have to be particularly happy for Vince Carter and Vin Baker who seem to have gotten things back together. The same cannot be said about the Bulls, Heat, Magic and 76ers. At least the Sixers can point to the absence of the Big Dog -- I don't know if the other guys can dig deep enough to find anything remotely close to plausible deniability. But then again, that nickname -- The Big Dog -- like most everything, can be interpreted in more ways than one.

    It can ring, turn night to day
    It can ring like fire when you lose your way

  • How can Ron Artest miss the Pacers' charter plane to the league opener? What could he possibly have been doing? The last time he had ANY responsibility or obligation whatsoever was in APRIL.

  • Watching Eddy Curry trying to run up and down the court with his pants constantly falling down elicits distressing memories of the mantra for the aging ones: "Pull your pants up, turn your hat around and get a job."

    God save the child who rings that bell
    It may have one good ring, baby, you can't tell

    In the words of Danny Ainge, white shoes (at home) represent a 'perception of quickness.' Is it somehow better to be perceived as slow on the road? Danny needs an emergency session with his brain doctor.
  • Please, tell me that this isn't true: The Boston Celtics, who have traditionally worn black shoes -- allegedly because they didn't show the dirt and wouldn't have to be replaced so soon -- are now going to wear white shoes at home? In the words of Danny Ainge, white shoes represent a "perception of quickness." Is it somehow better to be perceived as slow on the road? Danny needs an emergency session with his brain doctor.

    Some come to laugh their past away
    Some come to make it just one more day

  • With all the buildup for LeBron and Carmelo, it was tough to find out that T.J. Ford had a pretty nice debut himself. He came within three assists of becoming only the second player ever -- after Oscar Robertson -- to record a triple-double in his first NBA game. But before we get too carried away in our hype-driven world, let's never forget that Oscar averaged a cumulative triple double for his first five years in the NBA, after playing in two Final Fours for the University of Cincinnati. Oscar was generally regarded as one of the three greatest players ever -- along with Wilt and Kareem. Of course, all of this took place before the invention of SportsCenter. So many will question whether it even took place at all.

  • Before jumping back to our demographics of teenage boys here at ESPN, I can't express how much I'm looking forward to spending time with Hubie Brown this Wednesday in Portland. After watching what Jack McKeon did with the Florida Marlins and what Dick Vermeil is doing with the Kansas City Chiefs, one can only ask why we're always in such a rush to say goodbye to the master teachers.

    Whichever way your pleasure tends
    If you plant ice, you're going to harvest wind

  • In case you missed this: LeBron and Carmelo are going to be playing each other this week. And while LeBron is a once in a lifetime talent, physically gifted and developed like few in the history of upright Homo sapiens, Carmelo is more of a throwback to only 20 years ago when scoring small forwards roamed the water planet. Guys like Alex English, Marques Johnson, Dr. J, Larry Bird, Kiki Vandeweghe, Adrian Dantley and Dominique Wilkins. Of course most of this was pre-SportsCenter as well, to say nothing of the giant meteors hitting the earth.

  • If you look real close during this Wednesday's telecast, try to pick up in the background one Chris Anderson. This guy -- who never really made it to college and was the first ever callup from the NBDL -- is a top 20 talent in the NBA. Watch out for HIM if he ever figures it out.

    In Franklin's Tower the four winds sleep
    Like four lean hounds the lighthouse keep

  • Kobe Bryant, remember him? He should go and take a real long walk on the beach before he ever even thinks once about leaving the Lakers

    One watch by night, one watch by day
    If you get confused, listen to the music play

  • I love this game.

    Roll away ... the dew

    Bill Walton, who is a regular contributor to ESPN.com, is an NBA analyst for ESPN.

    ESPN.com NBA Insider and Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton will again serve as a game analyst for ESPN's NBA telecasts. He joined ESPN and ABC Sports' in their inaugural season of NBA coverage in 2002.
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