Time to get mad, LeBron

Updated: December 2, 2003, 7:13 PM ET
By Bill Walton | Special to ESPN.com

    I married me a wife
    She's been trouble all my life
    Left me out in the cold rain and snow

I would like to say that it was a glorious Thanksgiving weekend spent in my newest favorite place, Detroit. But that would be disingenuous. And while it would be easy to blame the snow, sleet, ice and freezing, driving rain -- to say nothing of the lack of heat, the failed Internet connections and the unresponsive phone system in my hotel room, I know better. The one, if not the only, thing that Ronald Reagan ever said that I even somewhat agreed with was that, "If the Pilgrims had landed in California, the East Coast would still be a wilderness." Even that, though, turned out to be yet another falsehood.

I learned firsthand during my short stint with the Celtics in the mid-1980s that life in the East can be as grand as can be. Growing up in San Diego, I was very concerned about what the New England winters would be like until I experienced them up close and personal. I discovered that playing for Larry Bird was like living on a tropical island replete with warm, soothing ocean breezes. Which made this Thanksgiving weekend -- where we traditionally acknowledge and appreciate all of our blessings -- particularly disturbing. We can all be so grateful for what we think LeBron James will eventually do for the NBA, but right now, it is not happening. And with so much of our lives and the national TV schedule based on his existence, we can only hope today that our travel itineraries with LeBron take us primarily to Phoenix, L.A., Houston, San Antonio and Florida.

    You've got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend

The problems don't seem to be with the Cleveland Cavaliers, arguably the most improved team, talent-wise, in the Eastern Conference. The problems don't seem to be with the lack of talent surrounding LeBron, although most of it at this point is still undeveloped, raw potential. The problem doesn't seem to be the coach -- Paul Silas is apparently doing all the right things, on and off the court. Sadly, for those of us so excited by the emergence of LeBron, more and more the problem seems to be LeBron and the way he's playing.

There will be the early apologists for LeBron as his team has struggled mightily out of the starting gate. He's so young. He's not ready. His team is so bad. Some of his teammates still need to be purged of the culture of self-absorption. No one could ever live up to the hype. He's not a skilled enough performer -- yet -- in a game based ultimately on refined skills. The list of excuses can go on indefinitely. But the dike is starting to spring some ever expanding leaks.

I admit that LeBron is taking on a daunting task, joining one of the worst situations in the history of the NBA and in his hometown to boot. But he is not the first to go down this unsavory path. Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, David Robinson -- to name just a few -- were in relatively similar situations. Their immediate contributions to remarkable turnarounds are well-documented. And while each and every fairy tale has its own particular extenuating circumstances, the obstacles for LeBron have not so much to do with what he can't do but more so with what he's not doing.

Great, historical-level players make their mark with their style, impact and competitive greatness. They all possess tremendous leadership qualities that pull a group together and make the team collectively far superior than any of the individual parts. The real special ones also bring a level of toughness, meanness and downright nastiness to the game that is unpleasant for those who think that this is just a job.

LeBron, you need to call somebody out. Instigate an altercation. Force the road crowd to boo you because you are here to fight and win. Slam the ball down -- or better yet, throw it into the stands after a bad call.
It was not fun to be in a game with any truly great player unless you thought that this was very serious business. The best, at anything, punish you mentally, physically, spiritually -- heck, every which way -- in their single-minded drive for success. This is not about smiling and being nice but rather about taking what you think is yours. Despite nice fantasy numbers in Saturday's double OT loss to Memphis, LeBron is struggling and seemingly spiraling downhill. Now is the time for an abrupt about face because he is in the battle for the soul of his team.

Now is the time to take over, to make an unmistakable and unwavering stand. Now is the time to start shooting a lot and putting up big numbers. Heck, you can miss as easily as the other guys. Now is the time to start challenging your teammates for their shortcomings, insisting and demanding accountability on a daily basis. Now is the time to lead with an elbow into the upper torso of a hard-charging opponent. Now is the time to get in the face of a referee who is making calls out of habit against a perpetually losing franchise. Now is the time to shed the niceties about how wonderful this all is.

LeBron, you need to call somebody out. Instigate an altercation. Force the road crowd to boo you because you are here to fight and win. Slam the ball down -- or better yet, throw it into the stands after a bad call. Express your frustration and dissatisfaction with losing to the media. Get mad. Show us that you care that it's not working. Don't leave it up to your coach -- or anybody else for that matter -- to do the dirty work. There are so many different ways to get to where you want to go but remaining passive and docile is certainly not one of them.

Jordan, Bird and Magic had a remarkable ability to get everyone on their side -- even the opponents. But they did it with a level of visual effort and commitment that made everybody want to be on their team. Even the other, often losing, team's fans left completely satisfied.

Bill Russell, Wilt, Kareem and Shaq came at you with determined sheer force, physical presence and anger that you simply could not escape. But they left town with your undying admiration, respect and even jealousy.

Oscar and Jerry West overwhelmed and ultimately converted you to their side with their passion and obvious love of a good fight.

Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and Dennis Rodman came to start a fight with anybody and everybody -- including the fans, refs, whomever. They wanted to be hated. ... They wanted the fans to yell, scream, throw things and boo at them.

They did this because they all had to win. They all knew that it takes everything and more to get there. Because that is what this is all about. LeBron, you've been around the block one time, now. What are you waiting for?

Bill Walton, who is a regular contributor to ESPN.com, is an NBA analyst for ESPN. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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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