Tag Archives: Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron James Is A Great Storyteller

 

Every good story has four elements. The first three are provided by the storyteller be it a novelist, director, or playwright. The last is provided by the audience be it a reader, moviegoer, or a person who watches plays (there is no name for this, I checked). There are of course other elements to consider but, these are the absolute basics. The first three basics are provided by the storyteller and are a beginning, a middle, and an end. The last basic element, courtesy of the audience, is belief. Every story starts somewhere, goes somewhere, and ends somewhere. A good story is then believed by the people who see it. This is true no matter how fantastic or whimsical a story. If the audience believes in the story, it’s real.

LeBron James believes the story, as do we all. It’s why he went back to Cleveland and, it’s why we’re all okay with it. This, by the way, is not to say that LeBron James needs permission to go back to Cleveland but the last time he made A Decision everyone was markedly not okay with it.

James told his story starting from the beginning, in an essay he wrote in collaboration with Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated explaining his decision to return to Cleveland. This is an interesting choice when you think about it. He could have just written about his love for Cleveland and Northeast Ohio, followed by his decision to go back home but, he didn’t. He chose instead to tell a story. His story. In his essay he explains the familial relationship he has with Ohio as well as his roots there.

Now the more cynical among us may think LeBron is selling a bunch of hock, just like he did four years ago. The more cynical among us would simply believe that he’s better at it now. The more cynical among us would be absolutely wrong of course. This is because LeBron wasn’t selling anything four years ago either. He was just believing in another part of the story.

Rewind to four years ago. A 25 year old LeBron James looks into the camera and says he’s taking his talents to South Beach and to the Miami Heat. He would later say he was shocked by the reaction he got. Why? Because LeBron tried to make his departure the spectacle everyone wanted, which backfired, as plans of that nature are ought to do. The narrative that should have played out is every sports analysts wet dream (the way the Cleveland return actually did turn out). The best player in the league takes a massive pay cut to try and win multiple titles with his friends. He selflessly turns aside money in the name of team work and winning. Any rational person knows that this totally works on paper. Theoretically it’s a good story. Hell, it’s a even a great story.

A bizarre thing happened though. Somewhere between LeBron’s good intentions and the broadcast of The Decision, the media and fans hi-jacked the story and changed it. They didn’t believe the story line given to them so they turned into something else. Something worse. They turned into the story of a man arrogant enough to air a half hour special about himself. They turned it into the story of a superstar unable to win a title, unfairly teaming up with other stars to finish a singular superstar’s job. Mostly though, astonished media and hurt fans turned it into the story of a traitor who betrayed his hometown for a more glamorous city.

Faster than it took the nickname “the Heatles” to stick, Lebron had become the villain in his own story. He wanted to be the hero but, instead was wearing the black hat.

The only thing that clears up that kind of stink is winning. The revamped Miami Heat did just that, notching 54 wins in their first season together. They did however have some perplexing losing streaks in the 2010-2011 campaign, which only exacerbated the learning curve that James had to overcome in playing with his teammates. That struggle and eventual Finals defeat at the hands of the underdog Dallas Mavericks gave everyone the storyline most near and dear to every sports fan’s heart. Hatred.

Lebron, very much not wanting to be the villain, was not just considered a villain but a defeated one. A Finals victory would have cleared the air, instead fans and media alike took some twisted joy in Miami’s defeat. The Big 3 as they had become known had everything about them questions from their ability to win together to their actual desire to win basketball games. To overcome the villainous title thrust upon him James had to become something he had never been before. An NBA Champion.

On October 29, 2003 LeBron James was becoming something he had never been before. An NBA player. The Sacramento Kings hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers as the first chapter of LeBron’s NBA career had officially begun. Cleveland lost the game but, with the brilliance of the rookie LeBron was on full display, they gained so much more. The Cavs gained the notion that this guy was special and that his story with them was far from over. LeBron, at just 18 years old, dominated the game. The kid was supposed to be raw. He wasn’t. He wasn’t supposed to be able to shoot. Yet he was making shots. He showed a tremendous feel for the game, as though he had been in the league for years. His jumpers fell. Not just the open ones either. On one play LeBron had the ball as the shot clock was running down, he pivoted to his right, elevated and leaned back, he released a high arcing fade away. Everyone knew it was going in and down it went. LeBron James was a natural.

It’s the summer of 2014 and LeBron James is 29 years old. He’s at the point in a player’s career where they begin to think about their legacy. He’s a superstar with two NBA championships, he’s been a future Hall of Famer for a while now, and he’s still in the middle of his prime. It’s the middle of the story. The 29 year old LeBron James headed back to Cleveland is still a natural but he is now at the height of his powers. James has never been better. He’s never been more popular, in fact, after his decision to return to Cleveland, LeBron James surpassed Michael Jordan as the most popular athlete in America. So, what’s next?

A story that has belief also has challenges (if not physical ones then mental ones). Nobody wants to see a hero traipse unencumbered from goal to goal, only stopping to wonder occasionally why life is so incredibly easy. It’s not entertaining and it’s not at all like real life (after all we like stories to remind us of ourselves). LeBron became the most popular athlete post-Cleveland Return. In so doing he must overcome the inherent challenges in it. There are a lot of them.

This is by far LeBron’s most inexperienced team so far, featuring a bunch of youngsters, who not unlike you or I have only seen the NBA playoffs on TV. Just months ago that locker room had a level of dysfunction bordering on complete implosion. The stories coming out of Cleveland were soap opera-esque; Tristan Thompson was accusing Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving of playing buddy ball, passing to just each other, and not getting him involved. After a 3-6 start punctuated by a 29 point loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, there was a players only meeting that allegedly got confrontational. In short, the team was a mess.

Belief is a necessary part of storytelling involving the audience buying into what ever the story is. Who is telling this story? The LeBron story I mean, not the Irving-Waiters-Thompson fiasco. Whose narrative is important here? Is it the media who would have you believe that LeBron going to Miami is an example of his childishness; while his return to Cleveland somehow makes him a paragon of maturation? Is it the fans who spurned James for taking less to win but, rejoiced when he took more to back home and possibly win less? Is it LeBron who insisted that his return to Cleveland and inspire the boys and girls of Northern Ohio? It’s also possible that there is no story at all and that everyone involved you, me, ESPN, and LeBron are all choosing the parts of his life we would most like to romanticize. This inevitably says more about us than the story we’re observing.

The funny thing about sports and in this case, basketball is that while the games are played inside some painted lines, it’s the things that happen outside the lines that seem to impact people the most. There is a blurring of the lines between storyteller and audience that makes it hard to figure out who is commenting on whom. Examples of this are Isiah Thomas’ remarks that if Larry Bird were black he’d be ‘just another good guy’, or Magic Johnson contracting HIV, and the hilarious rivalry of Reggie Miller and Spike Lee. Those moments had a direct impact on how we viewed those players even as they continued their jobs inside the lines.

Each party has a say; the fans, the media, and players alike. Each party believes the story belongs to them. The story really doesn’t belong to anybody but, there is a power of equality in the misconception. If we all believe we own the story, then in a weird way, actually do own it. What makes LeBron special, apart from his freakish athleticism and eidetic memory, is that he figured it out. He’s owned the beginning and middle of his story. He also knows how he wants it to end. He wanted and needed the rest of us to believe it too. And you know what? We did.

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Young Teams Rise In The East

The thing about the NBA is that, very much like pop music, it’s all about star power. That, and depth I suppose, but mostly star power. Almost always in the NBA, the team with the best stars win. You could build a band with Ringo Starr and Ronnie Wood if you wanted to but, I’d imagine that Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger sell the tickets. Likewise, it’s not impossible to build a good team with Chris Bosh and Joakim Noah but, the star power lies with Lebron James and Derrick Rose.

The NBA’s eastern conference has had a bit of a shake up in the last couple of years. A few stars have changed teams, and hopefully a few future stars have been drafted into the league. This has given some teams in the east the ability to, for the first time in years, make it to the playoffs.

Wizards point guard John Wall (left) and Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving (right).

The Cleveland Cavaliers are going to be in post season contention if they can stay healthy. They have a number of pieces at their disposal and some potential stars. They’ve made some moves that give them an opportunity to be in the post season for the first time since Lebron James left.

Two years in, and Kyrie Irving is an emerging star. He’s an extremely reliable scorer, has handles for days, is great in crunch time and has court vision to boot. Apart from making Jason Kidd, Brandon Knight and Damian Lillard look silly; Kyrie specializes in shooting. He shoots the ball very well from basically everywhere on the floor. While he does lack a strong defensive presence, he always a threat on offense getting easy shots for both himself and his teammates.

Andrew Bynum is an all star caliber center who averages a double-double when healthy. His biggest problem being, of course, that he is not always healthy (or ever; in the case of the Philadelphia 76ers who never once saw Bynum play a regular season game in their uniform). Andrew Bynum is the perfect example of a player that is worth the risks taken on him. He’s a legitimate 7 footer with a variety of useful and often times crafty post moves. While Andrew Bynum may have red flags concerning his maturity but, he is worth the risk if he plays up to his potential.

Anthony Bennett is the number 1 overall pick in this year’s draft. This came as a surprise to many but, not too surprising since Cleveland general manager Chris Grant tends to be, shall we say, unconventional in his moves at times. The Cavaliers hope that Bennett can bring the athleticism that he showed when he played at UNLV. Bennett is explosive and is capable of finishing above the rim. He’s got a quick first step and speed when running the open floor. Anthony Bennett is not a consistent jump shooter and doesn’t play active defense, those are coachable issues however. Look for Bennett to contribute right away.

Not to be forgotten: Dion Waiters 14.7 ppg 2.4 rpg

The Detroit Pistons are ready to put their previously disappointing seasons behind them. General manager Joe Dumars through some form of magic (most likely) has found a way to keep his job despite putting together a myriad of bad teams. These bad teams directly preceded the  team that won an NBA Finals in the 2003-2004 season and had four other conference finals appearances, that Dumars also built. In a return to form, Joe Dumars has made a number of shrewd moves in the offseason in an attempt to bring the Pistons back to prominence.

Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond have a lot in common. They are both versatile big men. Both are 6’10” and are both highlights waiting to happen. They move well on the fast break. They are both smart and willing passers. Greg Monroe has 3 NBA season under his belt while Andre Drummond just wrapped up his rookie season. Monroe played 33 minutes a game to Drummond’s 20 minutes most likely because they occupy roughly the same place on the floor, and Andre is a rookie. Both show a lot of promise and skill.

Josh Smith is more than capable of being an all star. He isn’t but he could be. Josh Smith has strength not unlike a bull. When he attacks the basket he’s difficult to slow down. On the low block, he’s a nightmare to defend. He’s athletic and has tremendous leaping ability. The Pistons were able to acquire the former Hawks forward for a relatively affordable 4 year $56 million. If Josh Smith had a downside, it would be his tendency to settle for jumpers. He’s big, strong and fast yet is completely satisfied with taking some bad 10-15 foot jump shots.

Brandon Jennings (since we’re on the subject of bad jump shots) joins the Pistons roster via a sign and trade with the Milwaukee Bucks. In exchange the Bucks got point guard Brandon Knight. In Brandon Jennings the Pistons get a bit of a boost in scoring ability. Jennings is more of a volume shooter but he has his nights where he scores extremely well. He’s left handed and unsurprisingly goes to his left a lot; he avoids finishing with his right hand almost to the point of phobia. Brandon Jennings is a much better passer than he gets credit for, even averaging 6.5 assists per game on a team with Monta Ellis on it. Jennings is an improvement at the point guard position and is a better fit than Brandon Knight for this team.

Not to be forgotten: Chauncey Billups 8.4 ppg, 2.2 apg

The Washington Wizards believe this is the year they can make it to the post season. They’ve dealt with everything from bad injuries to just having bad players. This year their roster is stronger than it’s been in a long while giving them hope that they can end a very long drought. They haven’t been to the playoffs since 2007 and haven’t won a playoff series in about 25 years.

John Wall signed a 5 year $80 million deal with the Wizards earlier this summer. This is the maximum amount of money that he could have been paid. While Wall’s career numbers thus far do not justify this pay day, the Wizards believe that he can be an all star caliber point guard in the NBA. 2013 saw a marked improvement in Wall’s jump shot, which is still a work in progress. Wall at 6’4″ is a big point guard yet, he has incredible speed and is capable of going baseline to baseline in under 6 seconds. His jumper is his biggest barrier. At this point nobody takes it seriously. What is taken seriously is his court vision, passing ability and speed that leaves defenders standing still. Wall is also a very good defender.

Bradley Beal just finished his rookie season and it was very impressive. He’s an accurate shooter who, if given any daylight at all, can score at will. Beal can attack the basket both on the fast break, and in the half court. He runs through screens effeciently. Bradley Beal’s biggest draw back is ball handling. He’s not bad but when John Wall was injured earlier in the season he did not seem comfortable in the position of primary ball handler. However, his off ball skills are not to be over looked.

Otto Porter the rookie from Georgetown is a player in development. He looked like the most anemic of the rookies drafted this year when he participated in NBA Summer League play. He is adapting to a new offense and a new role. The Wizards re-signed veteran Martell Webster who plays the same position as Porter, so Otto shouldn’t have too much pressure on him early. He will likely not start. Otto Porter is extremely long and his huge wingspan gives him a defensive advantage. Otto was a good defender in college and an extremely scrappy player diving on the floor for loose balls, actually boxing out and sticking with broken plays.

Not to be forgotten: Nene 12.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg

All of these teams are either trying to develop stars or acquire them. That’s what it takes to win in the NBA. They are on the right track to get to the playoffs and to maybe one day compete for a title.

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