Friday, December 30, 2005

LeBron turns 21

Happy legal drinking age, LeBron! The next time you suit up at The Q, for Saturday afternoon's game against the Pistons, you'll be able to legally visit the bar at Gordon's afterward.
Twenty-one is a milestone for anybody, but in the case of LeBron James, it's a landmark.
It's a landmark for professional basketball. And certainly a landmark for Cleveland sports.
Nobody in the history of professional basketball has been this good this quickly. Not Magic Johnson. Not Michael Jordan. Not Kobe Bryant, who was the previous king of the under-21 class.
LeBron has averaged 20 points per game in each of his first three seasons. This year, he is averaging 30, even with the scoring help of Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall and Damon Jones.
Last season, he was one of three players in league history to average 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for a season. Jordan and Oscar Robertson were the others.
It's difficult to define a player's game as "limitless." There really is no such thing. But LeBron is the closest I've seen anyone come to no boundaries.
He honestly can be as good as he wants to be. If he wants to score 50 points, he can do it. Dish out 20 assists? Check. Be a top-10 rebounder? He could probably do that, too.
If the defensive fire continues to grow in his belly, he can be a shutdown defender in the mold of Ron Artest as well.
Other players have the athleticism of LeBron, but not the size (Allen Iverson). Some have the size and scoring ability, but not the passing (Amare Stoudemire). Still others are burdened by selfishness that won't let them be a conduit for their teammates (Bryant).
LeBron has the speed to burn defenders in single-man matchups. He has the size (6'-8" and nearly 250 pounds) to draw contact inside and still be able to put the ball in the hoop. He has the ups ... well, if you've ever seen him elevate his elbow above the rim before a throwdown dunk, you know about his ups.
He has the coordination to dribble through traffic and thread the needle with his passes. He has the width to defend and post up. He has the height, quickness and coordination to rebound. And he does it all with a team-first mentality that allows him to always look for the best way to help his team win, be it by scoring himself or by finding his teammates.
Keep in mind that he has required no major development as a pro. LeBron came into the league requiring some sanding and polishing, but no major construction or reconstruction for his game or attitude.
He is 21, but at 18 already had the look and mentality of a veteran. That is incomprehensibly rare. Some great players (Artest, for one) might never learn to grow up.
Everything he has improved since coming into the league he has taken on himself. He worked on his outside shot over the past two summers, and now is an upper-echelon shooter. Now, with defensive-minded Mike Brown as his coach, LeBron is starting to value defense. He's still coming along, but we are starting to see flashes of LeBron's potential as a defender.
Could LeBron be the greatest ever? He has a long way to go. He needs to stay healthy and win some rings along the way, hopefully in a Cleveland uniform.
LeBron already has only Jim Brown standing between him and the title of "greatest Cleveland athlete ever." If anybody is going to break the four-decade title drought in Cleveland sports, LeBron stands the best chance. Now that he has the people around him to help get it done, hopefully he sees things the same way. Realistically, the best chance of getting LeBron and an NBA championship in Cleveland at the same time is probably going to require at least one contract extension. The Cavaliers can offer LeBron a maximum contract beginning July 1.
But it's so Cleveland to worry about the the thunderclouds that might or might not form on the horizon two or three years from now. In the meantime, Northeast Ohio's boy wonder has officialy become a man. And he is taking us all on the ride of a lifetime. We should enjoy every minute of it.

1 comment:

Zach said...

Triv is reporting the Savage firing is untrue. ESPN's crediblity would take a major hit with me if the story is false. So would Mortonson. I am hoping it not to be true, for obvious reasons.