Friday, December 15, 2006

Everything to everyone

LeBron James isn't omnipotent. You only get that impression by watching him.

Savior of Cleveland basketball? Check. Key member of the USA national team? Ditto. Nike pitchman, a capacity that requires him to play not one, but four, roles in a commercial campaign? Yep.

Powerade hawker? Uh-huh. Philanthropist? Certainly. Media magnet? Definitely. Friend to basically every famous athlete that hails from Northeast Ohio? For sure. Devoted son, father and boyfriend? We'd like to think so.

No one said becoming the world's first billionaire athlete was going to be easy. LeBron's determined. But are the Cavs and their fans going to suffer because of it?

Despite his god-like standing among the Cleveland faithful, LeBron cannot be all things to all people. Several weeks shy of his 22nd birthday, he might be in the process of learning that lesson the hard way.

LeBron is still among the league leaders in scoring and assists. As coach Mike Brown has said, his five-point drop in scoring average might very well be due to the fact that the Cavs now spread the ball around instead of using LeBron as a battering ram to the hoop every night. That alone will save wear and tear on the most important Cleveland athlete since Jim Brown.

But stats and playcalling don't tell the whole story. Anybody who has watched LeBron this year sees the regular spark just isn't there. At least not consistently. Too often, he's settling for 20-foot jumpers against soft defenses that are crying out to be harpooned by LeBron's 6'-8", 250-pound frame.

Too often, he looks like he's trying to impersonate Zydrunas Ilgauskas, plodding up and down the floor at half-speed. In the second halves of games, grabbing the hem of his shorts has replaced nail-biting as his most prevalent habit.

LeBron is tired. The past year, his first venture into NBA playoff action, the immediate headfirst dive into USA basketball and the world championships, packing an entire offseason's worth of business work into a little more than a month, jumping right back into Cavs training camp, it's all been a bit too much. Even if he won't admit it.

The bad news is, the NBA season is only at the quarter pole. The soft part of the the Cavs' schedule is coming to an end. A series of games against the Magic, Nets and Pistons begins Saturday. A punishing West Coast trip awaits in January.

It is possible that LeBron has been sandbagging a bit with the coming weeks in mind. We can only hope so. The NBA season runs in inverse proportion to how the human body generally behaves. As a player's endurance starts to wear away, the season becomes even more demanding.

And, LeBron, in case you forgot, is a flesh-and-blood human who needs to eat his veggies and get his sleep like the rest of us.

Actually, LeBron might have forgotten himself.

It has been great watching LeBron these past few years. He has morphed from a green teenage rookie to a veteran pillar of both the Cavs organization and the NBA. But, as with any young person, there are lessons to be learned along the way. It appears LeBron is learning one of them.

He might be King James. He might be the master of all he oversees with the Cavs, the NBA, Nike, Powerade and any other corporate entity he has attached his name to.

But before LeBron can take care of those around him, he needs to take care of himself. For him, that means going back to one basic rule that all of us have to remember in this busy, demanding society:

No matter how hard you try, you can't be everything to everyone.

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