Lebron James: Sportsman of the Year?

By Hamilton King

Should Lebron James win another championship, should he be the Sportsman of the Year?

A little over two years ago, everyone outside of Miami would have probably said no. His shenanigans on ‘The Decision’ and on stage in Miami were immature and flamboyant. Many may still resent his abrupt departure from Cleveland, but when you consider his history, a different perspective may emerge.

From the time he was seventeen, he was in the spotlight. He burst on the scene hailed as the greatest player since Michael Jordan. In 2007, he took the Cavs to the Finals, beating the Pistons in a Game 5 Eastern Conference Finals that many consider one of the greatest playoff performances of all time. At age 22, James dropped 48 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists, and scored the Cav’s last 25 points in the fourth quarter, taking his outmatched Cavaliers to the ‘Ship.

But, in the Finals, Tim Duncan and a veteran Spurs squad swept Lebron James and the Cavs.

But it was okay, because he was only 22. He was playing with all the potential in the world. He hadn’t won a championship, but there was plenty of time.

When the Cavs surrounded him with Shaquille O’Neal, Mo Williams, and Antawn Jamison, the young superstar found himself trying to shoulder a much more decorated team. He carried a star-less team to the finals in ’07, so with this $100 million team, potential began to turn to expectation.

Being the center of such a hyped world as pro sports brings a lot of scrutiny. A player’s growth in the first few years in any league is important to his psyche on the court. But mental growth is a cycle. Your mindset affects how you play, but how you play affects your mindset.

James was on the path to become a champion. But he wasn’t doing it under the South Georgia sun. He wasn’t doing it on Oklahoma hillsides. He was doing it under the eyes of millions. As ESPN’s Bryan Windhorst puts it, “He didn’t just have to grow up as a player, he had to do it with millions breaking down his mistakes.” Maybe he got caught up in the whirlwind.

Looking back, James said, “I played to prove people wrong instead of just playing my game, instead of just going out and having fun and playing a game that I grew up loving and why I fell in love with the game.”

And so, maybe he listened to the criticism, or maybe he was hungry for a championship. Maybe he feared he’d never win it, or maybe he was trying to prove something. Whatever the case, in 2010, with no ring on his finger, he packed his bags and took his talents to South Beach. He promised many (not just two or three or four) championships. He had two all-stars on his team. The three best players from the 2003 draft class all on the same team.

And still that first year, they lost in the Finals, when Dirk and the Mavericks spoiled the Heat’s championship plans. Once again, unmet expectations and national scrutiny plagued Lebron.

But any athlete anywhere will tell you it takes time for a team to mesh (unless you’re Bird and Magic).

So in 2012, Lebron James did it. He became a champion. It took him almost ten years, but King James had finally earned his crown.

And now, at least two viewpoints on his future exist. You can say he’s taken up his destiny as the greatest player around – and could go on to be the best of all time, winning title after title. Or you can say ‘big deal, about time, it’s what was expected of you.’

He’s a champion, yes. But one championship is a victory. Two is the start of a dynasty. Will he win it this year? The team’s healthy and welcomes sharpshooters Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis.

And then consider this: Lebron is the first player since Michael Jordan in 1992 to be an NBA Champion, NBA MVP, NBA Finals MVP, and Olympic Gold Medalist all in one year.

In my opinion, his past means nothing until we see his future. Has he transcended expectations and shed the hype to just play the game? Has he shed his villainous persona and shown that he is just a regular guy, which seems to be the theme in a recent Samsung commercial? If he wins it again, the king’s dynasty may have truly begun, and through more criticism than many people face in a lifetime. He is without a doubt the most physically dominant player in the NBA. But is he the Sportsman of the Year? If he does win it in 2013, perhaps that shows that he was a good guy all along, that he just got swept up in the hype. Maybe he’s a better man for it. Maybe he no longer buys into the expectations and the hype, and he won’t crumble in the clutch, because he’s just playing the game he loves. Maybe, then, he’d be the Sportsman of the Year. But maybe not.

 

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