LeBron James turned the NBA basketball world upside down with his decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and join the Miami Heat with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. There have been various reactions to whether or not the experiment of James, Bosh, and Wade playing together will translate into NBA dominance and multiple championships for Miami. As the cliche goes, only time will tell. Probably the most interesting aspect of the LeBron James “Decision” is if the choice to join the Miami Heat has hurt the legacy and the “brand” of the NBA superstar.
LeBron James is now playing with Dwyane Wade, someone just as good and dominant as he is on the basketball court. If he wins multiple championships with this so-called “Mini Dream Team,” should LeBron James be put on the same pedestal as say a Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan? Sure, the aforementioned b-ballers had great hall-of-fame players as teammates; but in their prime, they were without a doubt the focal point and the best player on their respective teams. Dwyane Wade has already won an NBA championship with the Heat in 2006; LeBron led the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in 2007 but were swept by the San Antonio Spurs. Thus, Wade has proven that he can win a championship by being “The Man,” while James has not. Kobe Bryant even acknowledged recently that winning his last two championships meant more because he won them without Shaquille O’ Neal. In other words, Kobe was “Batman” and not “Robin.”
An NBA analyst said recently that the “pursuit of a championship” and finally winning one can be more fulfilling than just being on a dominant team and winning many championships. The Bird/Magic rivalry not only saved the NBA from folding, but also made the two legends better players because they competed so hard against each other in their pursuit of championships. It took Michael Jordan seven years of struggle to finally beat the Boston Celtics and the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference and reach his first NBA Championship. It looked like Jordan and the Chicago Bulls would never get over the hump, but they did; thanks to Jordan’s sheer will and determination and the Bulls front office of surrounding Jordan with great complimentary players like Scottie Pippen and later Dennis Rodman. I think that’s what made Jordan’s legacy so reputable and his “Brand” so popular and marketable.
The same goes with Kobe Bryant. Kobe has gone through the stage of being unpopular with fans due to his previous legal trouble. What helped him gain his popularity back was doing whatever he had to do in the pursuit of winning another championship; whether it was playing with multiple injuries to hitting a last second buzzer beater. The Lakers also copied the blueprint of Jordan’s Bulls by teaming Kobe up with a great complimentary player like Pau Gasol to be able to compete for a championship.
Bird, Magic, Jordan, and now Kobe had great teams, but not “Dream” teams. Their legacies are special not because they dominated their competition, but because they seemed to find a way to win against tough competition. Unless they’re representing the city you’re from, no one really likes a completely dominant team. LeBron James may have planted himself between a rock and a hard place because people will find it difficult to root for the Heat if he and Wade dominate the NBA without much rivalry and competition. Some people may always note the fact that he couldn’t get over the hump by being “the man” in Cleveland like Jordan got over the hump in Chicago. Also if the Miami experiment doesn’t work and brings no championships, James will be labeled as a loser who could never get it done.
Maybe it’s wrong to compare LeBron James with the other NBA greats since he’s only 25 years old and still could have many great years ahead of him. However, since he’s already won two MVP awards and even labels himself as “King James” before ever winning an NBA championship, maybe the comparisons are justified. As a student of the history of NBA basketball, LeBron James knows that winning many championships could put him in the conversation as one of the top 10 players to ever play the game. I just wonder if he realizes that the way he reached the mountain top of winning a championship could be a huge factor in whether or not people will put him in that exclusive club when it’s all said and done.