'Just A Kid From Akron' isn't just that

LeBron James might go down as the greatest scorer of all time with 40,00-plus points, but the sport will not understand his gravity, his genius, until he walks away from it.
Last Updated 05 March 2024, 14:56 IST

Bengaluru: There was a time when LeBron James admittedly wanted to ‘Be Like Mike’.

He, like everyone else who has witnessed Michael Jordan, wanted to be doused in the ether of the ‘Black Cat’. Better yet, become the next one to exude such an aura.    

In that pursuit, LeBron has had his moments, but his body didn’t possess Jordan’s supernatural finesse, he didn’t have that shoe-to-neck instinct, he didn’t have the playoff record, he didn’t have culture-defining shoes... he just wasn’t Mike. 

So, LeBron could never ‘Be Like Mike’. But somewhere along a journey of 21 years as an NBA star, LeBron understood that he never needed to ‘Be Like Mike’. 

LeBron was always designed and destined to be LeBron. The ‘Kid from Akron’, the human highlight reel, the basketball savant, the billionaire-philanthropist, the greatest scorer in the history of the game, the anomaly, the freak before the Greeks arrived…

LeBron is a glitch in the matrix, but a glitch which has held on for so long that the sport has begun to, foolishly, assume that that is the reality. That would explain why LeBron's greatness is often spoken of rather loosely.  

Save for maybe a couple of seasons when he moved to the Miami Heat and won the first of his four titles, or when he engineered Cleveland Cavaliers’ first title - in any sport - in over 52 years in 2016, LeBron was always being compared to what Jordan had done in his time. 

Thereafter, LeBron’s brilliance took a backseat because you had the Europeans come in with their 'alien' skillsets to change the game. Also, a kid born in the same hospital as LeBron in Ohio - Steph Curry - ended up changing the very fabric of the sport by chucking no-look three-pointers from the parking lot.  

In the midst of all these transitions, new arrivals, new rules and new generations, LeBron stayed the course, played the game, did it well, and didn’t mind being spoken of any lesser because after the Cleveland triumph in 2016 he himself felt like he had become the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time). 

By now, he didn't need anyone to tell him what he was anymore. The vapid desire for validation of youth had transformed into a mature acceptance of his age, his abilities, his genius. 

It was cemented on February 8 last year when he passed Abdul Kareem Jabbar for the most points scored in history. It's a mark which stood for so long (nearly 39 years) that conspiracy theorists - they were quite a few of those - who postulated that the league was trying to stop people from breaking the mark.  

To them we say: 'a couple of days ago, LeBron went past 40,000 points'.

Even at the rate at which players shoot and score these days, it will be impossible for them to replicate LeBron's feat because not only is longevity a concept these days, no near-40-year-old has averaged 25.3 points per game, 7.1 rebounds per game and 7.9 assists per game in their 21st season.

In fact, only six others have played many seasons, and the combined tally of the six is not as good as LeBron's points per game in their 21st season.  

This, however, is the problem when it comes to LeBron. You can't help but get lost in the numbers.  

In this inescapable spiral you forget that LeBron's a 6-foot-8-inch 120-kilogram muscle-draped unit with the flexibility of a bungee chord, the jumping ability of a gazelle, the vision of an eagle, spatial awareness of a cat, and a brain which shouldn't belong on an athlete. 

Example: You can ask him to spell out every play of every game he has ever played and he will give you the position of every player from his perspective, the time on the clock, and the point difference, and he will recite it.  

So, LeBron has photographic memory, he's ambidextrous, he's abnormally nimble for his size, he can still jump as if he's still in his teens, his court vision is absurd, his leadership qualities are unparalleled, and he's still keeping up with a young generation 21 years in. 

To make his achievements even more mind-numbing, LeBron has played with ten father-son duos since making his debut in the league in 2003.

It's no coincidence then that he's waiting for his son Bronny James to make the NBA. It has been LeBron's dream for a while now, and it could well become a reality because LeBron looks like he's here to stay for a while longer.

At least, longer than anyone else expected him to be because of he plays the way he does, because of the amount of contact he draws, and because of the sheer weight of history on the shoulders every time he sets foot on court. 

Perhaps now is time to look at 'Just A Kid From Akron' for what he still is and what he still brings, and enjoy it all because greatness doesn't always have to be juxtaposed with the past. It can be experienced in the now.

(Published 05 March 2024, 14:56 IST)

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