Then Miami played three games against Chicago, New York, and Orlando.
Brick. Brick. Brick.
After the third brick, I was mad at LeBron James. I'm one of the biggest LeBron Stans out here, so defending the man is nothing to me. However, I knew when watching that game against Orlando, and the way it was playing out, that LeBron would get a shot and have a chance of hitting a key shot to send it to overtime. When he missed, I threw my remote, cussed real REAL loud, and poured me a shot of Root Beer flavored vodka that Smirnoff sent me (blogging has its advantages).
It was at that point that I came to realize that LeBron James could quite possibly be Wilt Chamberlain 2.0.
Give credit to Bill Reiter over at FOX Sports for making this point in November, but I believe he skimmed the surface of a LeBron-to-Wilt comparison. I think its much much deeper than what he touched on. Why? Because the difference between Wilt and LeBron, in my opinion, is that LeBron truly does want to win. However, I'm scared that he really doesn't know how.
Here's what we know about Wilt Chamberlain...
Seven-time scoring champion
11-time rebounding champion
Scored 100 points in one game
20,000 women serviced
Moreover, here's a couple of other things we know about Wilt...
Two-time NBA Champion
Was twice traded away while in his prime. Who TRADES the best player in the game?
Wilt Chamberlain was far and away the most dominant big man of not only of a generation, but from a historical perspective, maybe of all-time. The man could score at will, rebound at will, pass at will (led league in assists in '67-'68), and defend at will. There was no one in the league that could check him outside of the great William Russell.
Wilt won two rings, but when you go back in time and look at those two rings they seem very fraudulent, here's why...
1966-67: The '66-67 Sixers have gone down in history as one of the best NBA teams of all-time, and deservedly so. Wilt, Hal Greer, Billy Cunningham (all Hall of Famers) and others were on a team who had been beat countless times by the Celtics. By this point, Russell had nine rings, was becoming lethargic in wanting to play, so the old man Red Auerbach tapped him on the shoulder to be his successor as head (player) coach. Russell, for as great as he was, had a tough task ahead of him. Figuring out lineups, playing the game himself, dealing with an aging team, and the pressures of being the first black head coach ultimately proved to be too much for the Celtics and the Sixers won the title. Oh yeah, Russell figured the whole "coaching" thing out. Russell and John Havlicek won the next two titles in a row, beating Wilt in the process.
1971-72: Wilt eventually was traded to the Lakers, literally because Sixers head coach Butch van Breda Kolff got tired of him and his antics (Butch benched Wilt for the last five minutes of Game Seven of the '69 NBA Finals). Wilt joining the Lakers, alongside Gail Goodrich and "The Logo" Jerry West, was the equivalent of any other "Big Three Superpower" team we see formed today. You'll remember that this Lakers team pulled off a 33-game winning streak.
So how are they fraudulent?
After the Lakers beat Milwaukee's dynamic duo of Kareem and The Big O in the West Finals, the Lake Show faced a 48-win Knicks team who had been battling injuries throughout. Willis Reed was injured, Earl Monroe was injured, and Dave Debuscheere was injured. The Lakers ran through those Knicks to the title, only in the next year to have the exact same team come back the next year and give the Lakers the blues. You all remember Willis Reed limping on the court, then Clyde Frazier putting up 36 points and 19 assists (you all need to watch ESPN Classic). Teddy Ballgames for the Knicks.
My point is this: when Wilt actually "needed" to make something happen, he couldn't get over the hump. The man consistently shied away from the ball, shied away from making a key play, or shied away from doing the little things to actually win big games for his squad. I've read Bill Simmons' "Book of Basketball" twice, and one passage he took from the great William Russell speaking about Wilt made me think of LeBron in a similar context...
Bill on Wilt: "It did seem to me that [Wilt] was often ambivalent about what he wanted to get out of basketball. Anyone who changes the character and style of his play several times over a career is bound to be uncertain about which of the many potential accomplishments he wants to pursue. It's perfectly possible for a player not to make victory his first priority against all the others---money, records, personal fame, and an undivided claim to his achievements---and I often felt Wilt made some deliberate choices in his ambitions."
Now, I don't feel that this quote is 100% reflective on who LeBron James is as a basketball player or as a man. However, for all the athletic ability, basketball IQ, and charismatic personality that LeBron has, I ultimately wonder how much he's willing to do to work on his game and to ultimately be a winner. Which then begs a serious question...
...what does it take to be a winner?
LeBron's natural ability and his game is so damn good that it almost seems crazy to ask him to do more. We look at LeBron and wonder, "why isn't he a better shooter?" We look at LeBron and wonder, "why doesn't he have a post game?" We look at LeBron and wonder, "why isn't he a better defender (because those trackdown blocks, cheating on passing lanes and such just don't cut it)?" LeBron's too damn great of a basketball player to have such glaring flaws. His absurd ability almost taints him, because it seems ridiculous to think that he would have any weaknesses.
What you saw in Russell was the ultimate intangibles guy; he asked the simple question "what do I need to do to make my team better?" What we saw in Wilt was "what's the best situation for me?"
LeBron hasn't done the things necessary to win. The man has been unwilling to consider a move to point guard (which would do a lot to help the Heat stop point guards from destroying them night-in-and-night-out). LeBron's defense is just "eh" to me; yes he makes those steals and blocks, but you wonder how many points does he give up for gambling so frequently. The man has been put into a situation of closing games, yet his confidence is so destroyed, depleted, and downtrodden that he couldn't make a three-foot jumper in a Nerf hoop. The man sat in that press conference with a look on his face that said he wanted to get in the bed and curl up in a ball.
I don't think LeBron has to follow the same fate as Wilt. When LeBron was younger, he seemed fearless, almost too stupid (no diss) to think about what he was doing. With all that losing on that bum-ass franchise, I wonder if he's got some seeds planted in his mind. It's a scary thought to think that Miami might win a ring or two, but it will only come when this current Celtics powerhouse finally breaks down and the Lakers dynasty dissipates as Phil Jackson rides into the sunset and Kobe Bryant makes retirement plans. What would those rings really be worth then?
I want to think that LeBron has a bigger passion for the game than what some would perceive. I do believe that LeBron can knock down that game-winning three. I know that LeBron is capable of shutting down an imposing player on defense and taking them out of the game. More importantly, I fundamentally believe in my heart that the man can be a leader of men, and impose his will on another team and make them succumb to the pressure.
It doesn't matter if I feel that way. The biggest question is "does he?" Will he ever be able to do "it" when he has to? Maybe LeBron's just hitting a string of bad luck, maybe I'm over-reacting, maybe I'm doing what Kenny says and being a "prisoner of the moment." I really hope I'm wrong and off-base on this one, because I'm going to root for LeBron regardless...
...I guess we'll just have to wait two more months to get a decent answer.
P.S. As a reminder, checkout the livest sports talk show around, "The Unsportsmanlike Conduct Show" as we are live Wednesday's at 9pm Eastern at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/edthesportsfan! Download our podcasts if you missed the live show as well!