Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Orville Higgins | LeBron finally delivered

Published:Friday | June 24, 2016 | 6:00 AM

LeBron James, for some reason, remains one of the most polarised figures in all of sport. No current sports personality in world sports so divides public opinion. His talent is unquestionable. This, however, doesn't stop him from being hated.

LeBron brought some of this on himself, deliberately or otherwise. He adopted Michael Jordan's famous No. 23. He also took on Michael's powder toss before some games. He tattooed 'The Chosen One' on his body. While still in high school, he was already negotiating a US$90-million contract with Nike. For many, this was just too much. His abilities on the court make people compare him with Michael Jordan himself, which further became an albatross around his neck.

Michael Jordan is, in many ways, a ghost. No other American athlete in history is more loved than Jordan. Indeed, I could make a case that he is probably the most loved American in the last 50 years, full stop. Politicians, by nature, have people who oppose them, so no US president could be more universally loved than Jordan.

Muhammad Ali is revered now, but he did rub a lot of people the wrong way during his prime, and not all of those wounds were healed. Jordan comes with no real baggage, or that which he does have is baggage that the public overlooks. As time has passed, he has been romanticised. He has become as much a legend as he is a myth.

If you were to go with popular sentiment, Jordan never played a bad game, never missed easy shots. People talk about his six rings in six finals and his six finals MVP accomplishment. That kind of brilliance may never happen again, but many chose not to remember that for many years he didn't get to the final, beaten by other teams.

That is what LeBron, for much of his life, is competing with. It's a battle that he can't win. You can compete with a man, but you have no chance against a god. And in many ways, that is how Jordan is seen. The American public would never let this brash youngster called LeBron James supersede Jordan. The odds were, therefore, stacked against him from the start.

 

A REAL DILEMMA

 

When he left Cleveland for Miami, you would have thought he committed treason. He wasn't the only superstar who changed teams. Shaq played for several. Even Michael ended his time with the Wizards and not with his beloved Chicago Bulls. James had to suffer for his move, though. His jersey was burnt in the streets. His image on walls defaced. He was called a traitor.

His two rings in Miami rang hollow to many. The argument was that he had to join two other superstars in Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh to win a title, something which the myth called Jordan never had to do. James was caught up in a real dilemma: Stay at Cleveland and risk the possibility of no title, or go to a team with the right pieces around him, win a title that would be overly scrutinised. Again, he couldn't win.

After leaving Miami to go back to Cleveland, the anti-James chants grew louder. He was told by people in Miami that this was the biggest mistake of his career and that he wouldn't win a ring in Cleveland. He was now perceived as a man without loyalty, a selfish man who acted without consideration for none but himself.

In two years back at Cleveland, he did what he promised: bring a title to a city that hadn't won anything for more than 50 years. How he did it almost defies belief. His team was 3-1 down against the defending champions, the Golden State Warriors, a position from which no team had ever recovered in an NBA finals. This, against a team that had won more games in the regular season than any other. A team that had the first unanimous regular-season MVP in NBA history.

This was arguably the biggest and most unlikely, comeback in the history of all sports. In the finals, LeBron led both teams in blocks, points, assists, rebounds and steals. This has never been done before. Not even the myth called Jordan could have done that. Jordan doesn't have any greater basketball talents than LeBron. Lebron does more things better on the field than Jordan when he sets his mind to it.

What Jordan had was a greater ability to summon up the will to get the best out of himself, which is usually the difference between all-time greats and those considered very good. Grudgingly, the haters are coming around. It's hard to hate excellence of that magnitude without feeling guilty. LeBron will never be a legend and a myth like Jordan. He may simply be the best all-round basketballer ever.

- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.