Another year, another NBA Finals has passed. As expected, Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers took on and defeated … the Orlando Magic?! That wasn’t in the script.
The Cleveland Cavaliers could not make the dream series happen after the Magic soundly defeated the Cavs 4-2 in their best-of-seven series. Many discussed which players (namely not LeBron James) cost the Cavs the series with their sub-par performances, and looking even further, how the team could appease “King James” with vast improvements in the offseason. He, of course, had one of the best statistical series in recent memory, averaging nearly a triple-double in the series, with 38.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 8 assists per game.
But this may be more than an issue of statistical superiority. This may delve deeper into how James handles himself as the leader of his teammates, and how he handles being a leader in general. It may not be the popular thing to point the finger at James, but it would not hurt to analyze his skills as a leader. Perhaps his great basketball abilities dont’t translate into being a good leader.
James’ biggest rival today is arguably Kobe Bryant. The similarities between them are much more resounding than at first glance. James is leading a team of role players and, despite the argument for Mo Williams, does not really have a viable sidekick, nor has he ever. This is Kobe Bryant circa 2004-05, when he began leading the Lakers as the top player on that squad. No matter how hard he tried, he could not get the Lakers over the hump by himself. Although James has had more success as the sole superstar on his team, he has suffered from the same issue. Their penchant for taking over a game is also something to debate and compare.
In the Eastern Conference Finals against the Magic, James had to score 35 or more points every single night just to keep his team in the game. The same goes for Bryant in the years before the Paul Gasol trade. James even had to knock down one of the most amazing shots in game two of the series to keep his team in the driver’s seat. Sounds like Kobe’s shot in overtime against the Phoenix Suns in game four of the first round of the 2006 playoffs, doesn’t it? Both the 2006 Lakers and this year’s Cavaliers were subsequently dominated and eliminated from their respective playoff series.
It took three years after the departure of Shaq for things to gel, but with the same core, the Lakers did just that, and now they’re a title favorite each year. This may be the only problem for the Cavs, despite the fact experts peg this team as one that cannot get James his title. That chatter sounds awfully like the talk Bryant heard during his post-Diesel days.
James completely carried his team in the 2007 playoffs, and he has never carried a team more than when he took the Cavs past Detroit and into the finals. He may just have achieved more than many would have expected in the early stage of his career, his fourth season, and due to this, the fans may be expecting too much from the supposed savior of Cleveland sports.
Will this ruin James? No. He still is the heir to the throne left by Michael Jordan as the NBA’s best. But, just like Jordan, he needs a sidekick, and he needs time to evolve. Jordan won his first title in his seventh season (James will be in his seventh next season). James will win titles, but he needs patience, and so do his fans. Not shaking hands after a Conference Finals loss is not how he should be remembered. Moreover, James should and will be regarded as one of the best of all-time. Just ask the man whose career his parallels: Kobe Bryant.