Game Time: NBA Free Agency -- So Is Dwyane Wade Gonna Hold It For You While You Pee Too, LeBron?
Nothing worth chasing in life comes easy, so to say that by pooling their collective talents together to try and chase an NBA title in Miami that LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade are taking the "easy way out" isn't entirely fair.
Actually, to be fair, with a ring to his credit, Wade has nothing to prove to anyone. And Bosh? Well, I think people are realizing that if he's your alpha dog, the ceiling for your team is probably about 47 wins. The company he's keeping the last couple weeks indicate that Bosh seems to know it, too.
So actually, this post is mostly a contingent indictment of LeBron James, if indeed he opts for the "Miami Plan." So there, you've been warned...
That said, even with three All-Stars, the NBA is not "easy." You still have to grind your way through an 82-game regular season and eventually you have to get through at least one (presumably) stout team in the Eastern Conference (Boston? Orlando?) and whomever comes out of a stacked Western Conference. You have to avoid injuries and build chemistry. Because your total salaries paid will be distributed roughly 80 percent to the New Big Three and 20 percent to everyone else, you will inherently have weaknesses that will need to be masked in a seven-game series.
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So there is no such thing as an easy way to an NBA title. But if you're trying to be perceived to be among the all-time greats, there is a man's way and a soft way. Finishing what you started or trying to be the singular alpha-dog force behind something great is the man's way. Meeting for a free agent summit with your other NBA All-Star Game starter buddies on South Beach to try and talk each other into creating a de facto All-Star team is the soft way.
Sorry, it's just how I perceive it. You may perceive it differently. LeBron James hopes so, if indeed he opts to hook up with Wade and Bosh.
In the end, this whole thing is about perception. Right now, the perception of LeBron James the Athlete is that he has otherworldly physical gifts and the ability to electrify a crowd like nobody since Michael Jordan. The perception of LeBron James the Leader is that he is gregarious ("SMILE for the fake camera!!"), but a bit of a frontrunner (like skipping handshakes and press conferences after the elimination game in 2009). The perception of LeBron James the Champion does not exist.
And therein lies the rub -- LeBron James is desperate to create the Champion perception. He's got All-Star appearances, he's got shoe contracts, he's got piles of money. What he doesn't have is the same respect that Bird, Magic, Isiah, Michael, Hakeem, Duncan, and Kobe all have. LeBron is still on the same list as Charles, Patrick, Reggie, Mailman, Stockton, and Iverson. If you're looking for more modern examples to confirm this perception, just look at LeBron's draft class and play word association with yourself. Carmelo Anthony? Scorer. Smooth. Prolific. Dwyane Wade? Winner. Guts. Champion.
Which one is the entire LeBron Package closer to? (How you answer this question dictates just how susceptible you are to being fooled by the potential LeBron Charade in Miami.)
I realize that nothing has technically happened yet and that free agency doesn't "officially" begin until 12:01 AM this Thursday (Right, uh huh...), but we can see the direction this is going. There is a distinct possibility that LeBron James, at age 26 in the prime of his career, is going to choose the "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" approach, team up with Wade, use the rest of the cap space on an All-Star big man (Bosh), and try and hope that if he wins a title (or two or three) that he's manipulated perception enough for us to etch his name alongside those in the first aforementioned list above.
Those names again? Bird, Magic, Isiah, Michael, Hakeem, Duncan, and Kobe. Did they all do it alone? Of course not. Bird had McHale and Parish. Isiah had Dumars. Michael had Scottie. Hakeem had Clyde. Duncan has had about a hundred different guys. Even after getting out of Shaq's shadow, Kobe still needed Gasol.
But did any of them have to, IN THEIR PRIME, go actively plot with an All-World uber-star who's already been to the dance (Wade) to cobble together a blueprint to fast-track his "He's a champion!" adulation? No, they didn't.
Go back and look at the Eastern Conference All-Star team in 1990 -- the starters were MJ, Isiah, Ewing, Bird, and Barkley. The bench was Dumars, Parish, McHale, Dominique Wilkins, Reggie Miller, Pippen, and Dennis Rodman. The mountain of cumulative respect that the guys on that list had for each other is exceeded only by the much bigger mountain of professional and personal hatred they had for each other. Pick any three of those twelve (and I mean, ANY three...hell, even Bird/McHale/Parish or Isiah/Dumars/Rodman), put them in a room for a summit meeting, and at least one of them is leaving in a body bag.
Collaborate to try and win a title together? Please. So yeah, for me, this whole buddy-buddy vibe that the Class of 2010 is rocking all flies in the face of "competition."
If LeBron were aging, say 35 and ringless, then Miami (or anywhere) with a couple other stars is an acceptable play. Clyde got his ring that way, Barkley tried to, so did the Mailman. No one is begrudging LeBron or anyone else the experience of winning a ring; if you can do it before you hang 'em up, great. But why do you need training wheels, LeBron?
If LeBron is able to do it in Chicago with Derrick Rose (the safest balance of LeBron-as-alpha dog with young nucleus), in New York or New Jersey with a new cast of characters (tied for the least safe play), the Clippers (the ballsy play, going into Kobe's backyard), or staying with the Cavaliers (the most noble and best-paying play), then I'm ready to add him to the exclusive list where God-given talent finally meets hard-earned accomplishment. He'll be in The Club.
There are guys who played on championship teams and then there are true champions. If LeBron needs Wade (and to a different extent, Wade AND Bosh) to finally reach the mountain top, he'll be the former. He'll just hope, pray and act like you think he's the latter.
And maybe you will. Not me. Tell me you're not that soft, LeBron.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 3-7 p.m. on the "Sean & John Show" and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.