Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
What would winning a title, the way he’s going about trying to win it this postseason, do for LeBron James’ image? What should it do?
Steve Aschburner: It will enable LeBron James to exhale and lots of other people to relax. Some will immediately challenge him to win a second and then a third, and so on, because that’s what his talents seem capable of achieving. That’s one major way the NBA’s greatest players get judged. Plus, that’s what James himself yapped about when he signed with Miami. Others will decree that all pressure is off now and he’s forever beyond reproach from the “haters” by virtue of winning one championship. But that’s as artificial as the notion that he couldn’t be truly great without a ring.
The media already has been pushing the redemption angle and all but demanding that people bow now to James’ wonderfulness, even though they’re the ones who fanned and reveled so in his alleged villainy. The way I see it, everyone gets to make up his or her own mind about James and how he went about his business of chasing a title. Everyone gets to make up his or her mind about all of us.
Fran Blinebury: In the minds of the anti-LeBron crowd, it won’t do a thing. It’s not about the basketball. They don’t like him because he left Cleveland, because he had the silly “Decision” show on ESPN, because of the haughty premature celebration in Miami, because of “1-2-3-4-5…” and because he, Wade and Bosh tried to set themselves up as victims of their own celebrity. On the court, he’s already been a three-time MVP, eight-time All-Star and a scoring champ. Becoming a champion is often a process. It took Michael Jordan seven seasons, Hakeem Olajuwon 10 seasons and Dirk Nowitzki 13 seasons. For LeBron, it will have been nine seasons. He’s been the best, the most complete player in the game for some time. A piece of shiny jewelry on his finger won’t make him better than that.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Winning a title, if it happens, will greatly enhance his image, as it should. He has been criticized to an extreme for years, some of which was deserved and some that was overdone. A lot that was overdone, actually. Having a great Finals is the reminder he is the best player in the world.
Shaun Powell: From a basketball standpoint only, his image would improve. He’d no longer cast as a loser who couldn’t come up big when it counted — even though that was a stretch, because he has made big shots before. But he’ll still have detractors, who probably can’t remember anymore why they hate him. Should he win multiple titles and continue saying all the right things in public, time and sentiment will fall in his favor here in this build-em-up, tear-em-down, build-em-up-again sports society.
John Schuhmann: He was already the best basketball player in the world, and there was no question that he was the player you would most want on your team over an 82-game season. Well, now you can say he’s also the player you would most want on your team in any seven–game series. He didn’t shoulder all the blame for his teams’ previous failures, but there have been postseason moments (like last year’s Finals) when he didn’t make the most of his ability. This year, there have been no signs of passivity as he’s led the Heat to the brink of a title. And when they win, the change in LeBron’s rep will be about more than just the ring on his finger. It will be about the way he earned it.
Sekou Smith: His image, in the eyes of most, will not change a bit. Those who love him will love him even more. And those who despise him will continue to do so as well. For those of us who are supposed to be impartial, this removes James from that long list of all-time great players who don’t have a title in their backpack. Dan Marino will continue to be the greatest player that never won it all in this city. One thing winning a title, provided they finish the deal, should definitely do is silence all of those critics who claim James can’t carry his team at crunch time. He’s done all that and more throughout this postseason, leaving no doubt that he is the world’s best player. But there is no doubt in my mind that half the people will celebrate James when he wins his first title, and the other half will start complaining that he’s only won one.