During Wednesday’s NBA Finals media day, ESPN’s J.A. Adande asked LeBron James the following question,
When you return to Cleveland there is the idea of obviously trying to bring a championship to Cleveland to the Cavaliers. How have you been able to minimize what a lot of people think is an immense amount of pressure?
And LeBron responded,
I don’t really get involved into the whole pressure thing. I think I’ve exceeded expectations in my life as a professional. I’m a statistic that was supposed to go the other way, growing up in the inner city, having a single-parent household. It was just me and my mother. So everything I’ve done has been a success. So as far as the game of basketball, I just go out and play it and have fun and love it, and be true to the game and to my teammates and live with the results. So I don’t — doesn’t really get to me too much.
Upon reading this, my reaction was as follows, Bron Bron…
Let’s be clear.
I respect LeBron’s started from the bottom now I’m here story. I really do. Also, I won’t deny that he is a top 3 athlete of this decade. And, regardless of all the records achieved by Stephen Curry and his teammates this season, there’s no debating that LeBron remains the greatest all-around basketball player on the planet. His dominance and athletic ability are bar none. When he boasts about successfully playing and defending every position, one through five, on both ends of the court, I laugh. Not because I believe it’s a ludicrous or implausible statement. But because it’s quite the contrary. He’s kicking straight facts. And anyone who disagrees can come see me every Monday from 3-430pm on my podcast, All Sports Everything Radio.
I do have all types of issues with his response.
For whatever reason, athletes (not just LeBron) think admitting they feel pressure to succeed on the biggest stage is a trait of weakness. And it’s not. In fact, self-awareness is one of the most admirable characteristics a person could possess. LeBron must recognize we’ve followed his story since before he was a professional NBA player. Sports Illustrated and ESPN made him a household name when he was a teenager. When he presented himself as a self-proclaimed King and made the bold move of wearing “23” on his back, he opened the door for critics to attack and critique every move, good and bad, and to mock every failure ala “The Decision.”
Therefore, to listen to LeBron dismiss the idea of feeling pressured to deliver a chip to The Land is nothing but lies. And he can miss me with it.
The King is carrying all of Cleveland on his back. And even though he entered the league as an 18-year-old freak of nature, that’s still a hell of a load to bare, especially after dropping them like a sack of potatoes to chase “not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven,” championships in Miami with bestie Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Now a dream deferred, and a story to be continued with The Big 3 2.0 starring Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, Cleveland fans remain thirstier than ever for LeBron to obtain redemption.
Furthermore, there’s the matter of Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue replacing David Blatt despite Blatt’s Eastern Conference best 30-11 coaching record. Regardless of LeBron stating he wasn’t a participant in the firing and hiring of his coaches, we all believe that to be a nontruth. LeBron and his management team are heavily involved in the personnel decisions of the Cavs’ franchise. And should the Cavs fare no better under Lue than they did under Blatt, you better believe that both Lue and LeBron will deservedly share the blame.
Oh, and then there’s the matter of Golden State clawing their way back from the brink of elimination after being down 3-1 to the Oklahoma City Thunder; while the Cavs practically cruised to the NBA Finals, save for two suspect losses to the Toronto Raptors. And still, the majority of fans and critics have dismissed the Cavs dominance due to the collective inferiority of Eastern Conference competitors. The Cavs, and most notably LeBron, are under pressure to prove that they are a championship caliber team that’s capable of stomping with the big dogs of the West; a Warriors team that went a record-setting 73-9 during the regular season.
And as if that weren’t enough, the ascension of Curry as the league’s golden boy has disempowered the self-proclaimed King as the ruler of the NBA. LeBron already demonstrated his petty side when throwing salt at Chef Curry earning the distinction as the league’s first-ever unanimous MVP, along with collecting back-to-back MVP titles. As someone who’s been chasing Michael Jordan’s legacy since he stepped into the league, how does LeBron reconcile a 6’3, 190-lb. babyfaced assassin rewriting history that has usurped even his idol, The GOAT’s accomplishments? The only way to diminish Curry’s individual and team successes from this current season is to deny The Bay from celebrating at the Cavs’ expense. Again. Because if he doesn’t, the narrative of Lebron achieving the incredible feat of appearing in six consecutive NBA Finals — seven total — but losing 2-5 with a healthy Irving and Love is going to raise all types of questions about LeBron’s: will to win (or lack thereof), leadership ability, worthiness of being compared to MJ and even Kobe Bryant. It’s going to reignite discussions about LeBron “needing” Wade and Bosh to win, his inability to defeat the Golden State Warriors, but most importantly, deliver a championship for Cleveland. It’s going to beg the question what exactly is King James the ruler of, because it’s not the NBA, the Golden State Warriors, or even his beloved city of Cleveland.
Now tell me, if that’s not pressure, then what the hell do you call it?