Like every NBA rookie, LeBron James had high hopes.
When he joined the Cavaliers right out high school (Akron) after being selected # 1 in the 2003 Draft, he surely thought anything was possible. As far as NBA accolades were concerned, the sky was the limit.
Not just because he was a phenomenal talent with a ton of hype, but because any team that uses the 1st overall pick on an untested 18-year old has gotta’ mean business, as in, the business of winning an NBA championship.
In retrospect, it looks like the business Cavaliers’ owner Dan Gilbert had in mind was less about building a champion and more about milking all he could from publicity generated by the most touted NBA rookie since Patrick Ewing.
Because the younger fan is less demanding in the expectation department and winning that elusive NBA title is quite costly, selling celebrity is the preferred choice of owners, marketers and those who would do their bidding (media).
Just take a gander back at Cleveland rosters from 2003 – 2010. It’s a wonder they ever made it to a Finals at all during James’ tenure in the Forest City (’07 Spurs). Best explanation: Cavs lone appearance in an NBA Finals was a testament to team-play, good coaching, an unexceptional East and LeBron James’ strong back.
While Dan’s goals for his prized player seemed unambitious, the rest of America has had nothing but great expectations of LJ from the get-go, including a title or two.
Great Expectations: It’s a famous work by Charles Dickens (1860). I’ve seen the David Lean movie (‘46) but never cracked the book. By the time I’d become a human being, educators were passing on the classics. In short, it’s a tortuous story of an orphaned boy (“Pip”) and his rise to a class of “great expectations” with help from a secret benefactor.
But besides being crowned ‘Most Very Popular’ player thrice, two forgettable Finals and making lots ‘o loot, LeBron’s been more expectation than great. “Clutch Cargo” he ain’t.
James isn’t alone.
The hype-hero is a frequent player on the public stage.
A select few matched or exceeded their buildup (Gretzky / Jordan / Woods / Magic / Bird).
Some who sipped champagne early never went back for more (Chipper / Ripken / Dale Jr. / Roddick / Daley), while others proved marketing mirages, either total busts (Leaf / Oden / JaMarcus), not as advertised (Mandrich / Bosworth) or perennial winners who were fantasy favorites but never grabbed the brass-ring (Bonds / Marino).
Then there are Kareem & Wilt. Arguably the two best b-ballers in history, maybe the two best athletes ever. But even with armfuls of MVPs, both fell short of great expectations. Alcindor took but one title in Milwaukee (’71) and when back in LA, it was Ervin’s magic that put Lakers back on top (’80). And while Wilt is still king of the record-book, he must’ve rued the day he ever met Bill Russell and his Boston Celtics.
Tony Romo, Mike Vick, Alex Ovechkin, Dwight Howard, Phil Rivers and Matt Ryan’s stars still burn but are fading, while stories on the newest hype-heroes like Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, Bryce Harper, Steve Strasburg and Danica Patrick are still being written.
Even when your best days are behind (Woods), the hype-machine can keep chuggin’ along. Though, in Tiger’s case it’s understandable, given how none of today’s one-win wonders on the PGA seems interested or capable of ascending to his throne.
Just remember this next time your super-hero falls short of expectations: 1) They don’t run the hype-machine or set content at ESPN; and 2) Apart from bowling, bull-riding, golf, etc., team-sport requires a team-effort. “One for all, all for one (Three Musketeers).”
While Gretzky and Jordan exceeded expectations, look at the rosters they occupied: HOF’ers, All-Stars, proven supporting cast and top-notch gurus (Jackson / Sather) filled the bill. Winning a title in the NBA and the like still requires a talented roster, no matter how much your titillated talk-radio meathead would have you think otherwise.
To keep his mythical crown, King James needs a title-ring.
Heat v Lakers was preferred Finals for NBA brass, but then the tres is risky business, Mr. Brown (OKC / G2). In fact, any of the four possible match-ups is a ratings salivator.
Whomever does get there, it ain‘t gonna’ be easy.
Big-hearted Celtics got moxie to burn but age & depth make ‘em vulnerable, while high-energy OKC’s maturity-level gives ring-laden, re-focused ‘Patriots of San Antonio’ the decided edge.
“The really big shew (Sullivan),” ain’t from Reebok. It’s pro basketball’s biggest stage, the NBA Finals. A place where substance rules while flash, ego and roster holes get exposed right quick. It’s where even old, tattered expectations of greatness can finally be fulfilled and worn with pride, as Dirk “Pip” Nowitzki did in last year’s Finale.
If His Majesty and the Heat can channel an inside game and go easy on the three, Mr. James just might complete that royal ensemble fans & marketing mavens across America have long been expecting.
Ahead of the Curve
Photo Credit: Keith Allison / Flickr / WC / LeBron James / 3-3-11
About the Author
Written by Steven Keys
A native of the old Northwest Territory (IL), my wife and I have lived in four Midwestern states and Arizona. Today we live in Duluth, Georgia. I have a history / legal background.