On the court the 33-year-old can only rely on himselfby Benjamin Markovits / June 14, 2018 / Leave a comment
About seven years ago, I interviewed LeBron James in Barcelona. It was the summer after he lost his second NBA Finals. His Miami Heat team had been upset by the underdog Dallas Mavericks, partly because James himself had underperformed, panicking or deferring at crucial moments, and he’d come in for a lot of criticism afterwards. In person he was extremely impressive. He looked like a statue of himself, solid and larger than life, and in every situation I saw him (I was allowed to follow him around for the weekend), he seemed like the grown-up in the room: patient with the foolishness that surrounded him, serious and in control.
Last week he lost again. These days he plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers, his hometown team, and they were just “swept” (beaten four games to none in the championship-deciding best-of-seven series) by the Golden State Warriors—a kind of super-team that has changed the way basketball is being played. It’s the third time in four years that Golden State has beaten LeBron in the Finals. For complicated reasons I usually find myself rooting against him. The simplest is that I’m a Michael Jordan fan, he was one of the gods of my childhood, and James has now become so good that even reasonable people like to talk about whether he has supplanted Jordan as the greatest basketball player of all time. This bugs me, and the easiest way to stop these conversations is for James to lose.
But there are other reasons. What makes basketball so absorbing is that it’s an almost equal contest between grace and power. In soccer, by contrast, grace (skill, quickness of thought and foot, etc.) tends to win—in rugby and American football, even the “skill” players tend to be big and enormously strong. Basketball is really the only sport I can think of where grace and power go head to head, guard each other, play the same positions. And basketball is at its best, most exciting and watchable, when grace wins… which is what made Jordan so easy to love, because he took on the “bad boys” of Detroit and New York, tough, strong, dirty teams, who liked to push people around, and out-graced them.
There has never been a player like LeBron James. He’s listed at 6’8”, two-hundred-and-fifty pounds, and is…