Tag Archives: LeBron James

Defining But Not Really But Just For Now But Not At All LeBron’s Legacy

My knowledge of NBA history only extends as far as what I’ve randomly come across on Wikipedia, and everything I learned in Bill Simmons’ 10,000 page manifesto on why the Celtics are the best. Despite my admittedly limited knowledge, I don’t think I’m out of my league to say this: No player in NBA history has faced THREE Legacy-Or-Bust games in two seasons and successfully eviscerated most doubts to win those games.

Collectively, we’ve been on the verge of damning LeBron to a lifetime of Wilt Chamberlain tags on three separate occasions. This means two things: Led by ESPN, sports media and sports fans may be the most knee-jerk portion of human society, never giving appropriate time or patience to assess anything. The other thing, of course, is that LeBron is fucking great. Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals: 45 points against the Celtics on the road down 3-2. Game 6 of the 2013 Finals down 3-2 and coming off of an uneven 8-22 night shooting: a 32-10-11 line. Last night: 37 points and a step-back mid-range dagger at the end with the Heat only up 2—a shot that the Spurs were more than happy to give him.

Although LeBron hasn’t mitigated the circumstances that eventually led to these cluster-fuck do-or-maybe-literally-die situations well—he was averaging 16 ppg the first three games of this year’s Finals—he’s answered the call every time he’s been expected to. Problem is, ever since that Game 6 in Boston, we’ve expected him to not continually drive himself into these uncomfortable situations. He’ll always be cursed by his unlimited potential, but I thought he was over whatever mental block he suffers from that causes him to simply go missing in important games. It goes beyond not getting shots he normally makes to fall—it’s that he doesn’t assert himself to get those shots.

That’s the kind of player we’re dealing with. He’s a supremely talented individual with a supremely uneven mind, but one that can turn it on when all seems lost. Unlike last year, at least we know that switch exists, and can re-adjust our expectations accordingly. (Or not. Probably not.) Before Game 6 in Boston last year, we didn’t know he could turn it on; during the first half of the Finals we knew he could most definitely turn it off, but only to be flipped back up for the most critical moments. So we’ll bash him for the week he comes up short on the court, only to dress him up in hyperbolic superlatives after he, once again, proves everyone wrong. But because of who he is, and the tumultuous past he’s had, there will always be factions of fandom and media who will keep betting against LeBron.

LeBron doesn’t have the pathological killer instinct of Jordan or Kobe, and he doesn’t have the rational to the point where it seems irrational confidence of Magic. He doesn’t have the ice of Kevin Durant, and he certainly isn’t as steady and stoic as Tim Duncan. It’s time to stop comparing him to other greats, because LeBron, like life itself, isn’t a series of black-and-white events. You can’t assign him to just one role or character. You can count on him for everything and nothing while expecting the most. LeBron is a mercurial person blessed with a Mozart-like combination of intelligence, body, and talent that we’ve never seen before in a basketball player. And that’s okay. He’ll probably have many more Game 7’s than four-game sweeps, and we’ll have the same conversations about his mental fortitude and his legacy until we look back in 2020 and realize he’s got more rings than Jordan.

And right now, that’s what I’m rooting for. I went from being a totally idiotic LeBron hater, to not hating him as much, to wanting to see the him win as much as he can. I won’t be overt about it—I’m not going to tweet “GO HEAT,” or post pictures of LeBron on my Instagram, or even cheer for him in public. This will do:

After all, I am a Knicks fan. I hate the Heat, and other than James Dolan, LeBron James’ Heat are the biggest threat to my team. Yet I can’t bring myself to outwardly and viciously root against the guy (unless of course the Knicks are playing him), especially since the Knicks are doomed to second-round playoff exits for about the next 3-5 years. For me, it’ll all be a very sage-like, semi-passive approach—or balance—between wanting to see my Knicks win, and wanting to see LeBron collect titles. (And if he ditches Chris Bosh’s Pterodactyl qualities and Dwayne Wade’s knees after 2014 for LA or Kyrie Irving’s Cavs, maybe he’ll run off 6 straight championships individually. Your move, Pat Riley.)

I didn’t live through Jordan. I was too young. The way 70s and 80s babies snobbishly look down upon LeBron and today’s game through Jordan’s GOAT glasses, I want to be able to look down upon the next generation. I want to say that I lived through the Greatest, and my best shot at that selfish glory is LeBron James. Culturally, LeBron will never match what Jordan did and is still doing, but provided LeBron continues his statistical dominance and his championship pedigree, we’ll be able to one day say that he outdid MJ on the court.

And that’s LeBron’s unwritten legacy as written by someone in 2013. Let’s check back in 2023.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

Sports Figures Who Turned Over A New Leaf In 2012

2013 is here, but there were some things in 2012 that I still can’t shake. Honey Boo Boo, Nate Silver’s ’72 Dolphins performance, and a KimYe baby were all moments that rocked me to my core in 2012. We can all be thankful for the lack of a Mayan Apocalypse, and enough good health to make it to 2013. Last year was a productive one for myself and everyone involved with JLBSports, and it’s sad to see it go. A few sports figures are also disappointed to see 2012 slip away, but are surely excited with the prospects and future accomplishments that 2013 will undoubtedly bring. This bunch wasn’t in a great place at this time last year, but have now positioned themselves at the top for the year to come.

Robin van Persie
If not for Falcao, Robin van Persie would be regarded as the best striker in the world. He’s gone from being an injury-prone, trophy-less What-If type of player on Arsenal, to a healthy, in-form starter on first place Manchester United. He’s notched over 30 goals this calendar year, and has supplanted Wayne Rooney has Sir Alex Ferguson’s top option at forward. Here’s to the best striker in the EPL finally putting it all together at age 29, even if he is a Manc.

Adrian Peterson
I’ve run out of superlatives to describe Adrian Peterson and his 2012 NFL campaign. He tore his ACL almost a year ago, and he’s come back better than before. A torn ACL at age 27 would end many running backs’ careers, or at the very least, limit explosiveness. Instead, Peterson came back from his injury 2-4 months ahead of schedule, and has gone on to light up scoreboards (and my fantasy team too. Taking him in the 4th round lead to a comfortable championship for me this year). His 6 yards per carry mark is the highest of his career, he’s already set career bests in rushing yards and all-purpose yards. With a 2,000 yard season in the back, AP has been an All-Day back, and the best player in football in 2012. Oh, and he’s doing it on a team that’s second to last in the NFL in passing yards. Christian Ponder has given Peterson no help at all, but he hasn’t needed it. History suggests that Peterson won’t be able to carry the Vikings to a Super Bowl, but at this point, nobody would be surprised if he did.

Jamaal Charles
Peterson has received all of the SportsCenter attention for his tremendous 2012 season, but Jamaal Charles has turned in his best season as a pro after a torn ACL ended his season in 2011. Playing for the 2-14 Chiefs, he turned in 1,500 rushing yards, all while playing within the NFL’s WORST ranked passing offense. The Chiefs might’ve gone winless this year without him.

Peyton Manning
This time last year, nobody was sure if Peyton Manning was ever going to play football again. Manning, along with Peterson, are now the top two contenders for Comeback Player of the Year, and the NFL MVP award. Manning leads the league in QBR, set a career high in completion percentage, and has thrown for the most touchdowns since his (then) record breaking 49 touchdown season in 2004. The Broncos are undeniably the NFL’s best team right now, and are primed for a deep playoff run.

The Indianapolis Colts
From worst, to, well, the playoffs. Andrew Luck having a banner rookie year was expected, but the playoffs? Jim Mora definitely wouldn’t have picked these Colts to make the playoffs in 2012. They have, however, been extremely lucky. They had one of the easiest schedules in the NFL this year, only having to play three playoff bound teams, the Packers, Texans, and Patriots. The Colts have also had some immense luck (pun intended), as their -30 point differential is the worst of all playoff teams, and their -12 turnover differential is the 4th worst in the AFC. They may regress next year, but Chuck Pagano and Co. thoroughly deserve this magical ride.

Carmelo Anthony
2011 was one to forget for Carmelo Anthony. His Melodrama got him sent out of Denver, and into a Knicks cauldron that didn’t fit. In 2011, never gelled with Amare Stoudemire (the Knicks have a losing record with them in the starting lineup), and Mike D’Antoni never wanted him in the first place. 2012 has been a career revival for Anthony. Against the Miami Heat, he scored 41 points in the Knicks’ first playoff victory in over a decade, and followed that up a few months later by setting a single-game Team USA Olympic scoring record with 37 points against Nigeria. Those Team USA camps seem to do something to players—LeBron saw Kobe’s work ethic in 2008 and got better—it seems like Anthony saw LeBron’s leadership and do-it-all team mentality during the Olympics, and has applied it to his 2012 NBA regular season thus far. As the Knicks leading scorer and engine of the offense, he’s lead his team to the 2nd best record in the Eastern Conference, and a few “MVP, MVP!” chants from the Garden faithful as well.

LeBron James
In the span of one month, LeBron James exorcised all of his demons. He basically played every minute of the playoffs for the Heat, played one of the best games in playoff history against Celtics in Game 6, hit every clutch shot he needed to hit throughout the entire postseason, took a crap on the “Who’s the best player in the NBA? LeBron or Durant?” debate, and won his first NBA Championship with 60% of Dwayne Wade. He’s no longer the most hated player in the NBA, because it’s not fun to root against a guy who doesn’t fail anymore. As much as I loved hating on LeBron, it’s kind of nice now to sensibly sit back and enjoy the greatest basketball player of our generation do night-in and night-out what nobody else has done before. I still puke at all of his Samsung commercials though.

The Los Angeles Dodgers
This organization went from being torn apart and broken thanks to a divorce case to having the highest payroll in baseball and Magic Johnson in the stands. They’re being dubbed as the “Yankees West”—a term that would’ve been appropriate for the George Steinbrenner Yankees, but not for the suddenly tight-belted 2012 Yankees, who are dead-set on getting under the luxury tax. The Dodgers’ projected 2013 payroll stands at $207.9 million, and they’ve taken on nearly $500 million in total contracts within the past six months. Whether or not any of the spending will lead to winning baseball remains to be seen, but Dodgers fans can rest easy at night knowing that their team is serious about winning for the first time in years.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You: LeBron James

LeBron James is in a good place right now. For the first since the 2008 Olympics, he’s got reasons to. An Olympic Gold this year would bookend the four most most tumultuous—but ultimately rewarding—years in the career of any American athlete. In that time (let’s just go ahead and assume he’s winning a Gold medal this year), he’ll have notched two Gold medals, three MVP awards, four All-NBA and All-Defensive Team appearances, an NBA Championship and subsequent Finals MVP award. (Can’t forget the engagement ring either. He’s taking the hand of his high school sweetheart—an admirable courtship.) Through all of the accolades over those four years, he’s single-handedly pissed off every non-Heat fan for a laundry list of emotional and irrational reasons, ruined the economy and hopes of Cleveland, and had his sneakers infiltrate streetwear culture. He’s the most polarizing basketball player since Wilt, the most universally hated American athlete in recent memory (I would say of all-time, but my sports consciousness only goes back a decade), and was ranked last year as the tenth most unpopular American, up there with the likes of Mel Gibson, Donald Trump, and Paris Hilton. But once the summer has passed and the NBA season kicks off again in October, will we (“we” qualifies as all non-Heat fans who follow pop culture) hate LeBron just as passionately as we did in June? While you explore your feelings for LeBron now, which are probably softer because he’s dunking on Tunisians for our freedom (MURCIA!), it’s important to revisit how we got to this point.

The summer of 2008 sparked a career evolution for LeBron. Coming off another disappointing season with the Cavs, he played with the best basketball team assembled since the Dream Team, and probably thought, “Holy shit I need team up with one of these guys.” That thought, however, had been implanted (it was done Inception style by David Stern. There’s proof. Watch Inception backwards and you’ll notice things that weren’t there before) in 2006, when LeBron’s agent, who just also happens to be Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade’s agent, all got them contract extensions until 2010. But in the summer of 2008, that cute 2006 thought of playing with Wade and Bosh was realized—LeBron actually was playing with them, and it was fun. After playing with, and working out with a great team (Kobe’s work ethic infected LeBron), he started counting down the days until free agency 2010.

The following two seasons with the Cavs were MVP campaigns, but once again, ended in disappointment. The scope of what we expected out of LeBron was much less though. While 30-8-8 nights were expected, he was forgiven for not winning a championship. He still had an excuse: his team. The Cavs surrounded him with Delonte West (motherfucker), Mo Williams (carried bags for Chris Paul last season), a past-past-past his prime Shaq, and Antawn Jamison (scored five points in the season-ending/LeBron-endng loss to the Celtics in the playoffs). (Sidenote: I’ll never forgive the Cavs for trading for Jamison instead of Amare Stoudemire because they didn’t want to trade J.J Hickson to the Suns. Guaranteed LeBron gets to the Finals with Stoudemire instead of Jamison.) Needless to say, LeBron never had a good second-banana throughout his seven seasons in Cleveland. (Sidenote #2: I’ll never forgive the Cavs for botching the Carlos Boozer re-signing in 2004. Boozer and Stoudemire aren’t Pippen or 2000 Kobe, but they’re still miles better than whoever else the Cavs were plugging in next to LeBron.) The Cavs had seven years to put acquire help for LeBron, and they never did. So LeBron took the lifeline in the summer of 2010.

That lifeline came in the form of Wade, Bosh, and Miami’s tax-haven waters. This was the summer that everyone got pissed off—an appropriate middle point between the universal love we all had for LeBron in 2008, and the weird feeling (getting to that) we have for him now. With The Decision, he shamed an entire city, turned his back on basketball immortality (the option the Bulls and Knicks represented), and for any NBA fan who preaches purity and loves watching the Spurs play, ruined the NBA as we knew it. He took the easy way out. There’s no way Bird, Magic, Jordan, Shaq, or Kobe would’ve willingly teamed up with conference rivals. He’s putting superstar hero ball over teamwork. LeBron is a pussy.

Here, the hate that’s followed LeBron for the past two years was born. In our insatiable desire to anoint a new Jordan, we felt betrayed when LeBron, the greatest player since Jordan, did the most un-Jordan thing possible: He became neighbors with his best opponents instead of vanquishing them. (So far, we’re 0/4 in finding the next Jordan. High school O.J Mayo, Kobe, Wade, and LeBron have all failed, which isn’t a bad thing.) We wanted LeBron to follow our script towards Jordanism, when really he’s Magic 2.0: a power-point guard who can play any position and do any task on the court. Our disappointment that a talent like LeBron is not, and would not, be Jordan transformed into pure hatred for the man, when all LeBron did was live his life. We ripped on LeBron for being condescending, when in fact, we were the ones who felt high-horsed enough to feel obligated to determine what LeBron should do with his career. This all feels immature and sick when written out and fully-realized, but believe me, at the time it all felt so right.

In June, the will of millions wanting LeBron to fail was trumped by LeBron himself. Usually the best player in any sport is championed and marveled at by all. We all tip our hats in appreciation of their talent. More people got satisfaction in seeing LeBron fail than seeing him succeed. When was the last time the best player in any sport could say that? Maybe A-Rod in 2007? Ronaldo in 2008? Or Tiger 2010? Even then, those three were either successfully torn down or another player trumped them as the best. LeBron was clawed at in attempts to tear him down before it was too late. After he won his first championship, it became too late. LeBron escaped it all with his career in tact, and a championship notched.

With a brief history of LeBron hate rehashed, it’s easy to see why the cultural damning of LeBron was stupid. It was based on our own desires, and our own view of LeBron as an object of entertainment rather than LeBron as a guy who just wants to win ball games. With a championship, the wide-array of LeBron jokes are dead, criticism of his lack of clutch/a winning instinct is invalid, and the notion that he won as Wade’s second-banana is just false. LeBron won as the alpha-dog playing 45 minutes a night with Wade playing on one leg, Battier and Miller shooting inconsistently, and Bosh injured for almost two rounds. LeBron had more help than he had on Cleveland certainly, but it wasn’t like he was playing with Pippen and Rodman.

Where does this leave us? As a self-proclaimed Colonel in the army of LeBron haters, I suspect to see a mass of deserters. Unless you’re a fan of an Eastern Conference team or from Cleveland, there’s little reason to dislike LeBron, and almost no reason to hate him to the degree that we saw a few months ago. It’s never fun to root for something that feels preordained (as was the case with LeBron’s 2012 championship run), but it’s less fun to root for a losing cause, which is where we stand at the moment.

When I heard that LeBron asked an Olympic swimmer if she “Would you like to come eat with me at the dining hall?” and got turned down, I found myself saying, “Awwww, LeBron.” It was such a cute question that reminded me of middle school dating days. Want to get pizza with me after school? Can I walk you to class? LeBron didn’t fake thug it and say “Yo you tryna come grab food with me shorty?”. He approached her with the innocence of a 13 year old. Who would’ve thought that the diabolical LeBron James could ask a girl out in nerd glasses with his tail between his legs like a kid?

LeBron with the woman he was rejected by.

The moment I found myself laughing, “Awwww”ing, and feeling bad for LeBron’s dining hall rejection, I hung up my Colonel fatigues and handed in my hater pistol. I’ll still dislike him with the passion of a Knicks fan, but hate? Now that’s a strong word. LeBron didn’t silence the haters, but instead won them over. I’m sure I’m not alone.

I still hope he chokes next year though.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

1992 Dream Team Vs. 2012 USA Men’s Team: The Breakdown

“So I don’t know. It’d be a tough one, but I think we’d pull it out.”—Kobe Bryant on whether the 2012 Men’s team could beat the 1992 Dream Team

“I absolutely laughed.”—Michael Jordan on Kobe’s quote.

In any sport, it’s difficult to compare guys from different eras. Athletes today are healthier, more athletic, and smarter than they were twenty years ago. NBA rules have changed to make the game more open, allowing point guards to flourish. The league has gotten softer as players have become more physically gifted—the guys on the 1992 Dream Team were probably disgusted by how the playoffs were called this year. But if a hypothetical game between the Dream Team and the sequel to 2008’s “Redeem Team” happened, would the 2012 squad have a chance? Before we get into match-ups, here’s what we know:

The two greatest players of their generation are at the apex of their powers. At age 28 in 1992, Michael Jordan came off a 30-6-6 year, embarrassed Clyde Drexler in the 1992 Finals after a “Who’s Better: Jordan or Drexler?” debate was started during the playoffs, and promptly seized Finals MVP (the famous Shrug Game being the highlight). At age 27, LeBron James is coming off an MVP 27-6-8 campaign and a Finals MVP, settling a premature and unfair “Who’s Better: Durant or LeBron?” debate. Jordan at his peak versus LeBron at his peak? And if Gus Johnson is calling the game… Instant cumshot for every basketball fan.

Every player on the Dream Team is an NBA Hall of Famer except for Christian Laettner. If Isiah Thomas wasn’t hated so universally in 1992, he would’ve made it over Laettner (Chuck Daly, the Dream Team’s coach, and Thomas’s coach on the Pistons didn’t even pick him), giving the Dream Team 12 Hall of Famers in 12 roster spots. Alas, they’re 11 for 12 (unless Laettner’s College Basketball Hall of Fame spot counts. He’s enshrined in the same building as Jordan, since the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield covers all areas of basketball). It’s hard to project who will be a Hall of Famer on the 2012 team, but surely the likes of Andre Iguodala won’t make it to Springfield. For historical purposes, the Dream Team reigns supreme.

The 2012 team lacks size. Tyson Chandler is the lone 7-footer on that roster, and offers nothing offensively. The Dream Team had 7-footers Patrick Ewing and David Robinson. Dwight Howard is missed just for his size and post strength alone. Chandler can’t play the entire game though, leaving the likes of Kevin Love, LeBron, and Anthony Davis to protect the post against Ewing, Robinson, Charles Barkley, and Karl Malone.

The Dream Team is slow at point guard. Magic Johnson didn’t play in the NBA in 1992, but he proved in the Olympics that he was still the best point guard in basketball. At age 31, however, he was a huge liability defensively. His backup, John Stockton, was no burner either. Meanwhile, the 2012 team has the most explosive point guard available in Russell Westbrook, and Magic’s heir, Chris Paul.

The 2012 team is injured. Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, Dwayne Wade, and Blake Griffin are all out with injuries for Team USA. Howard’s size, Rose’s speed, Wade’s scoring, and Griffin’s power are all huge misses for the 2012 team. These guys would’ve made a real difference. Howard and Griffin would help patch a weak spot inside for the 2012 team, Rose could further exploit Magic and Stockton, and Wade is a huge upgrade at shooting guard over Kobe’s current backups.

Now that those facts have been hashed out, who wins the individual matchups at each position?

POINT GUARD
Magic in his prime was better than Chris Paul is now, but in 1992, Magic was at the end of his career. A Paul/Westbrook/Deron Williams combination would tear up Magic and Stockton (who got regularly got beat by the speedy Gary Payton throughout his career), beating them with pure speed and stealing ability. 2012 Team wins.

SHOOTING GUARD
Here, the two biggest alpha-dogs of their time would be paired up against each other. Nobody in basketball was more competitive than Jordan, although Kobe would definitely have something to say about that. Jordan and Kobe would kill each other out there. Although Jordan in his prime blows an aging Kobe away physically, Kobe wouldn’t make it easy—he’s too much of a competitive killer. Drexler wasn’t the same player after Jordan took his soul in the 1992 Finals (seriously, Drexler went from being a top 5 player to barely an All-Star after that), but he’s still superior to James Harden and Westbrook at the 2. Drexler was in his prime in 1992, while Harden, Gordon and Westbrook are still figuring themselves out. Dream Team wins.

SMALL FORWARD
Larry Bird, Chris Mullin, and Scottie Pippen (and maybe Barkley?) against LeBron, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony. While LeBron will play any position 1-5 and would probably guard Jordan, Durant and Anthony could hold their own. Larry Bird was still a maverick with the ball even when he retired, but his back was shot by this point. The uber-athletic speed, strength, and length of Durant and Anthony would cause too much trouble for Bird, Mullin, and Pippen to handle. Have LeBron actually play the 3, and this matchup is no contest. 2012 Team wins.

POWER FORWARD
Barkley in his prime was better than any forward not named LeBron that the 2012 team could offer against him. He’d make Love question his own abilities, as Love is hardly an apt defender. Barkley would remind Davis of his rookie status over and over again, as an undersized but thick Barkley would plow through Davis. Malone coming off of a world-beating 28-11 season only makes things worse for the 2012 team. Davis is the only one who could potentially defend Barkley and Malone—2015 Anthony Davis that is—not rookie Anthony Davis. Dream Team wins.

CENTER
A Pity Party is needed for Tyson Chandler here. He’s going to have to do the bulk of the interior defending with Davis against Ewing and Robinson in their primes. Chandler is the best defensive center in basketball today, but he couldn’t hold on against Robinson and Ewing rotating in and out. Too many big, fresh bodies for the Dream Team, and not nearly enough offense or size inside for the 2012 team. Dream Team wins.

The Dream Team wins 3-2 in the matchup battle. These are teams that will come bringing different styles of basketball though, and matchups aren’t everything. The Dream Team would have more emphasis on attacking the weak interior of the 2012 Team with their bigs, while having Jordan and Magic do everything they can on fast breaks. The 2012 team is going to try and win on speed and athleticism down the wings and in transition, with Chris Paul and LeBron in a power-point guard role spearheading attacks to Westbrook, Durant, and Davis down the court. If I’m Coach K, I go with a Paul, Kobe, Westbrook, Durant, LeBron, Chandler starting five, but eventually settling in with a Paul, Westbrook, Durant, LeBron, Davis lineup to make the game a track meet. It’s their only shot against the size of the Dream Team.

Who wins? The Dream Team. Never bet against Jordan. No way he lets this game get away.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

Hack-A-LeBron: A New Strategy For A New LeBron

Here’s the first article from contributor Russell Simon.

The full circle of LeBron James’s basketball life was completed last week. By finally reaching the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow—a rainbow littered with the corpses of close but not close enough seasons in Cleveland and Miami, James was able to deliver ridiculously dominant performance after ridiculously dominant performance en route to the Larry O’Brien trophy.

He was able to dominant the way he did because he changed his offensive game. Look at chart to the right, created by Kirk Goldsberry and Matt Adams for Court Vision Analytics. LeBron has become an absolute monster near the basket—even more so than in the past. According to Goldsberry and Adams, 88% of LeBron’s shots in the
regular season were either from close or midrange. During the 2011-2012 season, LeBron averaged .4 more points per game then he did in the 2010-2011 season and raised his three point shooting, field goal, and rebounds per game percentages. LeBron took one less 3 pointer a game this season compared to last, but took about the same amount of shots, showing that he wasn’t going to settle for 3s as much. That helped him raise his true shooting percentage (what shooting percentage would be if 3 pointers and three throws were calculated into a regular shooting percentage) one whole point from 59.4 to 60.5%. This may be small, but it was a career high for him. 

LeBron also made the left block his go to spot on offense. He was at his most consistent offensively by getting the ball close to the basket either passing to an open man or taking a high percentage shot. The Celtics series was a perfect example of how the new LeBron carried the Heat to victory (Game 6 not withstanding. That was a barrage of jumpers that we’ve never seen from him before). The Heat were down 3-2 in that series, and LeBron wasn’t getting into his sets offensively. Far too often, he was catching the ball near the 3 point line—too far away from the basket for his liking. This resulted in only an average of 7 free throw attempts a game for LeBron during those losses. But during the 4 wins in that series, LeBron caught the ball at the left block over, and over, and over again, getting to the line on average 14 times a game.

This transformation puts opposing teams in a serious quandary. Teams now have to make the impossible choice whether to guard LeBron heavily up on the block, or give LeBron tons of space in the areas in which he is least effective. Both of these choices are doomed to failure. It is impossible to guard LeBron heavily down low. We saw this in the Finals, when James Harden tried to impede him when LeBron was trying to get into the lane without the ball. This either ended with LeBron getting the ball on the block and taking right to Harden, or a foul being called on Harden. Given the propensity of NBA officials to call ticky tack fouls on players, guarding LeBron with this strategy is a double whammy—teams are put into foul trouble, all while Lebron is barely even touched. The other strategy is potentially even worse, because giving LeBron space means he just gets a ten foot head start on his way to a full on assault on the basket. It can lead to posterization, humiliation, devastation, and perhaps someday decapitation.

I’m here with another way. I’m here with a strategy that can potentially give teams a fighting chance (no pun intended as you will soon discover) at stopping LeBron. It’s been used in the past. Throughout the 1990s, this strategy helped strong teams assert their will.

It was a strategy built on protecting the paint at all costs. It worked for the 1993 New York Knicks—a team built on grit and toughness, with Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, Charles Smith, and Anthony Mason as the centerpieces. That team went 60-22, and they did so by playing tough, aggressive basketball. According to a New York Times article published just before the start of the NBA playoffs in 1993, the Knicks had 12 flagrant fouls during that season, while the league average was only 3.8. Charles Oakley himself committed six, including an incredible stretch where he averaged a flagrant a week.

Fast forward back to 2012. In the Finals, LeBron destroyed the Thunder near the basket. He got to the line eight to nine times a game while rarely being knocked down. The Thunder lost in 5. Who knows what would have happened if someone on the Thunder had fouled him hard nearly every time he went to the basket.

This strategy—let’s call it Hack-A-Lebron—can work better then what the Thunder did. If teams actually made a concerted effort to not give LeBron any easy buckets by adopting a defensive strategy based on intimidation and toughness, it would force LeBron to earn his buckets from the free throw line. LeBron is better at hitting lay-ups and dunking then he is at hitting free throws. In the series against Indiana, he was 72.5% from the charity stripe. In the Conference Finals he was even worse, going 65% from the line. There’s also the added psychological affect of knowing contact is coming, something that could potentially play with LeBron mentally and affect his game. (Just maybe?)

LeBron has said over and over again that he plays his best basketball when he is happy and carefree, giving the world the mental image of a once in a generation athletic beast frolicking through a dandelion field while reading the Hunger Games. He once told Rachel Nichols, “I play the game fun, joyful, and I let my game do all of the talking.” Is it possible that LeBron could eventually become annoyed, and mad, by receiving constant contact from defenders? Not likely. He’s too cool on the court. Remember the game in the regular season where Russell Westbrook got the ball stolen by Wade on a crossover, Wade passed it to LeBron on the break, and Westbrook just took him out from behind when he went up for an easy two?

LeBron just walked away after it happened. He didn’t react and he didn’t noticeably up his game. He didn’t try and punish the Thunder for the foul. There were no revenge shots. Not to take anything away from what became a virtuoso 34-point performance, but he reacted in a far different way than Metta World Peace or Rasheed Wallace would’ve. LeBron isn’t a player to get angry over fouls.

Westbrook only received a flagrant 1 for that foul, but at some point repeatedly egregious fouls will result in ejections and suspensions. Teams will have to adapt their Hack-A-LeBron strategy away from over the top flagrants, and more towards fouls that simply prevent him from getting a shot off. LeBron had a plethora of and-one opportunities in the playoffs simply because when players fouled him, LeBron was still able to have a good look at the basket. Preventing him from getting a shot off is no easy task though, as all of his and-ones prove. He’s just too big and too fast.

Hack-A-LeBron can work for teams with great depth, especially at the forward position. That 1993 Knicks team I mentioned earlier had eleven guys who could play: Patrick Ewing, John Starks, Charles Smith, Anthony Mason, Doc Rivers, Rolando Blackman, Charles Oakley, Greg Anthony, Tony Campbell, Hubert Davis, and Herb Williams. Any team in 2012 that goes 11-deep has an insurance policy for hack a LeBron. A team like the Dallas team that won in 2011 immediately jumps out as a modern era example of a team with that kind of depth. That team was absolutely stacked, with J.J. Barea, Brendan Haywood, Jason Terry, Deshawn Stephenson, and even Brian Cardinal getting minutes in the Finals. That team didn’t need to play Hack-A-LeBron, but they could if they wanted to, because they had guys off the bench that could step up.

Teams may want to try putting a power forward on LeBron more often. The Heat don’t have strong bigs, so teams could sacrifice a player in the paint to matchup with LeBron. Power forwards, while not having LeBron’s speed, can get into the paint to Hack-A-LeBron. Inside-outside forwards like Serge Ibaka proved to be an effective defensive weapon against LeBron in the Finals. Although Ibaka lacks the lateral speed to keep up with LeBron, hit shot-blocking ability made up for it. Unfortunately, Ibaka didn’t guard LeBron often enough. Not every team is blessed with a shot-blocker like Ibaka, but as more and more freakishly athlete power forwards come into the league (Anthony Davis, Perry Jones III), they’ll prove to be a challenge for LeBron. They’re big enough to prevent shots on the perimeter, fast and lanky enough to block shots, and strong enough to commit hard fouls.

I must admit, I kind of feel as though I should be wearing a Saints hat and a Motorola coaches headset a la Greg Williams. But while Hack-A-LeBron certainly is not a totally ethical policy, the course of basketball history has included many teams that played this rough, aggressive style. The Chuck Daly’s Piston’s of the 80’s, the Knicks of the 90’s, and the teams that put Shaq on the line constantly in the early 2000’s all played with a style similar to the one I am advocating. We are in a new era in the NBA—LeBron’s era. It’s an era that’s gone soft by way of the official’s whistle, but NBA teams can fight this by using a strategy of good old Hack-A-LeBron.