x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

MVP title with Heat done, can Lebron James dunk raised expectations?

Now that he has got into the door of the big club, the ceiling of expectations has been raised on the improving star.

LeBron James was criticised when he said he moved to Miami Heat because of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
LeBron James was criticised when he said he moved to Miami Heat because of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

Some of the greatest NBA players have already offered to move aside, but if being the best of the best really matters to LeBron James, he will have to elbow the rest out of the way.

James was named the MVP of the NBA Finals, contributing 26 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds in Game 5 of the title series to lead the Miami Heat to a clinching 121-106 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Miami won the second title in franchise history, and James, 27, won for the first time in three finals appearances.

One championship gets him in the door. In a game of "musical chairs" - and that's what ranking "the greatest anything" comes down to - it doesn't guarantee the throne.

Michael Jordan, who stubbornly kept trying to win a championship by himself, got his first ring in his seventh season in Chicago and won six before he retired. Ever competitive, he still refuses every offer to comment on any other player, let alone compare them.

Oscar Robertson, who made a career setting up teammates to succeed, lost a decade trying to win in Cincinnati, then moved to Milwaukee and partnered with a young Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to get his first and only title. He could not have been more complimentary.

Think of James as sandwiched somewhere between those two at the moment.

"He's getting smarter; he's only 27 and still too sensitive to what people think about him," Robertson said. "He'll get over that and, if nothing else, it stops the 'When are you?' talk. Then he won't give a damn what they say. That's when we'll see real LeBron come out."

Robertson was the original "big guard", a threat to score, hand out assists and grab rebounds, the only player in league history to average more than 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists over the course of a season.

But he played the game at roughly 1.96 metres and 99.8 kilograms. James is 2.03m and 113.4kg, with much the same skill set and a chiselled physique. Considering how many individual awards he has already piled up in nine seasons - MVPs, scoring championships, All-Star selections and record-book entries - his accomplishments might one day dwarf those of other greats.

That means Jordan, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell and Kobe Bryant, each of whom have won multiple championships.

Clyde Drexler, another big guard voted onto the "NBA's 50 Greatest Players" honour roll, wonders whether James will ever get his due. Like James, he came up short several times with his original team - Portland, in his case - then moved to Houston alongside Hakeem Olajuwon and won his only championship.

Drexler is a aware of the damage James did to his public image with The Decision, his nationally televised announcement, which came off as smug and arrogant, that he was jumping from the Cleveland Cavaliers to Miami and joining Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.

"The guy has an unbelievable resume, he's the most unselfish, hard-working guy on the court and if you're a fan of the game, you can't help but love the way the guy plays the game," Drexler said. "So here's one way to look at it: before The Decision he was one of the most revered athletes on the planet. After The Decision - and it wasn't the best way he could have handled that situation, but it's over - people just, just sort of threw him down the stairs."

Jordan criticised the James move, saying he had greater respect for players who defeated their rivals rather than joined them. Drexler suggests it was a matter or practicality.

"When I got to Houston and started playing with Hakeem, frankly, I needed a lighter load. I knew I wouldn't have to work as hard.

"With LeBron, the expectations were outsized once he said he was going to Miami. He met those once. We'll find out how much he's got left."

James may now discover that victory heightens expectations instead of easing them. What marked Jordan as special is that every off-season, after the celebration, he went back to work turning a weakness - left-handed dribble, mid-range jump shots - into a strength.

Johnson believes James's ceiling will be determined by how hard he works at the game.

"Before, my biggest knock on LeBron was he was just playing off his God-gifted talent," Johnson said before Game 5.

"He was just the best athlete. But he didn't play with his head to match that.

"Now he's playing with his talent and with his head, and wow, watch out. This guy is going to set the league on fire for a long time. … I know there was an earlier question about how dominant has his performance been. We look to see this from LeBron for years and years to come."

We had better. After all, when he arrived in Miami he promised "not two, not three, not …"

You get the idea.

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE