Once upon a time a college student rooted for his mid-major college basketball team to make a run in the tournament. The team won their conference and hit the tournament for the third year in a row. The team had played BIG 12 and SEC teams as #1 and #2 seeds in the previous years and drew a Conference USA team at a 3 seed for year three. The Conference USA team had a top five draft pick but the mid-major answered with a defensive style that would grind him up just as they had in the regular season where they had won more games than the 3 seed.
The game played tight and the NBA talent was held to 15 points, shooting 4-11 from the floor, but a sophomore point guard shot 5-9 from three and led the Conference USA team to a victory while the mid-major on the edge of finally winning had shot only 60% from the charity stripe and ultimately lost by only four points.
The student despised the NBA talent going on to the final four and being drafted fifth overall. The student saw the 15 points he was barely able to put down on the mid-major and thought better of a high drafting. Two years later the fifth overall pick was in the NBA finals and the student thought he didn’t stand a chance. ‘If he can score thirty-five a game they will win but if he scores less they will lose every time.’
Of course I’m the student or I wouldn’t care to tell you how right the student was while thinking he’d be wrong. Dwayne Wade of Marquette University scored 42, 36, 43, and 36 points in games three through six as the Miami Heat took the NBA Championship. I could no longer hate this guy as much as I wanted to and he entered a Boston Red Sox fan level of Jeter respect.
In football, although he didn’t put my team out of a college bowl, Trent Richardson I similarly despised Trent Richardson as a commodity. Why would I bid high on a Browns rookie coming into the toughest division in football to run against? The Browns are hardly ever in a position to run and Richardson didn’t seem to have the skill set of a good passing back. At a .1 yards per carry above Ron Dayne for his college career I just didn’t see Richardson being as NFL fast as he has proven. I bet against him in week four only to be wrong (https://craigvillemure.wordpress.com/2012/09/27/week-4-ups-and-outs/). None the less, after five weeks he is third in receptions and second in touchdowns among all running backs.
I’m starting to get the Dwayne Wade feeling about this guy, but I still don’t get how he ran better against the Ravens than he did against the Bills. For now I guess I’ll just stop betting against Trent Richardson while waiting for him to hit holes while carrying someone else to a fantasy football championship through soft matches against Kansas City and Washington in weeks 14 and 15 while I watch with the same distraught demeanor of 2003 as Holy Cross missed their free throws.
It is time to figure this guy out for once and for all. There is too much press on the guy to start with and the press can’t be trusted to present a realistic approach. Yeah I’m talking about the Everyday Sports Paparazzi National but the fact is this guy is the Next. The Next Jordan though? I think not. There have been several guys to come along and do what this kid is going to do. He might win some championships and he will most likely score 30,000 career points among other statistical achievements. When the game is on the line he is not the guy you want to rely on shooting the ball or taking free throws. Sounds to me like Shaquille O’Neal or Wilt Chamberlain.
LeBron James is the next Shaquille O’Neal not Michael Jordan. He is the guy that keeps you in the game but will always need someone else to close the game. Shaq needed Kobe and Wade, Wilt needed Jerry West, Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson needed Kareem and Russell had Havlicek and Cousy. They all won titles but none of those guys did it alone. Oscar Robertson took ten years in the shadow of Wilt and Russell before he won a title with a young Kareem in ‘71. LeBron might be taking the same path and although our generation has long since forgotten about the big O he deserves some comparison. Robertson averaged a triple-double his second year in the league while under one assist or rebound short for the other four of his first five in the league.
James has the triple double threat of Oscar Robertson and he is nearly twenty percent better from the charity stripe in the playoffs than Wilt Chamberlain or Shaq. Garnett says he’s six foot thirteen because he doesn’t play like a seven footer and with good reason. He played the wing most of his youth until a late growth spurt put him where he is now. James might be the reverse, the closest we have seen to a center in the body of a wing player. He often uses his size and strength to get to the basket or foul line similar to how Shaq could dominate on the block. He scores effectively at a high percentage which keeps games close.
He doesn’t distribute like Magic and he doesn’t score in the clutch like Jordan or even Kobe for that matter. He hasn’t had to fight to be great like either of those guys either. Magic always had to best Bird and Jordan didn’t make varsity till his junior year in high school. Lebron, on the other hand, was dubbed “The Chosen One” on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a junior at St. Vincent-St. Mary and the next season was the main event in the first ever regular season nationally televised High School basketball game. Thanks again, ESPN.
Shaq went on to win four titles, Wilt won two and Oscar only one. Shaq won his first after his twenty-eighth birthday and LeBron is only twenty-seven. Everyone is in a rush to see a kid take over the league with clutch scoring and they might start watching Kevin Durant instead.
When Magic and Bird came into the league I wonder if the media force fed comparisons of Dr. J and Oscar Robertson or if they were left to play for their own legacy. As for LeBron it might be time we start making fewer comparisons and when we do maybe we look to Shaq even though he’s not a center and let the Next Jordan question go quietly into the night.
It is only fitting that on the same night Paul Pierce scores 36 for the Celtics Kobe Bryant drops 38 for the Lakers. Since 2000 there has been plenty of analysis, stats and awards that show Kobe as the best swing man in the league: 81 point game, regular season MVP, 9 time NBA All Defense First team, two time finals MVP and 5 NBA Championships.
Pierce has been in Kobe’s shadow for over a decade now. Pierce is a perennial All-Star with an NBA championship and a finals MVP under his belt. Yet, unlike Kobe, he hasn’t been nominated to a single All-Defensive team despite having the same career 1.5 steals per game, half a block a game and besting him 5.1 to 4.1 on defensive rebounds per game. Pierce doesn’t score like Kobe and is four empty fingers behind him in championship rings, but aside froom Kobe, Pierce can score and play defense better than any other swing man in the league over that time.
Vince Carter used to throw down a whole lot of pretty dunks for shoe deals and his cousin Tracy McGrady put up 62 points in a game en route to scoring titles. In baseball everyone wants the 5 tool athlete that can run, catch, throw, hit for power and average. In basketball scoring titles and dunks are flashy for highlight reels but Pierce is the type of player with all the tools that are needed in the playoffs and he showed it in game two against the Hawks. In the fourth quarter he started the scoring by driving to the basket on T-Mac for a layup. He followed with another layup, a fast break dunk, a big three, a mid-range jumper off the dribble and two free throws to ice the lead. He pulled in four fourth quarter rebounds on his way to a game high 14 and playing without Rondo, Pierce finished second to Garnett with four assists to Garnett’s five.
Watch out for the grit that this Celtics team puts down. The Heat might be cruising but Pierce, Garnett and the rising Avery Bradley (three steals and three blocks in game two) matchup up well defensively with Lebron, Bosh and Wade. There are a lot of contracts up after these playoffs and you never know what Danny Ainge is going to put together. This Celtics team has played 73 playoff games since assembling the ‘big 3’ in 2007 and they don’t look contented with just one ring in that time. The young kids are on notice; Kobe is coming for the Western Conference Title and Paul Pierce is still The Truth.