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The Evolution of LeBron James

Mon, 06/18/2012 - 4:42am

We’ve all heard the criticisms. Not clutch. Not obsessed with winning like Kobe or Michael. Cares more about being a global icon than a basketball player.

LeBron JamesLeBron JamesWhether one thinks these criticisms are fair or unfair, no professional athlete of the modern era has had to face more scrutiny than LeBron James. In an age where every play is dissected by talking heads throughout the country (including Skip Bayless), and every opinion is immediately placed on Twitter for the world to see, there is and will be no escape for James as his critics line up to blast him for any misstep or missed shot he takes. Fair or unfair, the only way to silence the critics will be to win that elusive championship.

Putting aside all the outside noise from the media, and every other self-proclaimed basketball expert with access to a Twitter account or their own blog, how has James evolved from the man who brought us The Decision and the man who seemed to disappear under the bright lights of last year’s Finals?

The answer can be analyzed from two perspectives- LeBron James the basketball player and LeBron James the man.

From a basketball standpoint, the changes are there for all to see. After a summer spent developing post moves with Hakeem Olajuwon, James has been more determined than ever to catch the ball in the post, particularly in the last series against the Boston Celtics and in the first two games of this Finals series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Whilst it is difficult for James to always receive the ball in the low post within a few of the ring, it is simply impossible to stop him from catching the ball in the high post on either side of the free throw line. This is where James has done most of his damage during his historical run in these playoffs (if you don’t think it’s historical, look to see how many other players in NBA playoff history have had such a statistical run).

There is one post move that James has developed that has been arguably the most crucial addition to his basketball arsenal, and it is a move that gets very little attention- the baby hook shot. It’s a move that’s not as spectacular as his high-flying dunks or fade-away jump shots, but boy is it effective (just ask Kareem). It’s effectiveness lies not in the simplicity of the shot, but in the doubt it puts in defenders’ minds.

In previous years, if James was to catch the ball in the post and move towards the basket, defenders knew he would either try to just bully his way to the ring or stop for a short off balance jumper. This year, with his newly developed hook shot, defenders are left in two minds and have to pay James more respect- often resulting in a less-contested short pull up jumper, or space for James to show off his newly developed flip shot.

As a result, the whispers about his lack of post moves have quietened down- and rightfully so. However, an even louder criticism that James has faced over the years has pertained to his lack of attack towards the ring. “Why doesn’t LeBron drive to the rim more? When he does this he can’t be stopped.”

The difference in these playoffs has been clearer than ever. James has been in attack mode from day one, and the reason for this change can be tied back to the change in LeBron James the man.

To simplify matters would be to say that James looks more at peace with himself, but one has to look at the underlying reasons for such a change. This can be attributed to last offseason, when he was coming off the worst on court performance of his professional career.

For starters, off the court last summer James decided to move his family down to Florida with him, and he proposed to his long-term girlfriend. James has admitted that these moves have provided his life with more stability.

Also during last summer in the aftermath of that NBA Finals disappearance, James locked himself in his house for two weeks, depressed and removed from the outside world. James came out the other side a new man, realizing he could no longer care what anyone else thinks, and realizing that he could only do things one way: his way.

I believe that this is when any underlying fears left LeBron James, and it has resulted in his brilliant play this postseason. James is at peace with himself, as evidenced by him reading novels just moments before career-defining playoff games, and by his moments of meditation on the bench just before tip-off.

No longer is he shying away from the moment and watching from the corner as his teammate Dwyane Wade makes a move during crucial moments of a playoff game. James is now demanding the ball more than ever as it has become increasingly obvious that this is now his team.

It is James that now gives the pre-game pep talks to his team, and it is James who now yells at his teammates in the huddle trying to motivate them during timeouts. The man has developed into a leader both on and off the court.

The criticisms will remain and only get louder this summer if James doesn’t win the championship in the next fortnight. But if the Heat do not win the title this time around it will be through no fault of LeBron James.

Last year the guy in his twenties was scared of what the backlash would be. This year, it seems to be the furthest thing from the man’s mind.

Meditated States
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Why

Do guys where those stupid glasses? They look stupid and even more foolish when they sit next to each other.

omphalos
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Except what if it IS through

Except what if it IS through the fault of Lebron James? What if he has yet another post-season collapse and plays terribly the rest of the series?

Everyone has seen his mouthguard - it takes 16 wins to win the ring, not 10, not 12, not 15, 16. If he plays poorly and the Heat don't bring home a championship, then everything else doesn't matter.

Don't count your eggs before they hatch and don't call Lebron a changed man before you've got proof in the face of real pressure. It's still early in the series, nothing is guaranteed, especially where Lebron James is concerned.

Lebron's Hairline
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scout

It's the style nowadays don't hate

Lebron's Hairline
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scout

It's the style nowadays don't hate

elliot_grossman
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no professional athlete of the modern era has had to face...

"no professional athlete of the modern era has had to face more scrutiny than LeBron James."

See Tiger Woods, Tim Tebow, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemons, Mark McGuire, etc.

jhbm24
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LeBron

For someone who hasn't done anything wrong in his professional career he hands down has the most scrutiny. And all those baseball players aren't of this era of social networks and mass media outlet. And all the guys but review did things to deserve scrutiny

jhbm24
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And

Tebow is loved. Not hated. Complete difference.

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so quick to jump on bandwagon

People are so quick to jump on the LeBron James bandwagon. Okay, he put up great numbers and actually made plays late, but let's not forget the difference between the Heat winning Games 2 and 3 and losing Game 1 is Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh came through, especially Wade. Wade was subpar in Game 1, but averaged 24-25 ppg in games 2 and 3, and Bosh has provided the Heat with an inside presence Tim Duncan couldn't quite provide with the Spurs.

If the Thunder want to come back and take the trophy, they have to key their defense to stop D-Wade. LeBron will get his, but D-Wade is really the key.

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Tim Tebow is Scrutinized

People still doubt him to this day and call him a backup or wildcat qb. While he is certainly praised as well, the scrutiny is obviously there.

See Stephen A. Smith, Teddy Bruschi, etc.

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To the two above commenters

Really? Comparing LeBron's scrutinization to men who have 1.) committed crimes or severe moral crimes and 2.) Still have NOWHERE NEAR the level of CONSISTENT scrutiny that LeBron has faced. Only Tiger has the type of transcendent talent has out of those as well. And to the other guy: sure, Dwyane is important. Very important. But Dwyane is playing far worse in these playoffs than he did in last year's....Yet the Heat are up 2-1 in the Finals against a team that beat the Spurs 4 games in a row. Know why? LeBron James.

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Lebron is the player people

Lebron is the player people love to love, and love to hate. I think it all starts with how we feel about ourselves when looking at Lebron, IE if I had that size, athletic ability, explosiveness etc etc... I'd do this, or that.

The truth is, Lebron is as rare to Basketball as Usain Bolt is to Sprinting, or Phelps is to swimming. He is a once in a generation athlete not only because of his natural gifts and overall skill level, but because of his Work Ethic.

Lebron is not perfect because he's not a machine. When we take into account the human element of sports, the variables become incalcuable. Judgement calls are made on every play. There is cause and effect and 20/20 hindsight. All of that doesn't matter when it comes to the topic of Lebron. He is a player people just want to talk about... love him or hate him.

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Scrutinized players

jmarg25
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Scrutinized players

Nobody has been more scrutinized ON the court than LeBron. People hate Tiger Woods and Barry Bonds, but they don't nitpick their gameplay.

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So what, no bodies perfect.

I like a good rivalry. I don't like some teams and players. However Tiger and LbJ are hated the anti christ. When did cheating on your spouse and then paying them a half billion to go away and forget about you warrent the death penilty. Money can't heal a broken heart but it can finance a lot of ways to help get over it. My wife cheated and I got nothing, so what. Some players walked though the stands beat up fans and elbowing other in the back of the head and all is soon forgotten, why? The higher some star struck fans place these idols on pedistools the further they fall, crushing Their hopes, dreams, and faith in their fellow man b/c they didn't live up to a misconception others had of them. Fact is they're not perfect. Today Lebron is playing like he's the best at what he does. Impressive but I'll never forget he's only human. Wade and Bosh are needed to help Miami win it all this year. They were needed last year too when none of the big 3 did enough but 1 got more than enough blame. If they win a ring this year that some won't give that same 1 player credit b/c he didn't hit a walk of shot. SO WHAT

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Sorry, ElliotGrossman, but

Sorry, ElliotGrossman, but you are wrong. None of those athletes faced anywhere near what Lebron has faced, especially during the prime of their careers. All but one of the athletes you mentioned brought criticism on themselves by cheating, breaking the law, or by simply committing immoral acts. And even then this was mostly after they retired, other than tiger of course. But Tiger remains a beloved figure in the sports world. At his worst moment he was not as hated as Lebron.

The Tebow example is just absurd. Lebron is heavily scutinized and hated at the same time, absolutely nothing like Tebow's situatiuon where people worship the ground he walks on.

And all this when the guy is playing some of the best basketball the game has ever seen!!!

Mkadoza
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Big difference between Tebow

Big difference between Tebow and Lebron, Tebow's intangibles have never been in question while his ability to play his position is. Lebron James is like Cam Newton in terms of talent and ability. Absolutely game changing. Never has a player so good in their respective Team Sport while being so blamed for not winning a championship. Peyton Manning 10 years in didnt geet it like this. Marino didnt either.

No team sport athlete has been held more accountable for winning and losing championships.

Ehh..... Maybe Wilt.

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Lebron rocks

Lebron James is clearly the best player on the court. Better than Kobe,Paul,Wade and Duarant.Players that have been better are MJ,Bird,Johnson and Chamberlain Maybe. But in Skill Lebron outranks everyone. The only reason his good is because he has 3 MVPs 1 Title and a rookie of the year which i think carmelo shuld of won.

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