On The Fulfilled Prophecy Of LeBron James And The Writing Of More Chapters

On February 18, 2002, Sports Illustrated declared LeBron James “The Chosen One," making him just the ninth high school athlete ever to cover the magazine. Nearly three years later, LeBron would start in his first of 13 straight NBA All-Star games, alongside the likes of Grant Hill, Vince Carter and Allen Iverson. Josh Smith won the dunk contest that weekend over LeBron’s current teammate J.R. Smith while Quentin Richardson out-dueled Kyle Korver for the three-point shootout crown. It might as well have been a lifetime ago, but it was the tip of the Sports Illustrated-crafted iceberg, and just the beginning of James’ living up to the hype and the moniker he was so fond of he splattered it across his back in permanent ink.

Now, 15 years after SI’s ballsy declaration, James has fulfilled the prophecy.

With his seventh consecutive NBA Finals on the horizon, maybe his greatest challenge yet ahead of him and his idol and the GOAT title within reach, with all he’s proven thus far LeBron is still playing for his legacy. We should probably be satisfied with all that he’s accomplished in his 14 years in the NBA. His accolades are common lore at this point: four MVP awards, three Finals MVPs, three championships, two gold medals and most recently, the record for most career playoff points amongst other trophies, records, impressive statistics and all sorts of noteworthy accomplishments.

GOATs. (Photo by Ezra Shaw)

For LeBron, none of that is enough, not for the most scrutinized athlete since Muhammad Ali, who committed a literal act of treason to earn that distinction. Not in the era of the 24-hour news cycle, screaming head debate shows, constant Twitter debates, memes and everything else that has brought heated barber shop debates and water cooler conversations to the palms of our hands at all times. LeBron still has work to do, the seemingly  impossible must be accomplished, and with a certain flair and hard-nosed bravado that will appease the staunchest supporters of the “Ghost” James is admittedly chasing and the most devoted pundits.

This is all a result of the perfect set of circumstances that allowed LeBron to flourish in an era where technology made these conversations even easier and those involved felt more obligated than ever to choose a side and argue for it vehemently. Hyperbole is commonplace and its own lexicon at this point, it’s encouraged and a near necessity when engaged in an endless war of words, opinions, hot takes and 140-character rebuttals. This, combined with the fact that those who adored Jordan in their formative years and polished up his resume with the sheen of a 10-year-old rooting their larger than life hero are coming of age at the same time has made the debate a moot point.

Both sides of the divide, pushing and pulling the same desk through a doorway like the crew on The Wire is all that is left at the end of the day.

We just haven’t all realized how stupid we look just yet, and Herc hasn’t told us all we were trying to get it in.

So, here we are again, with LeBron fighting for his legacy and to prove that he just might be the greatest to ever bounce a basketball on the NBA hardwood, and fortunately for us -- no matter what side of the debate we fall on -- this is when he seems to perform at the highest level imaginable. Down 3-1 in the Finals? That’s fine, he’ll morph into the Jordan/Magic/Pippen hybrid we always imagined he could be. Down 12 heading into the 4th quarter against a dynasty in it’s 14th year of dominance? He might push the pedal through the floor to regain the lead even if he needs a teammate to chip in a legendary shot to force overtime late. Down 3-2 to his greatest rival? He can drop 45 and 15 with the demeanor of Jay-Z silently penning one of the greatest raps of all-time in his head while Just Blaze is banging away at keys in a studio. LeBron truly becomes 'The Chosen One' when he has something to prove to prognosticators, when he can formulate an imagined chip on his shoulder and when his back is chaffed from how far it has been pushed against the wall.

If the 3-1 deficit last year forced LeBron to peak right before our eyes. Watching their playoff series odds stack up against him in the most important seven games of the year -- really the only meaningful seven games each year, for him -- just might be enough for LeBron to paint another Sistine Chapel between now and Father’s Day.

It's time to climb that mountain one more time. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Heavy is the head that wears the crown, but heavier might be the head that wishes to rip the crown off the king’s head and reshape it to fit their dome, receding hairline and all. All that is left for LeBron is to calcify his legacy, cement his status as the greatest of all time, remove “debatable” from the title and end the conversation for good. The fact that there is a conversation to begin with while he is just 32 years old with plenty of gas left in the tank might be enough to prove his point, but beating the vaunted Warriors -- chock full of superstars, historic greats, hall of fame probables creating what some have called the greatest collection of talent on one roster, ever --  just might be enough to silence even the Skip Baylesses and Charles Barkleys of the world.

Or, the conversation will continue, and James will be forced to return next year as opinions, hyperbole, hot takes and biased ramblings are screamed on sports networks and hammered out 140 characters at a time and top it all once again. Judging by what we’ve seen so far in his career, it’s a safe bet that he’d do that too. He’s already done the impossible once, what’s twice? Jay-Z did it, and apparently, it only takes a week.

LeBron has spent the past 15 years living up to the preposterous hype stacked upon his shoulders, so often, so defiantly and so definitively that it almost seems like Sports Illustrated sold him short. It was imagined in 2002 that, even as just a high school junior, he could be Jordan’s heir, it wasn’t even considered that he could be his superior. Now, he has that chance, all that’s left is to see if he can capitalize on the opportunity, and all it’s going to take is four more wins.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *