Besides the narrative of the Golden State Warriors and the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers being the only two teams with a real shot at winning a title this year, the NBA has had more than a few stories really worth paying attention to like the continuing woes of the New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls, Joel Embiid’s skills on the court and on Twitter and James Harden and Russell Westbrook playing like absolute beasts. But the one that ties into the Cavs repeating as champs, and involves the greatest player in the world might be the most important.
LeBron James isn’t holding back anymore. Cleveland’s star has spent this season speaking his mind. Some people think it’s just the kind of fire James and the Cavs need to push past a monster like the Warriors once again, while others believe we’re watching James “unravel.”
Whatever it is, it’s good for basketball, seeing the game’s best player let it all hang out. It keeps the game interesting and fresh.
But is it good for his team? That’s the biggest question as the Cavs head towards the break. Is the leader hindering the team by speaking his mind, or does it help?
This latest round saw James going after a reporter on Monday. Responding to a New York Daily News report that mentioned a possible trade that would send Kevin Love to the Knicks and Carmelo Anthony, a close friend of James’, to Cleveland.
“I saw it and heard about it, it’s trash, and the guy who wrote it is trash too, for writing that,” James told reporters. “It’s always about outside noise, and that’s just outside noise for us. We gotta focus on what needs to be done in order to compete for a championship.”
James also took the opportunity to support team management after reports surfaced that he was unhappy with the front office’s lack of enthusiasm when it comes to going after big acquisitions before the trade deadline.
“We got who we got. Our GM will do a great job of figuring out if we need something else but right now we’re in a good place.”
In many ways, it’s a different James. He’s done everything he really needed to do, he’s set for life and even by his own admission, all he’s doing is chasing Michael Jordan for the greatest of all-time status. Maybe that explains why James has not held back when it comes to ripping into to those who question his game, and his motives. In doing so, he sets the stage for other, more established players to maybe do the same. See his old teammate, Dwyane Wade, letting the world know exactly how he feels about the direction of the Chicago Bulls, or Westbrook talking openly about how refs treat him differently than other players.
Earlier this season, James felt the need to respond to the comments Knicks president Phil Jackson made about James and his friends and business partners calling them a “posse,” a racially-loaded term.
“To use that label, and if you go and read the definition of what the word ‘posse’ is, it’s not what I’ve built over my career. It’s not what I stand for. It’s not what my family stands for, James told The Sporting News. “And I believe the only reason he used that word is because it’s young African-Americans trying to make a difference.”
And he recently had no problem dressing down NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley last week after James’ leadership was questioned.
“I’m not going to let him disrespect my legacy like that,” James told ESPN. “I’m not the one who threw somebody through a window. I never spit on a kid. I never had unpaid debt in Las Vegas. I never said, “I’m not a role model.’ I never showed up to All-Star Weekend on Sunday because I was in Vegas all weekend partying.” He added, “All I’ve done for my entire career is represent the NBA the right way. Fourteen years, never got in trouble. Respected the game. Print that.”
And he also made it known to the world that he will speak on things when needed.
“I’m tired of biting my tongue. There’s a new sheriff in town.”
From James speaking up on issues from race relations to how the press treats him – along with the records, titles and awards – this is what will be his great legacy when he eventually decides his playing days are over.
But that’s hopefully a long time away. So, the question remains whether it will help his team and his own game right now, or sink the Cavs as they look to stay at the top of the NBA.