With miles trekked on the court and approaching his fifteenth season, it is safe to say that we are living in the latter stages of LeBron James‘ career. James second take for the Cleveland Cavaliers has been undoubtedly successful, but it hasn’t been unblemished, particularly of late. In a very bizarre off-season Kyrie Irving decided he’d graduated from the ‘LeBron James superstar tutoring academy’ and traded to the Cavaliers biggest threat in the east. The questions turned towards James direction and the constant turmoil the Cavaliers have dealt with in recent years, that he’s been at the epicenter of. This now leaves James set to make another decision, while questions loom about his legacy and leadership.
This now leaves James set to make another decision, while questions loom about his legacy and leadership.
Analyzing the Twilight of LeBron James’ Career
Kyrie Irving’s Departure
LeBron James’ return overshadowed everyone on the Cavs 2014 roster, including their talented up-and-coming point guard in Irving. With LeBron James bringing a notoriously fragile psyche back to the team, it left little room for Irving to spread his swings without threatening to tip the King’s crown. Pre-James, Irving’s NBA career looked in flux, clouded by clashes with coaches, injuries, and immaturity. On the court, he struggled with point guard duties, turnovers and shot selection. The dilemma of a 6’3 guard is that he’s not tall enough to be an effective shooting guard, and he doesn’t have the natural talent to be an elite point guard; that hasn’t changed.
Irving’s decision to leave largely had to do with ego; both stars guilty of this, despite him saying the contrary on his appearance on ESPN’s First Take. This was about influence: a defunct franchise player having to watch his team submit to the whims of another teammate. Nonetheless, after year one’s adjustment period, he found a niche playing alongside James, going to three straight finals appearances and winning an NBA title. He matured into one of the best clutch players in the NBA and had the highest usage percentage of his career last year. Irving’s departure has tied both men to each other for the rest of their careers and has stained James second run on the Cavs, despite capturing a title.
James’ leadership is a puzzling subject; praised and criticized in equal measure. He has a propensity to unwind on the court when things don’t go his way, as well as send subliminal jabs at teammates via the media, all while having organizational control at his behest. Year one under David Blatt is a perfect example of this. James showed an unabashed disregard for Blatt: taking himself out of games, taking over timeouts or neglecting them all together. Along with the brushes with Blatt were cryptic messages on social media towards Kevin Love and incessant demands of the front office through the media. The Cleveland Cavaliers had an emboldened superstar, who wielded his power without care for the consequences of his actions.
Two years later during the Cavaliers 2016-2017 season, James clashed with teammates, continued to try to play general manager through the media and frequently berated teammates about assignments that he missed. James was forced to apologize for one occasion when he berated Tristan Thompson for lapses on defense. Thompson would become one the loudest voices of dissent on the floor or in front of the media. Then during their flame out in the NBA finals, we have James playing uncharacteristically selfish in the final moments of game 5 of a closeout game. James darted down the court taking abrupt threes, dribbled into multiple defenders and ran to the paint for post-ups without a glance at teammates. He was lauded for his triple-double but his play seemed based on self-interest and fear, rather than a display of leadership or character.
Scars From Miami
James’ four-year run with the Heat (2010–2014) was a lesson itself in maturity and professionalism under the tutelage of Dwyane Wade. He finally played alongside a superstar, transformed his body and found his voice; Wade providing the template for a superstar. His presence gave him assurance: that it was ok to lead and be selfish when needed. However, he was at odds with the organization and dealt with rotating lineups. The negative press and villainous role made him more cautious, and the Heat’s aversion to going over the salary cap enraged him, especially after taking a cut in salary to join Miami. These years laid the foundation for the man we see now, continuously embroiled in self-fueled court drama.
In 2013 LeBron James was at his zenith, both mentally and physically, on his way to his fourth straight finals, yet James left the Heat amid issues with management. He left South Beach vowing never to be constricted by management and to guard his brand fiercely. Fast forward four years and those same complications that occurred in Miami, have repeated themselves in Cleveland. The LeBron James that left Cleveland for South Beach is no longer. The confrontations with Heat ownership during his tenure has produced a guarded man, fiercely loyal only to his ambitions, brand, and family.
What the Future Holds
James is a brilliant player with an exceptional basketball IQ, and a great citizen off the parquet. Ultimately though he’ll be graded as much for these factors as his faults. While this it’s not fair, one can’t continue to gloss over the reoccurring themes in his career. Whether its chiding teammates on national TV or sending subliminal shots through social media in the guise of inspiration, its unbecoming for a man who’s the face of the league. James refutes meddling with front office tasks but is constantly involved with rifts with front offices. The aftermath’s ends with him packing his bags; an echo of his 2010 departure from Cleveland and 2013 spat in Miami. As James enters the forthcoming season and a contract year, the looming question is how will he gel with the new characters placed around him. No question we’ll all be watching.
OAKLAND, CA – JUNE 04: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts against the Golden State Warriors during the second half in Game 2 of the 2017 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 4, 2017 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)