Brands and images like Jordan’s and LeBron James’ burst on the sports scene so infrequently that pretenders to greatness are often anointed as “Chosen Ones,” too. But few of them make the transition from rising star to “superstar.”
They are good, but good isn’t good enough when compared to the best of their era, and “King James,” just as Jordan did in his mid-20s, has made the leap to superstar.
Don’t believe me? Just ask someone who knows.
A legend speaks
Jerry West loathes the word “superstar.” It makes him cringe.
Not that the word doesn’t mean much to West, a bona-fide superstar during his playing days; it does. It’s just that West hears it thrown around too often, slapped on players whose unrefined talents on the court sully the word.
“How many do you think there are in the league?” he asked before a Cavs game in March. “How many? I’m talking about ‘superstars.’”
West was on a roll.
“You know what ‘superstars’ do?” he continued. “They bring people to the games; they win games for you; they are all-around players. How many of those players are in the game today?”
“Not very many,” West said.
In most cases, the word fills in for “good,” serving as a pitchman’s term to make an athlete seem better than he is — pure hype over substance, West said. But the word fits well a talent like Kobe Bryant.
And does it fit LeBron James?
“You gotta be kiddin’ me!” West said.
Road to superstardom
Back in 1995, LeBron James was an 11-year-old quarterback on Rob Deck’s Pee Wee League football team in Akron. Superstar, well, that label would have to wait awhile in his life.
Yet even in ’95, Deck said, LeBron wasn’t the typical boy athlete.
“He was a leader, and he was always out there coaching,” said Deck, the head of operations for American Youth Football. “I really didn’t have to coach LeBron. He was a general out there. He always was a coach’s player.”
Football helped LeBron develop his extraordinary sense for seeing things unfold, Deck said. He also thought football imbued LeBron with a steely toughness that he has carried over into his basketball.
“Coach,” as LeBron still calls Deck, pointed to an example from a Pee Wee game 13 or 14 years ago.
The left ankle, the one LeBron always seems to hurt, got twisted on a tackle. Deck pulled his quarterback to the sideline.
“I seen the disappointment in his eyes like, ‘Man, I really wanna get back out there,’” Deck recalled. “I said, ‘Kid, if you’re hurt, you ain’t going back into the ballgame.’ He said, ‘Coach, I’m OK.’”
One of Deck’s assistants advised letting LeBron decide. If he felt he could continue, then let him, Deck relented.
A trainer taped the ankle, and LeBron went back in to finish the game.
“Just that willpower,” Deck said. “LeBron didn’t wanna let his teammates down. He always was a team player — in football just like he is in basketball.”
PBT: The Kings will stay in Sacramento under new ownership, which likely means a new front office and coach, too.
NBA finals breakdown, analysis
Ira Winderman breaks down the NBA finals between the Lakers and Celtics.
The NBA finals
Lakers def. Celtics 4-3
Video: NBA from NBC Sports
Grizzlies ready for 'running' Spurs
DPS: Lionel Hollins tells us how he plans to play against the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference finals.
Latest from ProBasketballTalk
George Hill not yet cleared to play for Pacers in Game 6 vs. Knicks, remains a game-time decision2 hr 16 min ago
Get your NBA cheer on
Check out some of the dancers from the NBA.