As Linsanity sweeps the nation, is LeBron James ho-humming his way to the greatest season ever?
Only a few years ago, LeBron James was one of the most overwhelmingly popular athletes in America. He was adored by fans and media alike and widely beloved as the hometown hero of Cleveland, a sports town dying for something to cheer for.
But that all changed in an instant.
Just three months after “The Decision,” LeBron had already become the sixth most-hated athlete in America. It was a position, I daresay, that LeBron had never been in.
And in his first season following the most publicized breakup since Brad and Jennifer, LeBron vowed that all of the negative criticism and widespread hatred would only fuel him to win. He was determined to play with a Jordanesque chip on his shoulder that would drive him to prove all of the doubters and haters wrong.
Well, he fell short.
His shortcomings ended up as fodder for media members like Skip Bayless, who mocked James’ late game struggles by dubbing the self-anointed “Chosen One” as “The Frozen One.” Even impartial writers (such as yours truly) responded with articles chronicling “LeBreakdown.”
These criticisms (and more) led LeBron to spend a quiet Summer out of the media spotlight, focusing on his game. He added crucial elements to his skillset and determined that he was going to shed the “villain” role. He said, “I started to play the game of basketball at a level or a mindset that I have never played at before. Angry. That’s not the way I play the game of basketball.” (ESPN’s “LeBron James: No More Mr. Bad Guy”)
While all of this has led to a small rebound in LeBron’s popularity, it has produced another, more impressive biproduct: LeBron James is in the middle of one of the greatest seasons in NBA history.
Am I exaggerating? No. According to ESPN master statistician John Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating (a proprietary metric that compares players of different eras based on personal performance and exterior competitive factors,) LeBron’s current stats are better than Michael Jordan’s ever were.
The Case for LeBron
During the 1987-88 NBA season, his most efficient as a professional, Jordan averaged 35 points per game along with 5.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists. His three point shooting had not yet developed, but his defensive skills were already sharp (1.6 blocks per game and 3.2 steals.) MJ’s stats for that season rank as the best in the NBA’s recorded history, and earned him a P.E.R. of 31.89.
LeBron James, in contrast, may be seeing his greatest season ever overshadowed by Linsanity and downplayed by critics who feel he is surrounded by too much talent. And yet, he’s averaging a seemingly pedestrian 27.9 points per game, along with a cool 8.2 rebounds and 6.8 assists. In addition, he’s regarded as an elite defender in the NBA, posting the league’s second-best defensive numbers and notably shutting down league MVP Derrick Rose in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. More impressive than these numbers is the 32.89 P.E.R. that James is posting this year.
To put this in perspective, no other player has ever existed in this realm of effectiveness. Literally. The top 5 consists of Michael Jordan, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Michael Jordan, and Michael Jordan. That means that LeBron is leaving all-time greats like Shaq, Kobe, Barkely, Malone, Stockton, Olajuwon, Drexler, Wilt, Duncan, Robinson, Magic, Kareem and scores of others far in the dust.
Simply stated, if James continues his current pace he may finish with the most efficiently and productive NBA season of all time.
And if he’s able to earn that distinction while winning this year’s NBA title, the only nickname left for the man they call “King James” may be, “Greatest. Ever.”