Lebron James Is Basically Peyton Manning
Peyton Manning, for all his glory and enormous season success, had a reputation for being unable to live up to his own mythology. During the prime of his long career, there was little argument about whether or not he was one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game.
Still, every time he exited the playoffs too early or endured a devastating or embarrassing defeat, the same questions would arise: is Peyton Manning a choker? Can he get it done when the road is difficult and the competition is worthy? Is Manning all stats and no mettle? No matter how many times people declared him to be the most talented quarterback in all of football, his losses continued to define his legacy.
Does any of that sound familiar? It should, because Lebron James is Peyton Manning; right down to the unfortunate hairline.
James is as physically gifted and as true a basketball player as there has ever been. For a good stretch of time he was the hands down best player in the NBA. Yet he, like Manning, has never been able to enjoy being king for too long. Inevitably he runs up on some kind of figurative Achilles heel that is lurking in the shadows, ready to expose his weaknesses and steal another championship out from under him. Paul Pierce and the Celtics. Those goddamn Spurs. The maniacal Kobe Bryant and his constantly re-invented Lakers. That pesky Kevin Durant and his MVP Awards. They were all able to circumvent James' historical greatness, and so he was constantly being put in check.
It seemed like that was all behind him after the successful Miami experiment, but now he finds himself up against Steph Curry and the Warriors; to whom he has lost a career-high seven games in a row and will presumably lose yet another NBA Finals. So now James finds himself in all-too-familiar territory, only this time he isn't the default superstar of the league; because he's not the only one doing things that we've never seen done before.
And so the question remains: is Lebron as great as he could've been, or will his career ultimately be considered a disappointment?
Manning escaped a one-ring career by the skin of his teeth, and on the backs of a historically talented defense. So in the eyes of many, that was a championship won for him and not by him. But it's hard to argue that he didn't deserve it. Manning was something truly special, and the way he played changed an entire generation of quarterbacks. He changed football, and although he wasn't the postseason legend that his biggest rival has been, his greatness is immeasurable and undeniable.
Unfortunately the one thing Manning lacked was a killer instinct. Football came too naturally to him. As much as he worked and studied, it was more about perfection that it was about improvement. Ironically, that was often his undoing.
And that's exactly what's wrong with Lebron.
He may not have changed the game the way that Curry is doing now, but James' physical presence and dominance is unrivaled. No one as big and commanding as James has ever been the kind of passer and facilitator that he is. No one has ever seen the floor the way he does. Just like Manning, he is something truly special. And just like Manning, he has been too good at basketball for too long.
Lebron doesn't hunger the way that other players do, because basketball has always come too naturally to him. You can see it on his face and in his body language. He is more comfortable with a basketball in his hands than he is doing anything else, and comfortability in sports can be a double-edged sword.
Who Lebron is to the NBA and what we are seeing in the Finals is a by-product of being a sports prodigy. It's what happens when you are told from a very young age that you are better than everyone else. Maybe being the prodigal son of an entire league means being set up to fail, because the expectations are just too great. It's entirely possible that being underestimated and overlooked is the best thing that could happen to a great talent.
Maybe that's why Tom Brady has twice as many Super Bowl rings as Manning, and why Curry is about to win his second ring in his second Finals appearance while Lebron stares down the barrel of 2-5. Still, Manning fought for his legacy and for that second ring until his body literally broke down, and his last minutes as an NFL quarterback were spent hoisting the Lombardi Trophy over his head. It may have taken a little long for him to catch that fire in his gut, but he caught it just in time.
It's clearly far from over for Lebron. He just has to learn to stop being so damned comfortable.
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