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"Greatness demands you have humility"


Confidence is good; everyone needs it to make it in life. Superstar athletes are always type-A personalities. You need to cope with the fact millions of people are watching you and expecting results, that's a hard gig. There is a societal expectation not to blow your own horn. Well, not everyone agrees.

That one right there made me the greatest player of all time. That’s what I felt. I was super, super ecstatic to win one for Cleveland because of the 52-year drought. Like, I was ecstatic. That day, the first wave of emotion was, everyone
saw me crying, that was all for 52 years of everything sports that have gone on in Cleveland. And after I stopped, I was like ‘That one right there made you the greatest player of all time.’ Everybody was talking about how they were the greatest team of all time. Like, they were the greatest team ever assembled, and for us to come back, the way we came back in that fashion, I was like ‘You did something special.’ That was, like, one of the only times in my career I felt like ‘Oh s—, you did something special.’ I haven’t really had time to really sit back and think, but that, that was a moment.

LeBron on "More than an athlete"

It must be frustrating to constantly hear these discussions and not to pitch in. LeBron's been dealing with the comparisons all his life and the urge to speak his mind is understandable. This started an avalanche of comments and discussions. While most people are just "blog boys", former greats do have a bit more legitimacy to speak up, and they are not so benevolent about LeBron's comments. Kevin McHale (on TNT):

I think LeBron is a great player. I just think it's disrespectful to Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul Jabar, Michael Jordan, Larry, and Magic. You don't need to say that about yourself, let other people say that for you. I was kind of surprised because I had read about it, but it's the first time I heard him say it. ... I love the kid, I think he's a great player, I think he's been great for the game, but let other people say that for you. It's just disrespectful for a lot of people that came before you that were great, great players.

The main point I have is that the comment falls into the same trap it is trying to put LeBron's comment in. These comparisons are impossible, so it goes both ways. Is he better than Kareem was? We can't know because they didn't play in the same era and basketball is a team sport. The only thing a list a person make can tell us is that person's preference; it is more about your stylistic preference (and often who was the best when your fandom was at its peak). I don't think LeBron saying what he said is in any way disrespectful towards former players. McHale wasn't the only one to comment, here is Isiah Thomas (on TNT):

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Everybody knows I love LeBron, but I'm gonna call time-out on this one. I'll speak to LeBron, I'll say it to his face. You never, that's a certain thing about the greatness that demands you have humility with greatness. Even though we argue about Michael Jordan being the greatest of all time, or Kareem Abdul Jabar being the greatest of all time, LeBron James being the greatest of all time, we have those arguments and debate. I have never heard Michael Jordan say he's the greatest of all time.

Michael never said it, but I wouldn't use him as an example of humility. I'll just submit his Hall of Fame speech as exhibit A. Isiah's premise here is a truly great person never says it. It's ok to think it, but don't say it. That has a whiff of hypocrisy to it. 

I don't agree it was disrespectful towards previous players (McHale), nor I think saying this puts his humility in question (Isiah). Saying that, I do think, as a rule, you should avoid speaking about yourself. But LeBron's life has been an exception, not a rule. When you think about his entire career, he has been very knowledgeable and appreciative about basketball history and has carried himself with a lot of humility. I can only think of the Miami introduction as a moment that sticks out in that regard.

It's funny how words are judged differently than actions. I'd submit that Jordan spending nights in Atlantic City during the Finals, Bird talking trash to everyone on the court, Kobe's general style of play (shooting as much a possible and passing only in an emergency) or Westbrook's stat hunting and bullying his teammates if their miss, because he needs his triple-double, are all bigger sins against humility.

Yet, if you say something it gets a much harsher treatment. If we're judging style of play, LeBron's game makes him one of the most humble superstars ever compared to where most people rank him. For years he was actually criticized for passing when he should shoot.

Not to be brushed aside, LeBron did provide arguments that McHale and Thomas did not comment on. LeBron's argument was that they were the only team that came back from a 3-1 deficit ever, and they did it against the greatest team ever assembled. 

That's a strong point. Too bad most people didn't perceive it. 

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