Cuzzo, Why We’ve Never Seen an Athlete Quite Like Lebron Raymone James, The Akron Hammer
Cousins and Fans Panama Austin and Patrick A. Howell Discuss, Dissert and Dissect Their Love of the Game and All Things LBJ (Part 1 of 3)
“I don’t think Lebron could be the greatest of our time. He is the greatest of our time. That, he has already accomplished. What is left to be seen is if he will be the greatest of all times.” Panama Austin, LBJ super fan (pretty cool dude and mi primo muy padre tambien)
When Muhammad Ali passed away last year, it was the end of an era. That era gave rise to this one. The world we live in is not possible without Ali. He is the harbinger of this new age. I grew up, like many young black men, in a house that revered Ali. The first time (and perhaps only time), I saw my father cry was when Ali was defeated by Larry Holmes. Ali was my dad’s champ too. When Ali passed away last year he was, without a doubt, the People’s Champ. Man, how he loved his people. And by the end the whole world loved him. But it wasn’t always that way.
Muhammad Ali aka Cassius Clay was hated by both black and white Americans, young and old, when he was coming up in Louisville Kentucky as a 22 year old in 1964. He was an Olympian champion who had to come to terms with being black in America. And when I say, ‘come to terms’, I don’t mean accept. Ali was a spiritual fighter as much as a strategist in the ring. To be sure, he was a controversial figure but as a fighter battled and won the respect of his brother man. He fought in the ring but he fought for a better America and a better world, and won. He was brash, maybe foreshadowing the Hip Hop era with the way he rhymed, believed in himself, promoted himself and made his way through the world by his skills. Muhammad Ali is an American original. There will never be another like him.
“I’m not going to fault him (Lebron James) for being ahead of schedule, ahead of his time.” Panama Austin
Ali events were world events. The Rumble in the Jungle. The Fight of the Century. The Thrilla in Manilla. Super Fight II. The two Heavyweight Championship bouts between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston were two of the most watched and controversial fights in boxing history. In hindsight, those fights were cultural events and watershed moments in American history where the new America was trying to take the place of an old, racist, hierarchical society. Most people were behind Sonny Liston, the old school champ who was a quiet, stoic punishing figure. Ali was the opposite of that - young, brash and possessed with an unconquerable belief in himself... and his people, having converted his name from Cassius Clay which he called his “slave name”. Ali, like Martin Luther King, John Kennedy (Catholic) and many of the leaders of their respective era were not welcomed when they came. But their leadership, sacrifices and inspiration are the seeds for a world only imagined. Would Barack Obama be possible without John F. Kennedy? Would LBJ be without the original and true G.O.A.T.? Lebron James is the first to recognized the sacrifices and accomplishments of the Jim Browns, Bill Russells and Kareem Abdul Jabbars that came before him.
Every age has it’s heroes. Cleveland Cavaliers v Golden State Warriors III as parts I and II in the trilogy has a ring of an epoch event. This is historic cosmic matter, the sort of material that channels the energy of a nation and the world and focuses it squarely on the metaphor for American life, how the game is played. Two teams, 5 all stars, at least 3 future hall-of-famers, battles for the soul of the game. The pantheon of legends in one epoch always give rise to the next.
“The fact of the matter is basketball like life is a team sport.” Panama Austin, LBJ super fan (pretty cool dude and mi primo muy padre tambien)
Lebron James also, is his own hero and he is as vilified as he is admired. Why is that? No rape charge trial, no gambling habit innuendos, no womanizing, no children out of wedlock and no prison terms. The son of a teen age mother has become the father of three, married to his high school sweetheart. He has revitalized the economic fortunes of a geographic region by playing his game. He is arguably the greatest hero of his age. There are such polarizing strong feelings about Lebron James, particularly along the loyal hyper Kobe and old dude Michael Jordan NBA fault lines of popular culture and NBA fandom. The calculus of “score at all costs” does not fit into a LBJ stat line, an advanced statistical measure of a small forward with most rounded game in basketball history since Magic Johnson. And yet, to make those sort of comparisons - Oscar Robinson, Bill Russell, Shaquille O’Neal, Scottie Pippen, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan - simply do the historic nature of his game and persona no justice. He, is in his own right, an American original, a singular unprecedented force who is setting a new standard by which American sports, the cultural engine of American capitalism, American philanthropy, American justice, American education and American corporate life can take constant inspiration and endless analysis. LBJ, the Akron Hammer, is a piston from which American culture and life takes its cues.
“See I don’t look at Lebron James for the player that most want him to be, a cold blooded assassin that will take the last shot even if 5 players were guarding him at once. I look at Lebron for what he is, the greatest team player in a team sport. In a 14 year career he has been consistent in being just that, a star team player.” Panama Austin, LBJ super fan (pretty cool dude and mi primo muy padre tambien)
Lebron was coming into his own as the ‘Chosen One’ when my son Christian was born. I thought, “Cool! A champ to raise my champ on.” And ever since then, there is nothing you can tell me bout King James or my son, a.k.a. SharkHeart, a record breaking mid range runner, long jumper and swimmer with USA Swimming. Like ABC Sports used to say, we’ve witnessed the agony of defeat and experienced the thrill of victory. But there has been no shortage of material for a meditation on greatness and what it takes to be a spiritual winner in this life. From ages 5 to 10, King James has provided a study. We have watched and observed: Haters will always be there to disturb and doubt the greatness of it’s time. Greatness, however, will overcome the haters and doubters. You’ll have to overcome other versions of yourself to become the best version of yourself. Greatness without goodness is nothing; there are many so-called “great” men in the world. There are so many levels to the game but love of the game will always see you through. The mental and spiritual game is as tough, if not tougher, than the actual game. Tribulation is a part of success. Doubting yourself and overcoming that doubt is a part of success. A winner is the one who can block out all the noise and develop a winning attitude no matter the circumstance. Winners don’t always win. The naysayers are an indicator of success. Help others on your climb to the top. Help yo mama, help your brothers in arms, help your city, help your people - bring the people with you on your climb to the top. Win! but never forget where you came from. There is something more powerful in an individual who believes in himself than all of the haterade on the planet (and there is an unending supply).
Right is might.
LBJ may be as important to the 21st Century as MJ and his cut throat mentality are emblematic of the 20th. He has redefined the game from just supremacy and dominance on the court to a city, a community and a people winning. More than just, “republicans wear sneakers too”, his domination as his game and as his business team include the people that came along with him on the journey. There is a sense of domination (Tomahawk dunk!) in his game but there is also an equally strong spirit of egalitarian social consciousness and connection to his brother man. Perhaps, the most powerful player in NBA history if you consider the economy of his game, his power, natural talent, basket ball IQ, stretch of dominance as represented by 7 consecutive visits with two different teams, cultural relevance to Millennials, influence with other players (Kevin Love, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Kevin Durant etc), and domination amongst the big three American sports of MLB, NFL and NBA.
“Too many people describe killer instinct by being that player that will get a basket regardless of the circumstances.” Panama Austin, LBJ super fan (pretty cool dude and mi primo muy padre tambien)
He comes to the game not only redefining the game on the court but redefining how young black men can raise one another from obscurity to the heights of American power, lore and prestige. His classmates from high school - Maverick Carter, Rich Paul, Randy Mims - all have positions of prominence, loyalty, trust and honor within the world of Lebron James, American sports and beyond. So, LBJ is a paradigm shifter much as Jordan was, much as Ali before him. In his own right he has assumed the mantle of Greatest of All Time for the next generation. In his case, it is the Chosen One: chosen by Millennials, chosen by Akron Ohio, chosen by Barack and Michelle Obama, chosen by all of his teams, chosen by the homies he grew up with, chosen by the Barack Obama generation, chosen by the new America still emerging. The paradigm of a hero who plays as much for himself as his brother is a concept that has firmly taken root with the Richard Shermans, Marshawn Lynchs, Colin Kaepernicks, Dwayne Wades, a generation of warriors unafraid to back their people and make the statements that the voiceless cannot make. They put their money where their mouths are. Arguably, this trend line, a sharp deviation from the politically neutered position of “Republicans Wear Sneakers too” 90s, is a turning point for a community that has always looked outside itself for answers. LBJ headlines a generation of athletes, dubbed multi million dollar corporations and billion dollar aspirations (and in some cases, achievements) in previous generation, that are the most charitable in history.
I could go, on and on, and I will but I want to share this space with Panama Austin, a cousin who has shared all of the ups and downs and with whom we have grown a love - the story of Lebron Raymone James, The Akron Hammer, has been the source material from which we have built the foundations of a 6 year relationship.
“Teams win games and championships, not individual players... So now that you’ve digested that, maybe you should re-consider greatness from a different point of view.” Panama Austin, LBJ super fan (pretty cool dude and mi primo muy padre tambien)
The Chosen One is Our GOAT
Cuzzo, it's funny we are family by way of your father and my mother who are first cousins but we have never met. So by way of Facebook from Panama, right? But through ambitions, our families, our sons and a passion for King Lebron James and his quest for greatness we have bonded. I looked back through the history of our Facebook Messenger conversation and it went back to 2011. So, that's the original Cavs era, Miami Heat era, the Decision, the championships, going back home, 2011 selection of Derrick Rose over LBJ MVP, the losses, the 2015 NBA Finals MVP selection of Iguodola over the LBJ stat line of NBA Finals PPG 35.8 APG 8.8 RPG 13.3, the homecoming of a king, the new NBA rivalry with the Golden State Warriors.
Matter of fact, I looked back on it and our first conversation in 2011, we were talking about LBJ's Boston game. You said:
He's just not the player everyone wants him to be when it comes to end of a game....He always makes the right "PLAY"...but what we want him to do is to make the "SUPERHERO PLAY" regardless of the circumstances...what we want to see is Lebron taking the "LAST SHOT"...That's how star moments are made.
I know you watch those games, like me, like religion or a male rite of passage. Do you think LBJ could be the Muhammad Ali, the G.O.A.T. of our time?
I don’t think Lebron could be the greatest of our time. He is the greatest of our time. That, he has already accomplished. What is left to be seen is if he will be the greatest of all times.
See I don’t look at Lebron James for the player that most want him to be, a cold blooded assassin that will take the last shot even if 5 players were guarding him at once. I look at Lebron for what he is, the greatest team player in a team sport. In a 14 year career he has been consistent in being just that, a star team player.
Let’s get right to the point. As of now the GOAT is Michael Jordan. And when comparing Jordan and LeBron, most will start their comparison to favor Jordan by stating two main facts.
1. Michael Jordan went 6 and 0 in the Finals.
2. Lebron James does not have Jordan’s killer instinct.
#1) Bill Russell #2) Kareem #3) LBJ #4) MJ #5) Magic #6) Shaq #7) Wilt #8) Bird #9) Oscar #10)Duncan #11) Hakeem #12) Kobe #13) Jerry West #14) Dr. J #15) Pippen - Patrick A. Howell, LBJ fan who says 11 beats 6 beats 5; also 7 consecutive beat 3 consecutive
See Lebron could be just like Mike an average 35 + points in a season and have an early round playoff exit or he can stick to being Lebron an average 28 pts and take Boobie Gibson and Donyel Marshalls to the Finals and lose to the San Antonio Spurs in 2007. I know you get it.
I’m not going to fault him for being ahead of schedule, ahead of his time and for being 22 years old in the NBA Finals and losing to Tim Duncan’s Spurs in Timmy’s prime. What was Mike doing at the at that age? At age 22, Michael Jordan was leading the Bulls to their second consecutive losing season and a first round loss in the playoffs. By the way, not just a first round loss but they were SWEPT. It took Michael Jordan 7 seasons to get to the Finals. Lebron got there on his 4th and he didn’t get there with Scottie Pippen. He got there with role players like Boobbie Gibson and Larry Hughes. So yes, it’s a fact Michael Jordan is undefeated in the Finals but I am not going to fault Lebron for that. Also, a lot of detractors will say Lebron has been there longer than Jordan, coming out of high school (with pressures and hype that have taken down many a number one draft) as a national phenom. Yes, it is true Jordan was not ready coming out of high school and was not the specimen of basketball team perfection that Lebron has become.
On the topic of killer instinct, people need to understand that LeBron will never be what we want him to be. He is not going to force the last shot. He is a pass first type of player and he just so happen to be a good scorer as well. I like to remind you that even a score first type of player like MJ always understood the importance of making the right play. John Paxson and Steve Kerr were the right play, lol. So I’m not going to discredit Lebron if Kyrie Irving hits the last shot, the same way I’m not going to discredit Kobe if Derek Fisher or Robert Horry or Ron Artest hit the last shot. It’s a team sport. Its okay for my teammate to hit the last shot.
Too many people describe killer instinct by being that player that will get a basket regardless of the circumstances. I want you to sit and think how many players have actually won a championship by doing just that. The fact of the matter is basketball like life is a team sport. Michael Jordan’s killer instinct would not have won 6 championships without Phil Jackson, Horace Grant, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. So it is perfectly fine that Lebron had DWade and Chris Bosh..now Kyrie and Love. Pippen, Phil and Rodman are all hall of famers and let me remind you before Pippen got to Chicago, Michael Jordan’s killer instinct didn’t even get him to the playoffs. Jordan lovers act as if Michael won NBA titles and games all by himself. If that's the case, he must take the blame for all their failures as well. Teams win games and championships, not individual players. If Jordan is that great, how come he couldn't win championships by himself during his first six NBA seasons, or his last 2 seasons with the Wizards, or the 1994-95 season. I could go on and on.
So now that you’ve digested that, maybe you should re-consider greatness from a different point of view.
PART II, the virtuosity of LBJ will be forthcoming with the 2017 NBA Finals - stop the hating and witness greatness.