LeBron James vs. Lionel Messi: Who is the most dominant team athlete?
Posted Saturday, March 23 2013 at 02:00
There’s only one other candidate — soccer star Lionel Messi. I stumbled across a picture of the pair of them the other day, shaking hands. The elfin Argentine looked like Tattoo to James’ Ricardo Montalban.
LeBron James is the most gifted athlete on earth, but his greatest quality may be his relentless quest to top himself, writes Cathal Kelly of the The Star
Pre-game, LeBron James is spread out on the floor being put through a deep-tisssue stretching regimen that would land you or me in the emergency room.
LeBron-level beats pound of out of a LeBron-branded beatbox. He’s reaching back to the ’90s for the proper theme — DMX. “Heat.”
It’s too loud to think. Fortunately, none of the rest of these people need to.
Lesser teammates sit huddled in the corners of the ACC’s living-room-sized visitors’ locker room, trying to be invisible.
James is taking up all the available oxygen, shouting out lyrics, rocking in place.
All NBA players are relentlessly observed by their social inferiors. James may be the only one who commands all the attention of his peers. Every Alpha should remember the lesson James knows instinctively — no man is truly kingly without courtiers.
Later, James will have a comme ci, comme ça afternoon — 22 points on 6-for-12 shooting, 12 rebounds, eight assists.
In stretching their win streak to 22 games, the Heat allowed Toronto to play pace horse. The Raptors tied it 77-77 early in the fourth, with James spread out on the bench.
Miami allowed Toronto to look them in the eye for a moment. Then they began running. A 28-4 stretch turned the St. Paddy’s Day drinking to come from celebratory to resigned. The Raptors were never going to win this game, but it was fun to pretend for a moment.
Afterward, James was speaking in the soft blandishments reserved for royalty.
“It’s not about the streak. It’s about us getting better each and every day.”
It’s about the streak. But he is getting better almost daily.
At 28, James is riding a statistical wave no player since Michael Jordan has managed to hop his board onto.
He’s shooting 55 per cent from the field, and close to 40 per cent from three-point range. He’s marking career highs in rebounds (8.1 per game) and assists (7.9 per game). His point totals are down slightly (26.6 ppg), but only because he plays less than he did early in his career, and has other options.
His defence continues on in best-ever territory, evidenced on Sunday when he broke up a 3-on-1 Toronto fast break by himself.
He is clipping at the heels of Schopenhauer’s definition of greatness: talent hits a target no one else can hit. Genius hits the target no one else can see.
The scary thing? This identifying of new, unseeable targets is an ongoing process.
“He’s willing to stay uncomfortable,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said afterward, an incredibly canny observation about a player who keeps surpassing his own limits. Few athletes in history have known as much failure as James knew in Cleveland while also playing so well. While he was losing his first NBA championship, Beno Udrih and Jacque Vaughn were winning one.
That’s the great bell curve of team sports at work. Greatness doesn’t equal accomplishment. It’s hard to imagine James this good right now if he isn’t that robbed back then.
He’s the best in the game, full stop. How far out can we stretch that definition?