LeBron James must beware of looming boredom, fatigue

LeBron is dominant today.

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The third ring won’t come easy for LeBron, and he might not be accorded the luxury of a Jordanesque ‘vacation’ from which ‘His Airness’ returned to inspire Bulls

Some of the biggest challenges for today’s great sportsmen in their quest to match their counterparts from eras gone by lie in the stakes of longevity and that relentless pursuit of immortality.

From Pele to Pete Sampras - with Muhammad Ali, Carl Lewis, Haile Gebrselassie, Michael Schumacher and several others lounging in between - you have got sporting icons who seemed to go on and on, unwaveringly until it seemed there was nothing else left to reach out for.

For several reasons the staying power at the very top today is much shorter-lived in general, although there are outstanding exceptions to the rule epitomised by the scarily single-minded Sebastian Vettel or the man-machine Cristiano Ronaldo.

There is an insatiable hunger that separates the truly great ones from ordinary mortals, but all too often they too expose their human side with the need for physical and mental breaks to help recharge and re-focus.

She might have been virtually ever-present in body, but an unofficial break of the mind a few years ago helped rekindle the spirit in Serena Williams so much so that she is defying age by looking in better shape than ever as she goes after the records and legacies of Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf.

Rebooted tennis automaton Rafael Nadal is further evidence of the trend, after a forced sabbatical last year allowed the fiercely ambitious Spaniard to regroup and get back on course to what is likely to end up in the re-writing of Grand Slam history.

Seeing Lionel Messi limp off after a few minutes at Real Betis late Sunday night stirred the thought in me that the world’s undisputed number one football player of the last five or so years is in need of some sort of break, the hope and belief being that even after winning and dominating for that long he will return to pick up what is left to entrench himself at the top of the pile, for there is a lot left before that can go uncontested.

Messi has struggled with injury, form and consistency since lumbering through Barcelona’s knockout Champions League clashes with AC Milan and PSG last season, and has been well off his best this term.

But the thought had first run through my mind when I watched LeBron James labour through a loss to the Brooklyn Nets in NBA basketball a few nights earlier.
Of all the sportsmen attracting comparison with retired legends, LeBron is perhaps the one under most scrutiny and pressure as the spectre of Michael Jordan continues to loom large.

That competitive streak reserved for only the very exceptional is evident in LeBron and he is not about to stop now before he fully justifies the comparisons of course, but after winning back-to-back championships one has got to wonder if the fire might fizzle out that wee bit, even subconsciously.

The individual statistics will continue to pile up for one with so many natural and acquired weapons in an incredible skills set, but losses to the Nets and more recently the Boston Celtics have set off alarm bells in my surveillance corner.

Jordan had been obsessively going at it for very long with Detroit planting stumbling blocks the size of giant pistons in the way, and after skipping over those hurdles and finally winning two straight championships, the Chicago Bulls superstar lost his regular season MVP award to Charles Barkley the next year.

He managed to rouse himself for the playoffs, becoming the first player in NBA history to win three straight NBA Finals MVP awards when averaging a whopping 41 points per game against Barkley’s Suns in that memorable six-game series, but he had mental and physical fatigue written all over him by time he took the last shot, and so he made his get-away from the Chicago Bulls in late 1993.

With a 4-3 win-loss record to start this season for the Miami Heat, LeBron seems to be going through the motions at the moment too. It is early doors and he can still rise up in this regular season, or even in the playoffs although the challenge in the Eastern Conference alone will be three times as hard as before as the Heat are threatened by the Indiana Pacers (unbeaten in seven games to start season), the talented, versatile and grudge-holding Nets, a Bulls team re-energised by the return of Derrick Rose, and the unpredictable New York Knicks.

The third ring won’t come easy for LeBron, and he might not be accorded the luxury of a Jordanesque ‘vacation’ from which ‘His Airness’ returned to lead the Bulls to a NBA all-time regular season record of 72-10 in 1996, and three more championships.

Yet, like Jordan back in the day, Serena a little while back, and now Messi, LeBron is going to need that breather.
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Mangat, quitting not an option after failure to land Africa Rally crown

There has got to be lots of emotional distress to along with the financial stress of pursuing a rally dream across the vast African terrain only to come up short, but there would have been no point in coming this far in the first place if Jas Mangat did not go after again.

Let down by the mechanics and technology of an unfamiliar car he had only just hired, Mangat failed to finish the Madagascar Rally and thereby surrendered the African Rally Championship crown to 20yr-old Jassy Singh, the kid from the rallying family whose grandpa Satwant and dad Muna had showed him the way.

Back here we awaited the announcement that would confirm that Uganda had got a second African champion after Charles Muhangi’s unforgettable rollercoaster ride of 1999, in vain.

Even if it never showed on the man’s face or in his actions and words back then, the cost of doing just the one Safari Rally when it was arguably the most gruelling and enchanting event on the World Rally Championship calendar was inevitably enormous for Emma Katto; and even back home here today the mere participation in a one-day sprint can take its toll on a man’s bank balance and fortune.

Following quite closely at the time I recall the huge hole (a black hole literally) that the hunt for continental glory dug into Muhangi’s pocket, but the immense satisfaction it gave the man too; whatever has happened in the 14 years since I doubt that Muhangi would confess to having too many regrets if asked today.

I might be oblivious to the exact figures but can make an educated guess of how much this futile chase has set Mangat, his crew and family back monetarily. Yet I am certain of the gravity of the sadness Mangat would have in the future if he doesn’t try again when he still can.

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