LeBron Was Right: We're Spoiled

  Gregory Shamus / Getty Images

Gregory Shamus / Getty Images

After a dreadful 32-point loss on his home court in Game 5 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals, 25-year-old LeBron James went to the locker room, showered, draped his neck, wrists, and ears in diamonds and gold, put on a cream-colored wool and patent leather faux letterman jacket, sat in front of reporters and — while looking mostly unaffected by the loss — declared, “I spoil a lot of people with my play.”

It was a stunningly arrogant thing for someone to say after shooting 3-for-14 from the field in a crucial playoff game. It was also entirely correct.

For most of the last 15 years, LeBron has bent the sport of basketball to his will. He has rumbled unabated toward every nearly individual and team accomplishment available to him. Even in his teenage years, he seemed sent from the future, a ridiculous outlier on the upward-trending graph of “bigger, faster, stronger” athletes through the generations. His legend is only lightly stained, if at all, by his own relatively mild hubris while living at the center of an unprecedented spotlight. He is a freak.

But we are bored by this freak. His comically abnormal mixture of size, speed, skill, and intelligence is no longer impressive. We are now used to the idea of man as big as Karl Malone who swishes threes, sees invisible passing lanes, and beats point guards down the court. Move along, good sir, your act is tired.

And so we are more than eager to identify the boring freak’s successor. We’d like a bigger, faster, stronger LeBron, if you don’t mind, with a tempered ego, comparable sneer, and at least one meme-able body part.

One week into this NBA season, a worthy heir has established himself.

  Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images

Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images

If there is a higher power, surely he or she dabbled in hallucinogens while creating Giannis Antetokounmpo. His arms are longer than your legs and his legs are longer than your bed. There are no “small steps” with Giannis — every stride is a giant leap for mankind. Photos of his hands always, always look photoshopped. The guy could palm a toilet bowl. After packing muscle onto his trapezoid frame in the offseason, Giannis now looks like he could beat anyone at arm wrestling, if anyone could reach his hand.

Giannis is an eye-popping specimen, and like teenaged LeBron, his ability already exceeds logical imagination. But while you strain your eyes searching for something that could possibly prevent Antetokounmpo from transforming the sport over the next decade, I ask you not to lose sight of the established freak in our midst.

In a few days, LeBron will be 33 years old, which means he’s reliably delivered greatness to your screens for probably half your life. As a high school junior, he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated (a print publication that once held cultural significance because of its great writing and neat pictures of sports games) five years before Giannis first picked up a basketball. He can play every position and guard every position. Last season, a balding LeBron set career highs in both rebounds and assists per game, and led his team to the Finals for the seventh straight year. There’s a nonzero chance he plays with his son in the 2024 All-Star Game.

Certainly, Antetokounmpo’s first four games this season are worthy of a mini-frenzy. His year will be filled with hilarious stat lines (my money’s on at least one quadruple-double), funny hand-comparison pictures, and probably an MVP trophy. But to discount the grandeur of yet another LeBron James Unstoppable Freight Train Season of Terror is to reveal yourself to be — you guessed it! — spoiled. |ES|