I was wrong. I admit it.
I figured LeBron James would crash from hyperbole’s gravitational pull. The can’t-miss kid who became a national obsession at age 14 would miss superstardom and cede to the pressures germinating within our instant-gratification culture, collapsing beneath the weight of judgment lapses or, worse, criminal allegations.
There would be a DUI arrest, a domestic dispute or perhaps a nightclub incident involving him or somebody in his entourage and the careless handling of a firearm.
But the worst thing you can say about LeBron now — the third-youngest NBA Most Valuable Player award winner at 24 — is that maybe he’s too good to be true.
He has done the impossible in just six years, already surpassing the unearthly expectations thrust upon him as an 18-year-old basketball aberration out of Akron, Ohio.
He has answered every skeptic.
Can’t play defense? He turned himself into the league’s defensive player of the year runner-up this season.
Can’t shoot from the outside? He improved his three-point shooting percentage from a year ago.
James led Cleveland to an 84-74 victory over Atlanta on Monday night. The Cavaliers have now swept Detroit and Atlanta in consecutive rounds and will face the winner of the Boston-Orlando series.
LeBron keeps getting better on the floor, but more important, he keeps getting smarter off it. Even Michael Jordan in his savviest days didn’t possess the acute awareness of his enormous celebrity as LeBron does. And James didn’t have the nurturing benefit of Jordan’s two-parent household or get to spend his formative final teen years in a structured college environment, being drafted directly out of high school.
Maybe it’s an acting performance worthy of an Oscar.
But even if James’ humble veneer is a carefully choreographed contrivance, it’s the model that star athletes balancing far less upon their shoulders should follow.
James accepted his MVP award at his Akron high school gymnasium in the company of teachers, students and close friends. That’s how he wanted it.
The NBA couldn’t help but love the forum. Juxtaposed against teenagers dropping out of high school so they can play professionally in Europe was the league’s best player, accepting the game’s highest individual honor before those he credited for his depth as well as growth—his teachers.
Perhaps it was all perfectly scripted. Nothing more than a staged head fake.
But so what if it was?
It beats the alternative image of today’s celebrities fighting each other for the day’s most egregious indiscretion.