Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Magic Basketball previews the 2011-2012 NBA season with a look at the players we’re most excited to watch this year.
I’ll be honest with you.
When thinking about the player I’m most excited to watch this year, I tried to be in vogue and pick a rising star like Eric Gordon or Stephen Curry or John Wall. Those are guys who are on the precipice of greatness. Heck, they might not go down that path of stardom this season but you get the feeling they’ll find their way sooner or later (barring some unforeseen incident).
The problem is that Gordon, Curry, or Wall don’t make me excited to watch them play. In the case of Wall, the most dynamic player amongst the trio, that might seem like crazy talk. But living in Chicago and watching Derrick Rose play fills my basketball tummy with enough hyper-explosive point guard play that I’m more than satisfied. Wall doesn’t leave me wanting more. I see enough with Rose.
And as much as I delight in watching Dwight Howard play, with the satisfaction knowing that I’ve watched him grow into an elite and near-complete two-way player over the last several years, there’s one player that I would rather watch over him if I had to choose and it’s LeBron James.
For reasons I’ll explain, LeBron is a player I have to watch no matter the circumstance, no matter the cost, no matter what. He’s must-see TV. He’s the hotly-anticipated Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao PPV fight that everyone is dying to see and willing to purchase in a heartbeat. He’s the video game you wait outside your local Gamestop to buy at a midnight release party. I could go on and on but you get the picture.
The feeling of ‘I HAVE TO SEE HIM PLAY’ began when ESPN2 aired LeBron’s high school game against Mater Dei High School on January 4, 2003. That’s when I got a first look at LeBron and I was instantly intrigued. As a result, I didn’t miss LeBron’s NBA debut on the road against the Sacramento Kings later that year.
But I think this transformative feeling and the realization that I was watching the best player on the planet came when LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers faced off against the Orlando Magic in the 2009 NBA Eastern Conference Finals. I already knew that he was the best player in the NBA at that point. Heck, I already knew that he was putting up numbers that rivaled Michael Jordan too. But that’s when I really began to appreciate LeBron and his talents. He did things against the Magic that were transcendent. Like put up 49 points (shooting 67 percent from the field in the process), eight assists, six rebounds, three blocks, and two steals in Game 1. Or make “The Shot” in Game 2. Or play so out of his mind in Game 4 that when he attempted a half-court shot to win the game for the Cavaliers in overtime, I legitimately thought he was going to make it. Or amass a triple-double (37 points, 14 rebounds, 12 assists) facing elimination in Game 5.
LeBron ran out of gas in Game 6 but the point remains. He did things in that series I never saw before, and that’s when I became fully captivated by him.
Yeah, LeBron became Public Enemy No. 1 in the league last year after “The Decision” but I didn’t care. While Cleveland Cavaliers fans were too busy burning his jersey in effigy and Miami Heat fans were too busy celebrating their seventh consecutive championship when Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were introduced alongside LeBron at the team’s welcome party, I was counting down the days until I could buy NBA League Pass Broadband. That way I could further marvel at LeBron and his genius, while closely examining his partnership with Wade and Bosh in the process.
The narrative was that LeBron didn’t have enough help with the Cavaliers and his union with Wade and Bosh was going to fix that. The cool part was that I knew I wasn’t going to be alone in watching the story unfold.
Never before had a player made me anticipate a preseason matchup like it was a playoff game, but that’s what happened when LeBron played against the Detroit Pistons. Never before had a player made me anticipate his first game against his old team, but that’s what happened when LeBron played against Cleveland. Never before had a player compel me to root so vociferously in his favor in the playoffs, but that’s what happened when LeBron played against the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, and Dallas Mavericks.
To me, it wasn’t just about wanting to see LeBron gain revenge on the Celtics after his Game 5 debacle in the 2010 NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals. Or wanting to see LeBron shut up the many Derrick Rose supporters that were beginning to act as if the league’s MVP was the second coming. Or wanting to see LeBron remind people that he is, without a shadow of a doubt, the best player on the planet.
After all the criticism, after all the hatred, after all the jealousy he incurred in his first season with the Heat, I wanted to see LeBron rise and overcome against all that opposed him.
When LeBron went into god mode and dismantled the Celtics and Bulls, I was happy. When LeBron disappeared against the Mavericks, I was sad. I wasn’t even mad at LeBron. I was disappointed. Disappointed that he was wasting his gifts and his chance to win a championship.
Love him or hate him, I — along with everyone else — watched LeBron deal with the highs and lows of his first year with Miami.
But the best part of it all is that he has a chance to redeem himself this season.
I’ll be watching.