Ironically, despite his gargantuan frame, the giant managed to silently and meekly creep to his seat. With a heart as heavy as his legs, those blinding, beaming lights and flashing bulbs had difficulty finding his eyes. LeBron James found refuge under his baseball cap.
“Obviously, it’s a dramatic situation to be in,” James said after letting out a boisterous sigh.
“But it is what it is.”
A departure from the norm, James didn’t appear as his mighty self. He wasn’t certain, he wasn’t excited and he wasn’t confident or basking in sweet victory.
Yet still, despite finding himself on the precipice of his fifth loss in the NBA Finals, LeBron James was still LeBron James.
True to himself, still, after all these years, he was still The Man In The Arena.
* * * * * *
About 13 months after his term as President of the United States expired, then-President Theodore Roosevelt had awoken one spring morning in Paris. Nine years earlier, he had improbably inherited a United States of America that was reeling after the assassination of President William McKinley, Jr.
Valiantly, President Roosevelt assumed the office, and despite dissension from within his own party, admirably laid the foundation for what would become an economic genesis for the country.
And on this day in Paris—on April 23, 1910—President Roosevelt told the world something quite important.
In a speech entitled Citizenship In A Republic that he delivered at the University of Paris that day, he delivered a message that has echoed throughout American history and has been applicable across all walks of life. The message was incredibly simple, yet certainly profound.
Worry not with your critics, the President said.
Today, LeBron James reminds you of the same.
With his team’s season hanging in the balance, James made a fateful decision to refrain from taking a shot that could have clinched Game 3 for his Cavaliers. That he passed, of course, caused an immediate uproar from those that dissect and criticize his every move.
“I don’t even really care,” James said of his critics.
“One of my favorite quotes, when I really stopped caring about what people say, is Theodore Roosevelt, ‘The Man in the Arena,’” he said. “So if you read that, you’ll see where I’m at right now in my life.”
In “The Man in the Arena,” President Roosevelt, using his own experience as a lens, encourages mankind to pursue their own goals and their own greatness on their own terms. Win or lose, those that haven’t walked a mile in your shoes will criticize your decisions and process.
In the end, the public should revere the man that’s actually in the arena, for his foray requires true courage.
* * * * * *
Seemingly larger than life itself, James was a household name by the time he was 17 years old. He stood head and shoulders above each of his peers, and it was then that he began to draw comparisons to Michael Jordan.
Certain to be the next big thing, James embraced our attention, our critiques and our expectations.
Still, though it all, he remained something remarkable. Through it all, he has simply remained LeBron James.
Over the years, we have failed to typecast him. His all-around game was reminiscent of Oscar Robertson, but his passing ability and court vision rivaled that of Magic Johnson. He wasn’t a perimeter player necessarily, but his post-game had been subpar. He lacked the selfishness of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant and, to his core, stuck to the simple belief that there was no “I” in team—sometimes, to his detriment.
And even as the ghost of Michael Jordan appears before him—even as the whispers of James and his mighty legacy supplanting some of the greatest players ever grow louder—James has remained the same.
Through it all, he has continued to play the game his way, on his own terms.
So, with his team trailing 0-2 in the 2017 NBA Finals, James saw Kevin Love and J.R. Smith set him staggered screens. Extended out to the half court logo, with his team leading by two points, with an opportunity to potentially seal the game and preserve an opportunity at back-to-back championships, James saw Draymond Green in front of him. He raised his right hand, instructing Smith to stay put. He took three dribbles with his left hand before crossing back over to his right. After he and Green played a perimeter game of cat-and-mouse, James drove to his left, making a beeline toward the basket. By the time he had gotten to the free throw line, James had Green on his hip and Kevin Durant standing outside of the restricted area. With Stephen Curry cheating off of Kyle Korver momentarily, Kevin Love managed to strategically stand between Korver and Curry, effectively giving Korver a screen that would give him the time and separation to get off what would have been a game-clinching three point look.
The play worked to perfection, only Korver couldn’t deliver.
Soon thereafter, Kevin Durant did.
Even the most ardent James supporters grow frustrated with his willingness to cede those moments to his teammates. As James continues to draw comparisons to both Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, it has been noted—and perhaps rightfully so—that neither would have made that pass in that situation.
James, on the other hand, would do it again.
“If I could have the play over again, I would come off a three screen situation,” James said before describing exactly how the play unfolded.
“… I would see Kyle Korver in the corner, one of the greatest three-point shooters in this league’s history, and give him an opportunity in the short corner,” he said.
“I would do the same exact thing.”
James knows who he is, and long ago refused to try to play by anybody else’s rules. He leaves the debates of his place in history to us and puts adherence to his basketball principles above all else.
In short, while still playing the game to win, James truly plays as if he has nothing to prove.
That, above all else, is what makes him remarkable.
* * * * * *
For more than 15 years, the world has told LeBron to be Michael Jordan and has dared him to compete with Kobe Bryant. Pundits have implored him to play selfishly and revert to hero basketball in tight, waning moments. Through it all, James has shrugged off those suggestions and continued to play his game, his way and on his terms.
He has taken the words of President Roosevelt to heart and, long ago, decided to worry not with his critics.
Over the course of his 14-year NBA career, as James has accumulated a career accolades most-wanted list and steadily ascended the NBA’s Mount Rushmore, we have spent far too much time trying to fit him into a box rather than simply appreciate him for what and who he is. Because “greatness” isn’t defined, the only objective measure used to make inter-generational comparisons are championship rings. Less attention is paid to things like the amount of teams in the league vying for championships, the skill level of the game’s elite players or the division of conferences. What’s most unfortunate is that of all things, when trying to define greatness, the least amount of attention is paid to how a player actually plays the game.
One could argue, though, that it is there that true greatness is most revealed. The NBA had only 18 teams as late as 1974. Fewer teams and no free agency, one could argue, diminishes the credibility of the 13 championship rings that Bill Russell has. During the time that Michael Jordan dominated the league, the Western Conference, one could argue, wasn’t as talented as their Eastern counterparts. As for Kobe Bryant, three of his five championships were won with Shaquille O’Neal, and O’Neal was named the Most Valuable Player in each of those three Finals appearance.
In other words, if one were to dissect any all-time great and the circumstances under which they found success, it would be easy to discredit them.
James has long understood this, which is precisely why he has long ceased trying to play by everyone else’s rules.
As a true team-first player, James took just as much joy in feeding Mike Miller and Shane Battier and watching Ray Allen and Kyrie Irving’s fateful three pointers as he did putting the Spurs away in Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals.
Extended out to center court, with his heart racing, his sweat-soaked jersey clung to his frame. With his mouth dry and his breath short, James looked up at the ticking clock. He made his move around Mario Chalmers’ screen, and although Tony Parker showed, Kawhi Leonard was slow to switch back out onto him. James had an opening, and despite being regarded as a poor shooter, pulled the trigger on a 20-footer that found the bottom of the net.
With a four-point lead, his Miami HEAT would eventually find their way to victory in one of the finest Game 7 performances we have ever seen: 37 points, 12 rebounds and four assists.
What truly lies at the root of the crowd that contends that James isn’t “clutch” is nothing more than a false perception. The reason the public doesn’t believe James to be good in clutch situations is less about the extent to which he has hit big shots than it is the fact that he is just as willing to cede them to his teammates.
If there is a fault to find in that, it would be that James may be underestimating the extent to which others have the capacity to come up big in the most trying moments.
Just because Korver is a 43 percent three point shooter over the course of his career doesn’t mean that he can convert a game-clinching shot in the NBA Finals.
Above all, though, what makes James truly special is his willingness to find out. He is a rare example of a superstar player who can live with the results, so long as he makes what he feels is the right play.
Having taken each of two franchises to four NBA Finals, James has dominated the game in a way that no other player in the contemporary era has. His unimpressive record in those Finals appearances, truly, is more an indictment on the individuals that he had surrounding him than they are of his individual greatness. Despite that, he always has been and always will be willing to trust those very teammates, even when everything is on the line.
In the same way that Stephen Curry made it cool for a generation to shoot step back jump shots and Vince Carter made it cool for a generation to boost their verticals, James made it cool to share the wealth and to be willing to live and die by giving others an opportunity to bask in the spotlight.
And depending on how you define greatness, in a way, one could certainly argue that his refusal to play by anyone else’s rules truly makes James the man in the arena.
Without question, James is very different from both Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. And that’s okay. He has long since stopped trying to live up to their standards.
Frankly, it’s probably about time we stop expecting him to.
NBA Daily: 60-Pick Mock Draft – 6/18/2019
The 2019 NBA Draft is Thursday and things seem to be taking shape at the top of the draft board. However, the middle of the draft could be wildly unpredictable. Steve Kyler offers up another 60-pick Mock Draft.
The NBA Draft is upon us, and while there still seems to be a lot of things in play in the middle of the draft, the top of the board seems to be settling in on a defined order.
Assuming the top 10 picks stay where they are, the draft could go pretty much as scripted. After the top 10, it seems this could be a wildly unpredictable draft, with what’s shaping up to be a lot of pick movement, especially as certain guys rise or fall.
Here are some of the situation to watch:
The New Orleans Pelicans, fresh off their agreed Anthony Davis trade with the LA Lakers, are still exploring moves that could involve the fourth overall pick. The prevailing thought is if New Orleans can flip the pick for a solid veteran they would, but there has also been recent talk that they would like to try and trade up to grab Duke forward RJ Barrett in front of the Knicks. It doesn’t seem likely that Memphis would do such a deal unless they were assured they would get Murray State’s Ja Morant at four. The Knicks have been pretty locked in on keeping the third pick and have made it clear to local media that they would be happy with either Barrett or Morant, likely killing any traction on a Memphis-Pelicans swap.
The Cleveland Cavaliers had been linked to the Atlanta Hawks in a deal for the fifth overall pick, but traction on that seems to have died off once the Pelicans got control of the fourth pick and seem to have zeroed in on Texas Tech guard Jarrett Culver if they keep the pick. The Hawks have been exploring options on moving one of their middle first round picks, either the 10 or the 17, which they will receive from Brooklyn as part of the pending Allen Crabbe salary dump. League sources doubt the Hawks keep all of their picks, but it’s unclear where those moved picks would land as of today.
Speaking of moved picks, the Boston Celtics have been exploring options on their three first-round picks; it is believed the Celtics will ultimately deal the player they select with the 20th overall pick, although league sources say Boston is open to moving all of them if the return is right.
There could be some teams to watch in terms of trading into the draft; The Houston Rockets have explored deals that would get them into the late lottery, it does not seem like there is traction on anything as of today, but it’s a situation to watch.
The Denver Nuggets have also explored deals to get into the first round, mainly to obtain inexpensive bench players. The Nuggets could be one of the teams to watch for with one of the Celtics or Hawks picks.
With all of that in mind, here is the latest NBA Mock Draft. You can look for the Final Consensus Mock Draft tomorrow.UPDATED: 6/18 - 4:00pm
Stay tuned to Basketball Insiders for the latest news and rumors surrounding the 2019 NBA Draft and instant reaction pieces on all the picks in the first round.
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NBA Daily: Admiral Schofield Set On Building His Own Reputation
Admiral Schofield’s mindset carried him throughout his four-year career with the Tennessee Volunteers, and it will continue to take him to new heights in the NBA. Spencer Davies writes.
Admiral Schofield lives for the late-game heroics.
“A lot of people talk about the clutch gene,” the former Tennessee forward told reporters at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago with a grin. “ I don’t think it’s a gene. I just think it comes from a mindset, comes from your preparation and how you approach the game.”
On March 9, 2017, Schofield had an opportunity. With the ninth-seeded Volunteers down by two to the third-seeded Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC Tournament, he hoisted a shot for the victory from the left elbow.
To everyone’s dismay, Schofield’s attempt fell short. Tennessee was eliminated and their season was over. Then a sophomore, he and his teammates were scrambling to find somebody to take it. He admittedly was not ready to be in that spot.
That’s when something clicked in his head.
“I think my mindset changed to ‘I will never be in a position where the last shot is decided for me and I won’t make it,’” Schofield said in a farewell video post on Twitter back in March.
“I just want to contribute to winning,” Schofield said at the Combine. “Whether it’s defending for the last shot being on the defensive end, whether it’s taking that corner three or taking that kick-out three or making a play, I’m that guy. I want to be that guy…”
Ever since then, that mentality has stuck with him.
Do a quick Google search on Schofield. Amidst the highlight-reel flashes of athleticism, it’s guaranteed that you’ll find more than a handful of different moments where the fearless 22-year-old stepped up during crunch time.
On December 8 this past year, Schofield led then-seventh-ranked Tennessee to a win over the top-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs. En route to a career-high 30 points, he caught fire in the second half and knocked down the go-ahead three from the top of the perimeter with 22 seconds left in the game.
The story didn’t change in conference play. A month later with his team up by two on Florida, Schofield went to the right corner and hit a dagger with 41 seconds to play. In a one-point affair vs. Ole Miss later in the season, he took a game-clinching charge.
When the NCAA Tournament came around, Schofield stepped up once again. Tussling in the first round with an upset-minded Colgate squad, he nailed two triples from the same right corner spot with less than two minutes to go. Before getting eliminated in overtime by Purdue in the Sweet 16, he drained a deep three above the break to give the Vols the lead with five minutes left in regulation.
“I mean if you ask guys like Kobe [Bryant], they won’t tell you it’s a clutch gene. It’s just the thousands of shots. It’s another shot that he shot a thousand times,” Schofield said at the Combine.
“It’s the same thing for me. I stay in the gym. I work on my mindset. I work on situational things in the gym and [I’m] always staying ready, staying prepared for the next shot and being prepared for that big shot. And I just feel like in that moment in time, I think I’m the best option.
If you can’t tell by the infectious smile, Schofield is beaming with confidence—and why wouldn’t he be?
When he arrived in Knoxville in 2015, things weren’t great. The coach that recruited him to come to Tennessee, Donnie Tyndall, was fired after his lone underwhelming season for the program. Rick Barnes came in as a replacement and the results were poor in his first couple of seasons, too.
But over the last two years, the Volunteers are 57-15. They’ve appeared in back-to-back March Madness tournaments and won the regular season SEC Championship in 2018. For the first time in school history, they were ranked No. 1 in the country during the month of January. It was the first time they had been the nation’s top team in over a decade.
The turnaround was monumental, and Schofield realizes how big of a piece he was to that puzzle.
“It felt great because, to be honest, I was part of that foundation building that culture,” Schofield said. “And to be on top in the end really is just a testament to the hard work. And everything that we built in those first two years, it really started to pay off in those last few years.
“But to say that I was one of the guys that helped start that is a blessing. We had a great year. We had a great run.”
Transitioning to the next level, Schofield feels as ready as anybody. Under Barnes, he says everything was “pro-structured.” The Vols were constantly pushed. They were always prepared. Perhaps most importantly, everybody was held accountable, which is essential when players are going to be on their own in the pros.
Because of his experiences, Schofield believes in himself. It’s not about him simply sticking around the league. He desires much more than that.
“I think I can contribute to any team or any organization that brings me in, not just with my play,” Schofield said. “But just being a great teammate, being an ambassador for that organization and for that community, really coming in and being a positive influence, having some type of leadership. Not saying I’ll come in and be ‘the guy’ or ‘the leader.’ There’s many ways you can lead.”
In discussing his character, it’s hard not to bring up one of the most selfless moments in his college career. With Tennessee and Iowa knotted up prior to heading into overtime, Schofield—who was one hack away from fouling out—told Barnes to take him out in favor of teammate Kyle Alexander.
Cold from the field and in danger of being disqualified, Schofield made the request knowing Alexander would be a game-changer. It paid off in a victory.
“I’m a winner,” Schofield said after the 83-77 win in extra time. “At the end of the day, if I don’t have to be on the floor to win, that’s fine.”
While there’s plenty of other times he’s put his leadership on display, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more perfect example of Schofield’s team-first outlook. Combine those intangibles with the skill set and you have yourself one hell of a basketball player.
Schofield views himself as a positionless player with the ability to guard two through four or five, switching and slowing down scorers and doing the little things on the defensive end. Within offensive sets, converting on shots from the corner, coming off pin-downs and utilizing dribble hand-offs are his forte. He also has incredible athleticism, whether it’s skying for a huge dunk or swatting an opponent.
NBA teams can clearly see the 40 percent rate from three over the last three years. Still, there’s more than meets the eye to that, according to Schofield.
“[I want to] show ’em that not only can I shoot the ball, I can defend and do multiple things – create a little bit for others and pass the ball well,” Schofield said. “I don’t credit for how well I pass the ball either because I haven’t been in many situations at Tennessee to pass the ball. But I do pass it pretty well.”
Schofield maintains he deserves to be picked in the first round. As one of three draft hopefuls from Tennessee—Grant Williams and Jordan Bone being the others—who hopes to hear his name called Thursday night, that’s what he’s aiming for.
If he gets his wish, Admiral will become the second professional athlete in the Schofield family. His older brother, O’Brien, is an NFL linebacker who was a part of the 2014 Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.
“He’s helped me a lot,” Admiral said of his O’Brien. “But more than anything, I’ve just been very observant seeing how he did things, even though it was football. Just got a little taste of that type of spotlight, him being an NFL Champion, playing on the Seahawks.
“Just seeing the process of that, seeing what it takes to win on that level, seeing some of the things that they did—I was able to implement that at the University of Tennessee, but I also I’ll be able to take that with me going forward when I get to the league.”
Individually, there’s always room to get better. You can develop better dribbling, improve your passing or tweak your jumper. But can you make an impact on winning?
And that’s what will separate him from the rest.
NBA Daily: What’s Next For The Lakers?
With Anthony Davis onboard to make them a contender, the Lakers must decide how they will spend their money this summer, write Matt John.
The NBA season ended literally just days ago, and we already may have seen the most significant move made this offseason.
The Los Angeles Lakers went all-in when they traded 95 percent of the farm on Friday for Anthony Davis, pairing him up with LeBron to make up one of the most fearsome duos in the league.
There’s a lot of risk going into this. LeBron will be 35 in December, and Davis doesn’t have a whole lot of playoff success to his name. Many think the Lakers may have overshot their hand when they made this deal. They traded almost all the young talent they had – plus, three picks and two pick swaps is a king’s ransom for a guy on an expiring contract.
Let’s not mince words. LA definitely paid more than they could afford in the long run with this trade, but Anthony Davis is the type of guy you overshoot your hand for. When you have one of the league’s top players in the game, and you have the chance to add another one, you pay the piper.
Now all that remains is what to do with the rest of the roster. All props need to go to Rob Pelinka for creating a title window for the Lakers when the clock was ticking, but let’s not overlook that the roster he constructed last summer turned out to be a complete disaster. It was an intriguing idea to put a bunch of playmakers around LeBron, but the lack of spacing manifested a clogged toilet offense.
Even after adding Anthony Davis and his $25+ million contract, the Lakers will still have plenty of cap room at their arsenal this summer. If getting the Lakers their 17th title is truly his concern, he needs to build the best roster he can around LeBron and AD. In order to do that, the Lakers have two options to go to
Get The Third Star
Now it’s clear as day that this is what the Lakers are hoping for. Shortly after the Davis trade was announced, Marc Stein reported that the team will make Kemba Walker its primary target in free agency.
Having a third star has been LeBron’s MO for every destination he’s gone to since “The Decision.” First, it was Chris Bosh in Miami, and then it was Kevin Love in Cleveland. Neither matched the production that they had with their previous teams before they joined LeBron, but they did give the team an undeniable edge that helped them win a championship.
Getting that third banana takes the pressure off of James and Davis to produce on a nightly basis, and it can help stagger minutes for James who, all things considered, isn’t getting any younger.
Now, Davis can handle a fair amount of the load as James continues to age, but a third star would only make his life easier. As we all know, Davis wasn’t exactly happy that he had to carry much of the scoring burden in the Big Easy, so having someone else pick up the slack would not make it feel like a repeat of what happened with the Pelicans.
Luckily for the Lakers, this summer has one of the best free agent classes of all time. Kevin Durant, who’s still getting the max with or without a healthy Achilles, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, Khris Middleton and Walker. Adding one of those names would solidify the Lakers’ odds as the title favorite (if they aren’t already).
The only problem with getting this third star on presumably a maximum contract is that, with all that money invested in James, Davis and Player X, there is little money to spend elsewhere. The only other contracts that can be handed out are the Mid-Level Exception and veteran minimum contracts. This summer, a lot of teams are going to have cap space, and not everyone is going to have that happy ending this offseason.
Because of that, expect lesser players to get paid far more than what they are worth. That’s going to make it difficult for the Lakers to get valued rotation players on veteran’s minimum level contracts.
That’s why it could be better for LA to consider the other option.
Get Reliable Role Players
The Lakers have two of the league’s best players. As long as they stay on the court, LA should be one of the best teams in the league. With the Warriors appearing to disband this summer, the NBA will have some parity for the first time since 2016. Now that the next title may be up for grabs, LeBron and Davis could be enough star power alone to power the Lakers to a title.
Emphasis on star power. Of course, they can’t win a title without any productive players in their rotation. They could get them, but that would probably mean they wouldn’t be able to add a third banana. Then again, maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world.
If we learned anything from the Warriors from the last few weeks, it’s that a lack of depth can really kill you in the Finals. One of the reasons why Toronto won so handily – besides the unfortunate injuries – was because of its full-balanced attack against Golden State. The Warriors may have had the edge in star power, but Marc Gasol, Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka and Norm Powell took advantage of the Warriors’ lack of versatility as a team.
You need those types of players to win the championship. No one knows that better than LeBron. Things didn’t start out great in Miami, but after the team added the likes of Shane Battier, Ray Allen and Chris Andersen, the HEAT got that extra push to win a championship.
Ditto for Cleveland. The Cavaliers didn’t have the greatest start when he came back. Then they added JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, Timofey Mozgov and Channing Frye- and that made a huge difference.
Something that we all know by now is that LeBron thrives when he has players who can shoot. The Lakers could bring back some of their designated “shooters” from last season, including Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Mike Muscala and Reggie Bullock, but there are better options this summer
Danny Green, Nikola Mirotic, JJ Redick, Trevor Ariza and Darren Collison to name a few are all guys who can shoot the rock that on paper would be an excellent fit next to LeBron. At the very least, they would help LeBron play the type of basketball that he loves to play in.
The problem is, those guys can’t be asked to do more than what their specialty is. If and when LeBron and Davis are having an off-night, you can’t rely on a sharpshooter to carry the team when it’s down.
There’s always the possibility that the Lakers, even if they don’t sign a star player, believe they have their third banana in Kyle Kuzma. That’s a lot of pressure for a third-year player, but Kuzma has been exceeding expectations since he came into the league. Maybe he’s only scratching the surface of his potential.
There is no wrong answer for the Lakers here. It’s exciting enough that with Davis on board, they now have options this summer. They no longer have to bank on the cavalry coming in the near future because the cavalry has arrived. They’re not a finished product, but they finally have a product on their hands.
All that said, which door do you think the Lakers should choose?