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The history of the NBA is full of players who put up spectacular numbers throughout the course of their careers.
From Wilt Chamberlain averaging 50 points per game in a season, while also averaging more than a full 48 minutes per game.
To Bill Russell leading the Celtics to 11 NBA championships.
To Oscar Robertson averaging a triple-double for an entire season.
To Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and his devastating, never-duplicated Sky Hook becoming the league’s all-time leading scorer.
To Larry Bird and Magic Johnson pretty much saving the NBA after the decade of the 1970s, when The Finals were actually shown on tape-delay after the 11 p.m. news.
To Michael Jordan making his high-wire artistry making every-night, must-see TV, while reaching six NBA Finals and his team winning every one of them, while bringing the league to fore in terms of marketing and merchandising.
Pillars, all, without question. However, none of those luminaries, save for perhaps Magic, could do what LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers is doing, even now at age 33 and in his 15th NBA campaign.
Playing every spot on the basketball court and while doing so, transforming it into an almost-positionless league.
“LeBron is different because he’s 270 pounds. That really changed a lot of the on-the-court stuff,” former Cavaliers general manager David Griffin told Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer in an excellent long read. “Big kids grew up with guard skill sets.
“He’s a totally otherworldly freak of nature who made it so a lot of kids that might’ve been pigeonholed as 4s or undersized bigs are now able to be thought of as mismatch problems because they can handle the ball.”
Griffin, who parted way ways with the Cavaliers last summer when he and majority owner Dan Gilbert could not agree to terms on a contract extension, credited James’ array of talents for taller guys such as Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons running the point a great deal of the time, with others such as Blake Griffin, now of Detroit, and Al Horford of Boston having their team’s offenses being run through them often.
“Everyone said Magic was a once-in-a-lifetime guy, but now you have all these big, capable ballhanders,” Griffin said. “There’s no doubt LeBron is very largely responsible for bigger, stronger kids having a vision of themselves as guards.”
Comparisons keep coming back to Magic, Griffin said of LeBron’s combination of strength, power and grace.
“LeBron is the first one who did it full-time, other than Magic Johnson,” Griffin said. “Ben Simmons would’ve been pigeonholed as a 4 and never had the opportunity to be as ball-dominant had it not been for LeBron’s success.”
Of course, no discussion about James’ impact on the league would be complete without bringing up how his decision to leave Cleveland after the 2010 season to jump to Miami and construct the NBA’s first “super team” built by free agency, reaching four consecutive NBA Finals, winning a pair of championships.
“I certainly think that LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh deciding to team together in Miami set in motion the star-laden team,” Griffin told O’Connor for his story. “Paul Pierce would disagree, but his Celtics championship team traded for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and acquired Rajon Rondo during the draft; the Big Three Heat were born of free agency. The Heat put that thought process in everyone’s mind.”
However, as Griffin pointed out, LeBron paving the way for that concept to become more prevalent proved to be to his detriment last season, and perhaps going forward.
“The irony in it is that if they don’t do that, there’s probably no way Kevin Durant thinks to go to Golden State,” Griffin said.