Skip to Content

LeBron James’s Former Colleagues Laud His Greatness, Incredibly Rudely

LeBron James looking up at what's probably a rebound
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

At some point, almost certainly within the next week or two, LeBron James will score the basket—or, what the hell, free throw—that makes him the NBA's all-time leading scorer. Over on, Zach Lowe anticipates the occasion with a truly fantastic blog today, featuring quotes from an interview and game-film review with LeBron himself, ruminating on the curious phenomenon that the league's career scoring record soon will be held by a guy whom people—including LeBron himself—mostly seem not to regard as a pure scorer.

From the blog:

James has acknowledged the possibility that people don't perceive him as a scorer because he has no signature move -- at least in the half court. (His locomotive left-to-right spin in transition, often flowing into his violent right-handed hammer dunk, might be his trademark. "It's impossible to stop," says Andre Iguodala.) It is as if the sheer variety, James' ability to shape-shift into whatever type of scorer the moment demanded, almost worked against our collective ability to recognize him as a scorer.

"Scorer" is a sort of weird and nebulous category, probably more of an aesthetic thing than a useful way to evaluate basketball players. In its closest pass to analytical utility it could be used to describe the orientation of a player's skills, rather than some absolute quantity or quality of them. For example, people (me included) often used it on, like, Carmelo Anthony, even though he generally scored fewer points than LeBron and also scored them less efficiently, because anybody could see that Melo's skill set was tilted, overwhelmingly, toward getting buckets. Whereas LeBron always has been, like, world-historically good at getting buckets, and will end up having scored a world-historic number of them—but also is one of the very best passers in history, and at his peak was one of the most versatile and destructive defenders anyone ever saw. Given his size and power and athleticism, his passing skills and creativity have always seemed the most extraordinary things about him; right there on the surface it just makes a lot of sense that a guy as big and fast and explosive as LeBron would be good at scoring baskets. In this use, "scorer," in Carmelo Anthony's case, is a way to call him a good or valuable player in the context of, well, him not ever playing much defense and never being better than replacement-grade as a distributor or whatever.

But that's not the only, or even the primary, way people use the term; they also use it to mean just "extremely good at scoring baskets." And this is the jumping-off point for Lowe's terrific piece: The common (or common enough to annoy LeBron, anyway) perception that LeBron doesn't belong among the top names on a list of the NBA's best-ever scorers. That in some meaningful sense the guy who very soon will have done more scoring than any other player ever is not as good a scorer of baskets as, like, James Harden. It's a self-evidently weird thing, but also a self-evidently real one, and Lowe enlists some guys who've played and coached with and against LeBron to help make sense of it. And those guys take turns being extremely fricking rude!

Here's LeBron's former teammate, Kyle Korver:

"He doesn't rely on an arsenal of dribble moves and footwork to create space," says Kyle Korver, James' teammate for three seasons in Cleveland. "He doesn't have as many moves built into his jump shot. To me, that's why people don't put him in that 'scorer' category. It's hard to do that now, right?

Korver's theory is sort of circular, and also, probably unintentionally, very impolite: People don't think of LeBron as a great scorer because he isn't one. Nevertheless he has a lot of points. Rude!

Next comes Harrison Barnes, who as a member of the Golden State Warriors played against and guarded LeBron in multiple Finals. Why don't people think of LeBron as a great scorer, Harrison?

"It's aesthetics ... If someone sees a Kyrie layup, you see the art."

People don't think of LeBron as a great scorer because people think of scoring as aesthetically pleasing and artful; by implication LeBron's game is ugly and artless. He is like a gross oaf out there. A golem. Look at him stumbling around, like Boris damn Karloff. What the hell! Rude!!!

And here is Shane Battier, who played with and against LeBron and made his bones as a pro with smart defense against big-scoring wings:

"Early in his career, he couldn't shoot ... I'd give him five feet, and it wasn't pretty. When he learned to shoot, it was like, 'Oh my god. Oh my god! It's over for the league.' It was like when Happy Gilmore learned how to putt: 'Happy learned how to putt! Uh oh!'"

LeBron James is like the movie character Happy Gilmore, the infantile clod who pretty much by accident happened to be good at the one stupid brutish part of golf, whacking the ball real hard, and then later fortified that freakish talent gifted to him by happenstance when an actual good golfer trained him to putt OK. This is Shane Battier's analogy for LeBron James's evolution as a basketball player. Fucking insanely rude!!!!!

Reading these progressively more brutal summations of his life's work, by former colleagues, I couldn't help but imagine LeBron also reading the article, and being like "Hey ... hey! ... HEY! What the fuck Shane!"

The stereotype of superstar athletes, ever since Michael Jordan and Larry Bird, is that they are psychos who are always coming up with outlandish reasons to feel disrespected, or underestimated, or hated, so that they can draw motivation from it, even long after everybody has stopped disrespecting or underestimating them and the only thing anybody hates them for is that they are the kind of psycho who is always doing that, and so like playing spades against them is a fucking nightmare. But in this case there is actual on-the-record disrespect! Men enlisted to help explain LeBron's greatness are out here telling a reporter that what's special about him is that he is like an ugly graceless gargoyle who has scored over 38,000 eyeball-punishing points in his career despite limited skills and no thumbs. If my former coworkers said this stuff about me on, I would simply dig a hole in my yard and lay down in it forever.

If you liked this blog, please share it! Your referrals help Defector reach new readers, and those new readers always get a few free blogs before encountering our paywall.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter