The Death of the Hero in the NBA

By JJ MARSHALL, JR./Designated Contributor

Michael Jordan is a myth. Yes, he had the greatest NBA career ever, but he lost, he missed shots, he failed his teammates, he quit, and he made mistakes. We all do.

We like to forget that Michael Jordan had the greatest coach and a top-20 all-time player on his team. Or that the league had ZERO other truly great teams during his run. Don’t tell me about the Jazz or the Suns, or the Rockets. 6’4” Charles Barkley… 38 year old John Stockton…

So many of MJ’s classic moments were situational. He was in so many close games (where Pippen guarded the best player, or Jackson out-coached his opponent) with an opportunity to crown himself the hero. We want him to be the greatest ever and forget what his team did because that aligns with our idea of the “Genius.” We like to think that Bill Gates ran Microsoft by himself or that Kanye West grew up in an isolation tank before making his own (sample-free) records. These people didn’t do it all alone, just as Jordan didn’t.

I’m a Lebron fan. I’m from the last generation of people who grew up without a cell phone in middle school. I’m on the cusp of people who remember what it was like to have to wait an hour to sign in for AOL, but still appreciate a good PS4 game. I’m conflicted because Lebron is the last of a dying breed: the genius, the hero, the saviour of the NBA.

We compare him to Jordan because he emulated Jordan. We compare him to Jordan because of the void MJ left. We were desperate for one man to fill it.

Bron is my age, and MJ was who we had growing up. Jordan was a singular figure. The narrative goes that he won six championships, by himself, playing 1-on-5 and without missing a shot or making a mistake. His last shot ever was to win his sixth NBA title (until it wasn’t his last shot ever; remember the Wiz years?). MJ had a remarkable career, redefined what it meant to be a star athlete, and has the stats and chops and big game plays to back it all up. We will never see a career like his again.

Kobe tried, but has been hated on (rightly) for not forging his own identity. He’s a fake. He wanted to be MJ so badly that he copied him at the expense of forging his own way. He still won 5 titles, but his story is blighted by rape accusations, feuds with Shaq and Phil, and being an all-around asshole teammate.

Lebron is the last gasp at heroism in the NBA, which is ironic because for so much of his career we saw him as the quintessential teammate. He was a pass-first behemoth athlete who could do it all. When he joined the Heat in 2012, it was supposed to mark the beginning of his Jordanesque run. He was supposed to win 10 titles in a row and blow MJ out of the conversation. Except the NBA caught up to him.

Coaches and organizations began to see that having a system (see: Spurs, San Antonio) meant that you could survive losing a top player and still be a competing franchise. Hire a good coach, some solid analytics nerds and a decent front office, and your franchise could turn around in a few years. Eventually, after enough winning basketball, you could land a star or two in free agency. Maybe you draft the next Donovan Mitchell late in the lottery. BOOM, now you are a competing franchise.

JJ Jr. | Designated Writers

JJ Marshall Jr.

This season was a testament to Lebron’s greatness. But it was also a farewell tour. He won’t be doing it alone again. He will go to a class franchise with a top coach. The only way to beat the Warriors is to do it their way.

This was all brewing while Lebron was winning his first two titles in Miami. The Warriors were drafting well, growing their young talent and keeping ahead of the curve as far as where the game was going stylistically.

Finally, Lebron (hero) met the Warriors (team) in the Finals. Lebron lost his two best teammates, and still had a chance to win that first year. The second year, he and Kyrie overcame an incredible 3-1 deficit to bring a title home to Cleveland. Since then, Bron has lost Kyrie, and the Warriors gained Kevin Durant. The rest is trash.

But these last four years have been a fantastic ideological debate. Lebron led this team of garbage to the Finals, then scored 51 in Game 1 before his teammates truly let him down. Many of us wanted him to win because we still want to believe in the iconic, singular do-it-all athlete.

The time for that figure has passed. Watching the Warriors on a string on defense was breathtaking. Seeing how many picks they set, how many dives and slips they ran, all of the action they have on offense is like a symphony. This was great coaching, homegrown talent, stars buying into the system versus … well … Lebron.

After watching these last NBA Finals, one thought ran through my head: how much coaching matters. The only truly “good” teams this year where the ones with good coaches: Warriors (duh), Celtics, Rockets, Spurs, Jazz, Heat. Any other team with a good record did it with overwhelming talent (Thunder, Blazers) or a Unicorn (Pelicans, Bucks). The only other decent team was the Cavs, who had Lebron. No matter what the Undefeated tells you, Ty Lue is not a good coach. Not yet at least. Case in point, see how many minutes J.R. Smith played in the Finals after his game 1 meltdown.

Good coaching creates chemistry, defines the team’s identity, and sets the tone with game plans, practices, and work ethic. It used to be that a good coach just corralled his stars’ egos, but with analytics, 24/7 news, Youtube and the like, it takes more than mediocrity to save your job in the NBA. The Warriors have the best talent, the best coach, and a top-3 organization and fan base. The Finals shouldn’t have been as close as they were with that advantage.

Lebron played in spite of his inept coach, in spite of his insane organization, and, in spite of his mediocre teammates, he willed them to the Finals.

This season was a testament to Lebron’s greatness. But it was also a farewell tour. He won’t be doing it alone again. He will go to a class franchise with a top coach. The only way to beat the Warriors is to do it their way. The Spurs way. Honestly, the right way. The mythical hero is gone. The new NBA logo should be a shadow of the Hamptons Five. As annoying as they were, they have crushed the idea that one man is stronger than a team.