February 15, 2009
A Bowling Ball In A Lane Of Pins
I really like this Jonathan Abrams article on LeBron James. It’s not about anything off-court. It’s not about his relationships with his teammates, coaches, or management. It’s not about a particular game or set of games. It’s not even really about him, except in a refreshingly limited way.
Instead, it’s a well-researched article featuring multiple interviews (mostly with James’s opponents) about a single aspect of his game — his unique and nearly unstoppable ability to drive to the basket.
This is a function of James’s size:
“If he gets his shoulders square near that basket and you don’t get a hand on him, he’s impossible to stop,” San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich. “He’s like a smaller version of Karl Malone.”
Once James begins his drive, he is as swift to the basket as anyone in the game. Defenders on the weak side must make a split-second decision. Most try to beat James to the basket, but that has its perils, said the Nets’ Vince Carter, another of the game’s premier leapers.
“It’s one thing trying to beat somebody to the rim, but on a body like that, you have to try and slow him down,” Carter said. “But he does a great job of getting into you first. When he hits you at 260, it’s hard to guard him because once he hits you first, he’s pretty much going to knock you off balance.”
And his unpredictability in the air:
Over the summer, James worked with Idan Ravin, a trainer with an A-list of N.B.A. clients. It was not how high or how far James jumped that struck Ravin, it was how he did it. Most people, including N.B.A. players, favor one foot over the other when they jump.
What makes James especially dangerous in the lane is that he can make a dominating leap off his right foot, his left foot or both feet. “He attacks the basket, and you can’t stop him because he’s going to get around you, or by you, anyways,” Ravin said.
Then James will adjust, if need be. “If he has to jump 6 feet, he jumps 6 feet,” Ravin said. “If he has to jump more, he’ll jump more. That’s how quickly he adjusts to the situation.”
James’s driving ability shows how great athletes don’t just outscore their opponents; they demoralize them. They put opposing players in a situation where they’re forced to degrade their own skills and give up their bodies to try to stop the onslaught, but it’s not guaranteed that even that will do you any good. It’s like leading a bayonet charge against a Panzer tank.
Isn’t it wonderful when journalism can actually help us to SEE things more clearly — even things that in some ways, we already know?