Saturday, May 26, 2018
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NBA is hoping for too much from James

In his first live action with the Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James averaged 15.5 points, 4.5 assists and about 100 reporters a game. Not too shabby for an 18-year-old a month removed from his high-school graduation.

James is already drawing comparisons with Michael Jordan, Jason Kidd and the great Magic Johnson himself.

For his next trick, James will play in next year's NBA all-star game, win the rookie-of-the-year award, lead the moribund Cavaliers to the playoffs, singlehandedly fill Gund Arena to the brim, become the league's new marketing icon, star in Space Jam 2, win an ESPY award and guarantee to put a chicken in every pot.

If James lives up to all the unrealistic expectations thrust his way, he'll have an even greater impact on the league's image than Jordan, Johnson and Larry Bird did in their heydays.

Chances of that happening appear to be slim and none - and slim just left town.

Upon first glance, James looks to be good for 15 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists as a rookie. His commanding presence should result in at least a 15-win improvement over last year's 17-65 model in Cleveland.

At 6-8, 240 pounds, James will play point guard, shooting guard, forward - anywhere he wants.

He can earn a decent living shooting the ball, and he passes much better than he shoots.

He's a team player in a sport featuring an increasing number of me-first players. He involves his teammates in the offense.

He's the real thing.

And, still, 15 more wins puts Cleveland at 32-50 and still out of the playoffs for a sixth straight year.

Out of sight, out of mind, right?

Not if the NBA can help it.

The difference between the NBA of yesteryear and the NBA of today is that the Jordans, Johnsons and Birds - and yes, you can toss Isiah Thomas into that elite mix - had to win championships before earning huge endorsement deals.

In NBA commissioner David Stern's perfect little world, James is the new-and-improved Cliff's Notes version of a full-blown 21st-Century marketing success.

James is pre-packaged, pre-measured - all ready to go. Just add water and stir.

Despite pushing hard against a 20-year-old age limit, Stern is pulling even harder for James to pick up where Jordan and his 30,000-plus points and six championships left off.

Not three years from now.

Right now.

Count on the NBA putting James, a teenager, and his Cavaliers on television to the point of excess in 2003-2004. Expect the league to create a glossy image of James right out of Central Casting to help sell his No. 23 jersey and Nike gear.

It's difficult enough for a rookie to hit the ground running in the NBA. James, no doubt, is a special basketball talent.

But a talented rookie having a major impact on the court while also attempting to lift up an entire league - even for a precocious rookie like James - is next-to-impossible.

No way James can live up to everybody's massive expectations right off the bat - if ever. Not even in Stern's perfect little world.

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