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Published: Monday, 4/11/2005

James hasn't yet earned icon status

There's a television commercial that shows LeBron James sinking one length-of-the-court jump shot after another as his Cleveland Cavalier teammates and former coach Paul Silas watch in utter amazement.

Thanks to the miracle of trick photography, James is made to appear larger than life.

Commissioner David Stern's NBA is packaged and presented brilliantly. No league sells its stars to the sporting public better than the NBA.

The NBA desperately needs James to become what Vince Carter, Grant Hill, Tracy McGrady, Allen Iverson, Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant have all failed to achieve. It needs James to become the next Michael Jordan.

To drive home its point, the NBA is shoving James and his Cavaliers down our collective throats.

It isn't enough that you can watch the Cavaliers on national television on what now seems like a weekly basis. It isn't enough that a commercial depicts James pulling off a superhuman - albeit manufactured - feat.

James can't save the NBA. How can he when he's never appeared in a playoff game?

The NBA is all about the postseason. We weren't told that Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas were great players until they won championships. The essence of their greatness is winning.

The big difference between James and Jordan?

The NBA didn't have to manufacture Jordan's greatness.

Not saying that James isn't a superb talent - he's a legitimate MVP candidate in only his second season - but the reason for Jordan's mass appeal was that he was a fantastic player whose flair for the dramatic always coincided with a big win or another championship for the Chicago Bulls.

Jordan was the NBA's best player, and the league's greatest winner since Bill Russell.

If you've been watching James, you've probably reached the conclusion that the NBA is in good hands with LeBron.

James is the key to the league's resurgence, a spectacular talent who can make the NBA a television force again. You can't take your eyes off him when he's on the court.

However, the NBA is wrong - dead wrong - to put the entire weight of the league on James' shoulders.

If James is the end-all, be-all, why are the Cavaliers struggling to secure a playoff berth in the weak Eastern Conference?

Why was Silas' firing handled so clumsily - by the team, and especially by James, who failed in his first test as NBA icon when he told reporters he didn't have anything to do with Silas' departure since, after all, he's only a player.

Sorry, LeBron. You're the new face of the NBA. If you want Silas to stay, he stays.

You can't play the role of King James when it suits you. It's a 24-hour, seven-days-a week job.

James is the rare exception, a physical specimen with the maturity and intelligence to become a NBA superstar directly out of high school.

But as prolific as he is on the court, he still has a lot to learn.

Let's not be so hasty to anoint James the next MJ until he wins a few playoff games and accepts all the responsibilities befitting a future NBA legend.

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