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Robison: Respect LeBron, he’s earned it (Feb. 14)

By Matthew Robison | Thursday, February 14, 2013

Full disclosure: I’m a LeBron hater. I hate what he did to the city of Cleveland. I hate that he decided to collude with two other superstars to form a basketball machine. My hate dates all the way back to his Cleveland days when he walked up to Gilbert Arenas, who was playing for my hometown Wizards in the playoffs, and interrupted him between free throws by speaking into his ear and patting him on the chest. At that point, any likability LeBron had in my eyes disappeared. That was in 2006.

But what LeBron is currently doing deserves respect. And just because I hate the man does not preclude me from respecting his talent. In his last six games, he’s become the only player in NBA history to score at least 30 points and shoot at least 60 percent from the floor in six straight games.

Now, I’m not going to get into comparing LeBron to the other all-time greats. The Jordan-LeBron debate will probably rage for decades after LeBron retires. I think that debate is unfair to both players, but that’s not where I’m headed. I just think we should give respect where respect is due.

There have been some incredible single season performances – Oscar Robertson’s triple-double average, Wilt averaging 50 points and 25 rebounds per game, Jordan’s 37-point average. If LeBron can keep this streak alive, it will rank right up there.

The scariest part of this “new” side of LeBron James is he is just now figuring out to maximize his potential. For a while, critics knocked LeBron for not playing defense. Now he’s a lockdown defender. Then, they said he can’t shoot from the outside. No one dares to leave him open from three. Then, people called him out for not being able to play with his back to the basket. Now, he’s nearly unstoppable when he catches the ball on the block.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra offered the best quote thus far about LeBron’s performance. He told Heat fans, “Don’t take it for granted. He’s making greatness look easy.”

Since his rookie year, everyone had a decent idea of how great LeBron could be. But his full potential was hard to fathom. Now we’re finally seeing him actually reach that potential or, as scary as it might be, come closer to something even greater.

I’ve watched several of these games. It seems as though LeBron himself is just now realizing how easy the game can actually be. He’s 6-foot-8. He’s listed at 250 pounds. I’d say he’s pushing 290. He has muscles in places I didn’t know a human could grow them. He’s a physical force. Yet he plays the game with effortless grace. He’s incredibly agile and can jump out of the gym.

If I were a coach, I’d be at an absolute loss as to how to stop him. Right now, sports pundits want teams to double him. But with players like Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the floor with him, how do you intentionally leave them open? Honestly, I think you just have to hope and pray he has an off night, he gets in foul trouble or one of your players has an equally unstoppable night.

For now, I’m just glad I’m not in that unenviable position. I can just sit and watch his career unfold. LeBron is doing things on the basketball floor that haven’t been done in a long time and probably won’t be done again for a while.

So as much as I hate him, I have to respect him. LeBron is doing something unprecedented in the long history of the NBA. That demands my respect, and yours too.