As Dwyane Wade explained, in what seems to some to be an utterance of unfathomable understatement: LeBron James is "off the planet right now. He's not even the best basketball player on the planet. He's surpassed the planet. He's somewhere else..."
Wade was making the case for his teammate's extraterrestrial-ness late Friday night after James effortlessly drained 30 points on just eleven shots -- seriously, the man barely broke a sweat and sat out the fourth quarter -- in leading the Miami Heat to a 111-89 romp over the visiting Los Angeles Clippers. And it's a case that is supported by many of the game's deep thinkers, and by fans in arenas around the league who have been watching this, The Season of LeBron, with mouths gaped open in utter awe. Highlight-reel play after highlight-reel play.
All of which is not to suggest that in previous seasons he was a slouch. On the hardwood, the Akron, Ohio, native seems to be merely fulfilling his destiny as he evolves from wunderkind to a plain ole wonder to behold. The 28-year-old's career stats already speak for themselves, likewise the accolades already bestowed upon him -- the Olympic gold medal, the NBA Championship, the three MVP awards, etc. And yet, each season, the beast known as LeBron only seems to get better.
Which, I suppose, is why no one is at all astounded at his inclusion on the All-Other-World Team. No, what astounds onlookers is how he seems to be ascending into the heavens, and coming back to Earth, all at once.
Lets' face it, as great as LeBron truly is, he's been... unlikable. He's acted unlikable. He's won assorted Most Unlikable Polls. In fact, he's been unlikable to the degree where people who don't even know him, absolutely hate him. Most of this stems from The Decision, wherein he dumped his Cleveland Cavaliers in favor of taking his talents to South Beach (hands up all those suffering through a Cleveland-like winter who wouldn't have taken their talents to Miami right now if given the chance).
Okay, I wasn't suggesting that the hatred was warranted, or that LeBron James is actually unlikable, but, rather, that the perception of the man -- all entitlement and arrogance -- has unsurprisingly really, really rubbed people the wrong way.
However, this season it seems something odd has been transpiring. LeBron has again upped his level of brilliance. And (gasp!) he's slowly begun to sway public opinion in his favor -- a softening about the edges, a sweetening of the soul -- by doing little things that cast him in a more favorable light, and that have him seeming more personable. More real. More... down-to-Earth.
Maybe he dumped his entourage -- handlers and enablers. Or maybe he just quit listening to these guys who, historically speaking, seemed to have offered-up bad advice on top of really bad advice. Maybe (the cynic shouts) he is just working harder on his image to maximize his earning potential. Or maybe, just maybe, the true LeBron James is finally being given a chance to shine through.
Picture LeBron back in late-January, running onto the court to bear hug some random guy who had just nailed a half-court shot for charity. See the joy on LeBron's face. Not even Meg Ryan could fake that kind of ecstasy.
Or picture LeBron last Friday during the Clippers game, asking a fan in the stands who'd caught a ball, to give him back the ball. And when the guy finally did, offering-up a limp-fish of a pass, LeBron fired it back at him, demanding a return pass with a little more guff on it. It was a classic little bit of comedy -- something a jokester like Bill Murray would be inclined to do.
Confession: I don't know the real LeBron James. Didn't know him when everyone was making him into an unlikable monster. Don't know him now, as he seems to be transforming into a likable man. But perception means a lot in the world of celebrity. And right now, King James is ascending into the heavens, and coming back to Earth, all at once.