Ive seen runs that have opened my eyes, but this is different, he says. I think people really miss the point with LeBron. Theres a possibility he may be smarter than all of them, maybe the smartest player ever. He has watched all of them, sincerely studied all of them, benefitted from what came before. And he has become a hybrid of all of them. At 6-9, 260 pounds, he has taken a piece of everyones game. Thats what history does. He has got everyone in him. Hes a better ballhandler than all these guys. He delivers the product in a way we havent seen before. Athleticism, strength, power, force weve never seen this explosiveness in anybody.
Riley pauses here, armed with almost half a centurys worth of basketball perspective.
Kobe and Jordan, you cant compare them to LeBron, he says. LeBron has no similarity with anybody, I dont think. Not that Ive seen. Ever.
He took away all my pain,
and He gave me joy
because of His sacrifice
No more will I be afraid
I found my love
He turned my darkness to light
He took away all the pain in my life.
Riley has seen a small change he doesnt think is so small now that the pain is but a memory and the ascension has begun as if accompanied by gospel choir.
Have you watched LeBron in the first quarter and even before games? he asks. Hes so ready to play. So ready. Hes not throwing [expletive] in the air. Hes insatiable. Theres no contentment there. He wants the game to hurry up and start.
As if he cant wait to get to his destiny, greedy about greatness. Riley compares this to the James who arrived here ready for a party and coronation in 2010.
Maybe too frivolous, he calls that James. I dont mean that in a negative way. I just think 2010 that loss, that [season], his introspection, his education has brought him here, and now we all get to find out how far it will take him. Hes more mature in game and in approach. Were seeing something truly enjoyable, above and beyond anyone elses performance. Were seeing it so often that it is becoming who he is. Routine. Im not taking that for granted. Im not dismissing his greatness by calling it routine. But hes making it look routine, and it is his routine. When you get to his level, you are raising the bar.
The great John Wooden used to say it is what you learn after you know it all that counts. You never figure it out, but you do get to another level of efficiency. He made it through the darkest of the dark, and he came out the other side. Michael didnt ever feel like he was going to win after seven years. You have to reach absolute failure with people worrying about you for the resiliency of the competitor to really be revealed.
Riley has been doing a lot of work with our military, honoring soldiers before each home game for years now. He reaches for a letter he received recently from a member of a special-ops unit. He doesnt want to compare basketball to war, but he says the soldier and James prepare the same way for the fight. So highly trained, so skilled, so efficient when given an assignment. In the letter, the soldier has quoted from the Bible for his mission, book of Isaiah, Chapter 6, Verse 8, about the mentality of the elite and the ordained: Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.
There are a lot of religious overtones in the worship around James, from his Witness sneaker campaign to the Chosen One tattoo that stretches across the expanse of his back.
Speaking for his prodigy, Riley says this on behalf of a liberated James as history beckons in the distance:
Here I am, America. Here I am, basketball world. They sent me.
I dont claim to be the best saint
but Im not what I used to be
If He can make a change in me
He can do anything
Its because of His love
I celebrate a brand new life
full of miracles and blessing
Im free from toll and strife.