Sportress of Blogitude

LeBron James: Teaching young Cavs more difficult than winning first title

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The Cleveland Cavaliers obviously have struggled a bit attempting to gain their footing as the team navigates its way through the early part of the season. At 5-5, the growing pains are evident, nor should they have been unexpected.

As the team figures out how to play with one another, LeBron James has taken to likening himself to an instructor of sorts, a sage-like figure with so much wisdom to impart upon his pupils, a teacher who has no choice but to exercise patience as he shows them the way.

Prior to the Cavaliers’ 92-90 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night, James tried to articulate the struggles inherent to imparting his knowledge to the younger, inexperienced players that comprise Cleveland’s roster. The ability to win, says James, is a difficult lesson to teach and an even harder lesson to learn.

In fact, according to James, teaching the Cavaliers players the secrets of on-court success has developed into the biggest challenge of his NBA career, even more difficult than securing his first NBA title.

“This is more challenging than me trying to win my first championship,” James told ESPN’s Chris Broussard. “Because that was a personal goal of mine. Doing this was never a goal until I decided to come back to Cleveland.”

It is true that the Cavaliers roster — including Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, both of whom have never made it to the playoffs — are woefully inexperienced in the matters of on-court success. James recognizes this and seems to truly want to teach them how to win.

James, who with each passing week sounds more and more like a frustrated version of some kind of Roundball Zen Master — all deference to Phil Jackson, of course, when making that observation — said being a leader of young men can be a long and arduous process. A burden, even.

“I’ve taken on the burden of leading young guys, getting them to understand what it takes to win,” James admitted. “And it takes more than just basketball. It’s about being a professional, not having a sense of entitlement, being grateful that you’re a part of this league. Those things have a lot to do with winning.”

But as he’s alluded to previously, patience will be paramount as he teaches his students in the art of winning.

“It’s going to take a while. When you’re losing, you pick up a lot of bad habits,” James continued. “When you walk into the building every night and don’t even expect to win, that wears on you, and it takes a while to break it.”

While James’ comments may be an accurate representation of how he feels and may even be the correct course of action for the team, his statements certainly separate him from his teammates, placing them below him in some kind of artificially constructed team hierarchy.

In a way, it’s as if James is painting himself as a quasi-player-coach, but perhaps it’s even more than that.

James previously has used these kind of depictions — of him as an instructor and his teammates his students — as well. Last week, James practically equated his fellow Cavs players to children and himself a stern parent …  hovering over them, judging them, instructing them, scrutinizing them.

“It’s a process, and we learn from it,” James said after the Cavs beat the Celtics last Friday, per ESPN.com. “I think on our team we have to see what we do well and what we don’t do so well. It’s easy to say it, but I kind of used this analogy early this morning: Right now, I feel like the young guys are like my kids. They’re not accustomed to reading textbooks. They like iPads. And you got to show them it looks better for them and that’s the process we’re in right now. You can’t just tell them. You have to show them on film and see when they do it right this is the result of it.”

This kind of talk is all well and good, so long as everyone involved — including the players but especially the coaches — yet the way in which James puts himself upon a pedestal and his teammates around it comes off a bit much.

In time, things likely will all work out fine for the Cavaliers. The team will figure things out on the court as a hierarchy is established and players will begin to understand their respective roles. In effect, it is much like what happened with James and the Miami Heat, as the “Big Three” and associated role players also stumbled a bit out of the gate in their first season.

James might as well continue with this kind of pontificating, especially if it yields results. But if James takes it a step further and instead of children he begins to refer to his Cavaliers teammates as his flock to which he is the shepherd, well, there may be some kind of Messianic complex in the offing.

(photo credit: Chuck Crow, The Plain Dealer)