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LeBron James and Right Now Versus Forever

LeBron James dreamed the impossible dream. While the rest of his generation wanted to be like Mike, he aimed higher. He’s spent nearly two decades in the public consciousness trying to better Michael Jordan, going from the next big thing to the greatest of right now in search of becoming the greatest ever.

The most hyped athlete of our time did the improbable. He made good on every expectation and exceeded the lofty goals. The current chapter of James’ story has brought a significant plot twist. Injuries and discord have turned the Los Angeles Lakers into a reality show train wreck. All hope of a playoff berth is lost.

His next chapter is unclear. It’s very possible we’re seeing the beginning of the regression to a mean. It was bound to happen some time. Despite most indications, this basketball-playing robot is actually a man, limited by the laws of nature.

It was easy to feel that baggage last night as James celebrated a Pyrrhic victory. Detractors will belittle and trivialize the stunning accomplishment of ascending to fourth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. They’ll criticize him for first reveling in, then succumbing to the emotion of the moment.

After all, his team is a mess. This is just another example of the myopic James putting himself above others. Haters will say it’s fools’ gold.

One should expect this type of reaction in 2019, where the immediacy of the moment trumps everything that came before or will come in the future. Right Now is the only currency that matters. Nothing stretching out to forever — in either direction on this linear plane — is worth considering.

It’s quite possible that LeBron’s stake has never been lower, even though it remains a blue-chipper. A devastating narrative surrounds him currently and there’s little he can do to change it. More importantly, he continues to make the same passive-aggressive and public mistakes that exacerbate the problem.

But as always, he’s being shockingly under-appreciated. The sporting world will miss him so much when he’s gone. In decades to come, we’ll look back and wonder just what in the hell was going on. The near constant comparisons to Jordan, the trivializing of accomplishments, the stubbornness to accept greatness will all look ridiculous.

Forever James and Right Now James are two different entities. But the latter should not obscure what last night means to the former. The audacity of scoring more points than Jordan would have been insane in LeBron’s formative years. The idea that anyone could challenge MJ’s death grip on basketball’s iron throne was almost sacrilegious.

Yet there James was, scoring an empirical victory over the ghost of Jordan. Facts may not be immune to feelings but the fact is that one player has now put more points up on the board. It’s not the most important data point but it is a data point to be weighed.

This is not a narrative or an amorphous debate. It happened. It happened as a result of countless hours of practice, of hundreds of grinding games, of step-back threes, slam dunks, and free throws. Supplanting Jordan on the list was something James could do without the permission of others who withhold praise because they think it will negate their childhood.

It’s not surprising to see them take a different tact when the numbers speak for themselves this time. Using James’ current calamitous situation as an eraser for what is essentially a lifetime achievement award is small. And, to be fair, a big part of it is the shifting of culture to willingly be slaves to the moment.

The emotion LeBron felt last night was real and the manifestation of a lifetime of hard work and big dreams. To best Mike in anything is humbling and transformative. To realize an impossible dream is a wake-up call. Perhaps James knows that he’ll forever have this. Perhaps he knows that this disastrous year won’t define him, that history will vindicate a snap conviction in the court of public opinion.

It is not a hollow accomplishment when put in proper context. Much like the actual job of reaching this plateau, that will take time. Thankfully, we all have forever.