Many years ago, while I was still in the college game, a head coach I had known for over 15 years told me a close friend and former assistant of his (then a high school coach) had called and was raving about a freshman he had. I thought my colleague was going a little bit overboard when he said this kid was the best player in the country. “The best freshman?” I asked him. “No, … the best player!“
It’s common knowledge on the recruiting front that high school coaches oversell their players - and it’s completely understandable. I can’t think of a high school coach I’ve ever met (and that covers nearly 40 years) who coaches for the money. Mostly it’s about the relationships and the difference a coach can make in the life of a teenager. Some coaches get closer to their players than others do, but even for those who keep their distance, it’s only natural that if a coach is going to get close to any player, the best one is certainly going to be a logical candidate. That youngster the “difference-maker” in games and the one you, as a coach, need to have buy into your philosophy and need to rely on more than the others on the team. You also hope your best player is your hardest worker and strongest leader. When this occurs, it tends to create a tighter bond between player and coach.
In the case of the coach whose motivation is to move up in the college ranks or the one who’s ego isn’t quite in check, promoting the player may land you the college job you covet, get you audiences with college coaches or, at the very least, have newspaper articles and radio/TV interviews - where you can promote yourself along with your superstar or get your ego massaged.
The player referred to at the beginning of the blog was LeBron James and whatever superlative was used when he played in high school fell short of the mark. “Man-child” was the most accurate I ever heard. One thing I learned when speaking with pro coaches and scouts was it was ludicrous for anyone outside the NBA to think any high school player was ready to make the move directly to their sacred league.
However, I never heard anyone from the NBA, no matter their position with an NBA team (scout, assistant or head coach, general manager or even owner) say LeBron James wasn’t ready to not only play in the NBA, but have the ability to make an immediate impact. HAnd he certainly hasn’t disappointed on the court. I
n fact, the only criticism leveled at him was that he was bored, that things weren’t going fast enough for him, thus that foolish commercial last year he did for Nike. You remember the one in which he played all four characters: young LeBron, businessman LeBron, player LeBron and wise, old LeBron. It was allegedly done because he wanted to show off his “acting” skills. I can’t believe that commercial set any record for shoe sales (like the “Be Like Mike” commercials did).
So, now Nike’s produced a new LeBron ad. He’s shown dribbling downcourt as a youngster, gradually getting older as he makes his way across midcourt and toward the basket, climaxing in him, then fully grown, taking off from the free throw line, about to throw down a monster dunk…when the commercial fades to black…and you hear LeBron say, “You don’t want to be like me. You want to be better than me.”
It’s seems like it’s an attempt to create a new image for LeBron, but the message is somewhat absurd, coming from such a freak of nature - a young man physically mature waaaay beyond his years as well as a sports icon in his early 20’s. Nowhere in “blogsphere” or whatever this medium is called will you encounter an entry that has a message from LeBron James and John Denver in the same post, but what JD said is what LeBron’s advise is, only from someone we might relate to a little easier:
“The best thing you have to offer the world is yourself. You don’t have to copy anyone else. If you do, you’re second best. To achieve is to be first, and that’s being yourself.”