Legends speak of two great warriors, born eons apart, in different lands and in different mythologies, fighting in different types of wars and dreaming of different types of glory. But the two warriors had a lot in common. At their time in their world, they were both remembered as the finest of their craft, as demi-gods amongst mere mortals, as Heroes blessed with physical superiority that made them unstoppable in their respective fields of battle.
But both these Heroic figures – blessed with near-invulnerability in almost all parts of their body and their skills – shared the curse of carrying a weakness, too. For one of them, that weakness ultimately proved to be his downfall and death; for the other, the weakness led to continued failure in his attempt to grab the ultimate prize, to win the final battle.
The first of these Heroes is the great Achilles of Greek Mythology. Immortalised as an unstoppable fighting machine for his role in the Trojan War – as written by Homer in his epic Iliad – Achilles is also remembered for his weakness as much as he is for his strengths. For all the battles he won and glory he gained, later Greek and Roman poetry and drama remember Achilles for the single weak-point in his otherwise invulnerable body – his heel. As legend goes, Achilles, as a baby was washed in the magical River Styx to make each part of his body invincible. But his heel was never immersed in that water. Later, after becoming the world’s greatest warrior in the Trojan War, he was finally brought down with a poisoned arrow to that very heel.
The second of these Heroes is one that is far more familiar in these pages, and one whose epic poem is still under construction. LeBron James is the modern world version of Achilles. James seemed to be blessed from birth to grow up with the perfect physical gifts to dominate the game of basketball. At 6-foot-8, 250 pounds, with the speed of a point guard and the strength of a power forward, he's the type of rare soldier on the court capable of handling any challenge, or any position. Somehow, in one single entity, he is an elite creator, scorer, rebounder, and defender. He is blessed with the IQ to read a basketball game and the physical gifts to convert his IQ into practice. Rarely, if ever, has the basketball world seen a more complete player.
But resting on one’s talent isn’t enough, for a true Hero has to do Heroic
deeds. Like Achilles, who gained fame throughout the lands for the battles in won in Troy, LeBron James has turned his potential into dominance. His nine years in the league have seen him post eye-opening statistics, averaging 27.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 6.9 apg, and 48.3 percent shooting for his career, which continued until his most recently completed, historically efficient season, where he got close to those career numbers but improved his shooting to an other-worldly 53 percent. It hasn’t been just the individual stats though: Year-in and year-out, LeBron has been an Achilles-like leader going into battle, making bad teams good and mediocre teams into contenders. For the better half of the last five years, his teams – in Cleveland or Miami – have flirted with the best record in the league. He has reached the NBA Finals twice in this period.
About a week ago, LeBron was awarded his third Most Valuable Player award in four years, cementing his dominance over all the other contending warriors of his era. With this award, he joins a glittering list of only seven other Heroes of the past to have lifted the coveted trophy at least three times: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (6 times), Bill Russell (5), Michael Jordan (5), Wilt Chamberlain (4), Larry Bird (3), Magic Johnson (3), and Moses Malone (3).
In individual glory, LeBron now checks his name in with these seven. But Kareem, Russell, Jordan, Chamberlain, Bird, Magic, and Moses achieved something greater: they didn’t just win the individual glory, they won the war for their teams. All of these players have won at least one NBA championship. Nine years into his dazzling NBA career, LeBron is still looking for that prize - the most coveted of all.
LeBron is armed with the perfect arsenal to be a champion and supported by another gloried (and successful) warrior to his side, Dwyane Wade (Their third-in-command, Chris Bosh, fell to an injury and may be lost for their future battles this season). LeBron is the leader of a strong, defensive army in the Miami Heat and has a skillful tactician in command in coach Eric Spoelstra.
So what stops him now?
Like Achilles, LeBron James has his ‘heel’, too, and that heel has continued to fail him over the last few years. For all his prowess and invulnerability, LeBron has time and again fallen to strange mental blocks in crucial moments of battle. When the going gets tough, when he is struck by that poisoned arrow, it appears that self doubt begins to creep in, that his confidence lowers, and he becomes passive, a shadow of his former self. He shies away from the big moment, from taking the biggest shots, and opponents pounce on that weakness to lead him to his eventual downfall and failure.
In the end, the Greeks won the Trojan War without Achilles, using their cunning (the famous ‘Trojan Horse’) to get better of their opponents. The Miami Heat, though, may not be able to mount a challenge for the championship if their MVP fails again. LeBron James has all the blessings and gifts, he has won individual accolades matching the greatest of Heroes and won every battle leading up to the last one. But now it's his time to deliver and live up to his promise, his time to patch up that heel and defeat his own weakness. His time to finally win a ring.
Achilles mythology has been written and completed; LeBron’s epic is still being written. It will be up to the Hero of the tale to determine whether the story ends in tragedy or in glory.