The NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers have an interesting dynamic duo this season.
LeBron James is a guy you know about, even if you don’t watch basketball.
LeBron has the most impressive resume of any active NBA player. He has the stats, the championships, the individual accolades. LeBron’s been a high-level performer for going on 16 years.
While I’m not a fan of players sitting out games for “rest,” if any player has earned the right, it’s LBJ.
The other half of this Lakers duo is a guy named Anthony Davis.
Anthony Davis is seven feet tall, long, athletic, and very good at basketball. He’s been an All-Star. He has represented Team USA in international competition. He was the #1 pick of his draft class.
Yet, if you’re not a big basketball fan, I wouldn’t be surprised if you had never heard of Anthony Davis.
You will hear of AD this season, since he has left his old team in New Orleans and teamed up with LeBron in LA. He won’t be starving for attention.
Some people think AD might win MVP of the league this year. While I do believe Davis has the skills to do so, I’m not so quick to hand it to him just yet.
Here’s why not: I want to see what mentality he brings to this season.
I’ll explain why.
Twenty or so years ago, this same Los Angeles Lakers franchise had a different dynamic duo: Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.
You’ve heard of both of those guys.
Though neither had won a championship before they’d teamed up, Shaq was clearly the more-accomplished guy.
Shaq was older, had been in the league for longer, and that Lakers team was built around his presence. Kobe was an accessory with potential.
Kobe was an up-and-comer who had obvious ambitions to dominate and be The Man just like Shaq was — maybe even bigger than Shaq.
Kobe wasn’t shy about saying so, either.
Even before he’d openly talk about it, you could tell where Kobe’s head was just by watching the games: every time Shaq came out of the game for a breather, Kobe went into Attack Mode, eager to show that he could carry the team without Shaq.
Kobe saw Shaq’s absence as his opportunity to show just how dominant Kobe could be when the offense was centered around him.
If Shaq sat out an entire game due to injury, Kobe would turn it up even more.
It was clear to everyone that Kobe knew he needed to prove that he could be just as good as — if not better than — Shaq. There was a clear gap between them that Kobe acknowledged and was determined to close.
In later years, now clearly established as The Guy in LA after Shaq’s departure, Kobe never tried to make any of his teammates feel they were his equal.
When All-Star big man Dwight Howard, legendary point guard Steve Nash, and star forward Pau Gasol all joined the Lakers for one season, Kobe said to the media, “we’re not getting into all the, ‘we’ll share the ball…’ No. It’s my team.”
There was no equality. Kobe had earned the right to make it that way.
Keep this in mind as we come back to LeBron and Anthony Davis.
Between the two of them, LeBron is the more-accomplished guy. Everyone knows this, the same way we knew that Shaq was above Kobe (at least at first).
The difference: Shaq never shied away from acknowledging that he was the “Big Brother” in the partnership. He never pretended that he and Kobe were equals.
This wasn’t done in a negative way. Shaq was The Man in the NBA at that time; he had earned his title.
LeBron James is not like Shaq.
LeBron is an “Equality” guy. He’s worn t-shirts with the phrase printed across his chest. With people like AD, LeBron seems to want us to consider the two of them equal.
There’s an ESPN article that came out last week that shared how LeBron gifted Anthony Davis the #23 uniform number upon AD’s arrival as a member of the Lakers (23 had been LeBron’s number).
This is fine for building a relationship, I suppose. A nice, friendly gesture.
The challenge I see, specifically with AD’s MVP quest, is this supposed equality between the stars. It might fool AD into actually believing it.
You see, Shaquille O’Neal never tried (at first) to make Kobe feel like they were equals. Kobe had a target — prove that I’m just as good as Shaq — to aim for, and a teammate willing to wave that target in his face.
LeBron James has been hinting that he wants to carry less of his team’s load this season, and let Anthony Davis be the star for the Lakers. LeBron started the AD-for-MVP campaign before the Lakers had even played a game.
There’s nothing wrong with this, talking up your teammate as a great player.
What I wonder is if AD, minus the teammate-waved target, minus anyone pointing out that AD has accomplished very little in terms of winning thus far in his career, has the same mentality as a Kobe — the hunger to not only beat the other teams, but to prove that he’s worthy of standing next to (or even above) his legendary teammate.
If he does have it, AD will go and score 40+ points and carry the Lakers to victory in any game that LeBron sits out.
If he does have it, AD will demand the ball and score three times in a row when LeBron heads to the bench during a game.
I hope Anthony Davis has this internal fire.
A person who has skill, AND something to prove is always fun to watch. This is what made Kobe so great.
We don’t know if Anthony Davis has this combination. We will soon find out.
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