The Basketball Jones 40: What does that mean exactly? Well, it’s a little hard to define. It’s certainly not a list of the 40 best players in the league right now — in fact, a couple players on the TBJ 40 would be ones that teams would gladly pay just to go away (and some have). And it’s not a list of our 40 favorite players, either — the combined man-hours that some of us have spent rooting against a couple of these guys would certainly disqualify that as well. It’s not even the 40 funniest or most interesting players, as a couple players are dull as dishwater off the court, but do enough on the hardwood to make their inclusion undeniable.
No, the best way we can define the Basketball Jones 40 is as the 40 players that are most important to our site right now. The players we write about the most, the players we follow the closest, the players that TBJ could least afford to be without. And what goes into that is an entire series of factors, ranging from their on-court success to their off-court headline making to their general likability as athletes, celebrities and human beings.
Hit the jump for No. 3 on our list …
It’s been at least three years now that we’ve waited expectantly for LeBron James to stake his claim as the league’s unquestioned best player, and it’s been three straight years that LeBron’s playoff failures have left us shaking our heads and wondering what the hell happened. The league’s most talented player, its highest-ceilinged, its most dynamic and most explosive and most dangerous — LeBron is unquestionably all of them, and yet his post-season meltdowns give many hoops heads pause in calling him the league’s best player. With his ill-conceived “Decision” special coloring every move he makes from now on, LeBron will forever be under exponentially increasing pressure to claim his presumed birthright and win his first-ever championship—until, y’know, he actually does it.
2011 Season: It should have been a 20. LeBron’s predictably prodigious regular season — a 27-8-7 with a career high 51% FG and a league-leading 27.3 PER, ho-hum — was followed by an absolutely mind-boggling playoff run, where he laid the Celtics to waste with a series of huge daggers and smothered league MVP Derrick Rose as the Heat crushed the Bulls in the Conference Finals. But when they reached the finals, all hell broke loose for LeBron, as he averaged less than 18 points a game and was generally crucified by the press and by league fans for not being more aggressive against the Mavericks as the series started to slip away from Miami — even as he was being guarded by 37-year-old point guard Jason Kidd. For anyone else, we might still consider the season a 20, but for someone with LeBron’s history, it can’t be any higher than an 18. (18/20)
Career/Legacy: One of the toughest players in the league to judge, since building an unquestionable Hall of Fame resume by age 26 — did you know that he already has more career points than Kevin McHale and Chris Webber? More MVP awards than Kobe, Shaq or the Big O? — should probably earn him an automatic 10 in this category. Still, the fact that if he retired today, LeBron’s legacy would be far from an entirely positive one — fair or not, the playoff bottom-outs and lack of rings would always be mentioned in the first couple sentences of his career biography—has us thinking a nine is as high as we can go here. Every new year is a chance to get yourself that last point, LeBron. (9/10)
Drama/Controversy: Minimal for the first seven years of his career, as LeBron achieved the impressive position of being a well-liked superstar with an essentially spotless PR record. Of course, all that changed forever on July 8th, 2010, when LBJ had a talk with his good friend Jim Gray in front of a couple million people, and informed him that he would be leaving the good people of his native Ohio to join up with a couple other superstars (well, at least one of them) in one of the most soulless NBA cities in the country. Names were cursed, jerseys were burned, parodies were made, and all of a sudden, LeBron went from being the league’s squeaky-clean poster boy to Public Enemy #1 among NBA fans. (For the first time in his career, Kobe was actually cast as the good guy by contrast.) Winning tends to cure all, and maybe one day a couple championships will erase memories of “The Decision” for sports fans, but at the moment, when you think of LeBron, you still think of him sitting uncomfortably in that chair, announcing his intention to take his talents to South Beach. (10/10)
Go-To Move: One of the primary criticisms of LeBron as a player (and really, there aren’t many) is that eight years into his career, he still doesn’t really have that reliable, unmistakable, bread-and-butter move to lean on—partly because so much of the game comes so easy to him, he’s rarely had to. Supposedly he’s working on that post game this summer (HAKEEM MOTHERFUCKER) but for now, the most recognizable on-court sight when it comes to LeBron is watching him pick up steam in full court, becoming an unstoppable freight train of a human being as he rockets to the hoop for a dunk, layup, foul or some combination thereof. (8/10)
Highlight Play: Does the phrase “LEBRON JAMES, WITH NO REGARD FOR HUMAN LIFE!!!” mean anything to you? (10/10)
Comedic Potential: LeBron doesn’t seem to really understand humor, as evidenced by his painful State Farm ads and all the ridiculously lame “goofing around” he used to do with his then-Cavalier teammates. (Also, he seemed to think that time that Donyell Marshall forgot to put on his jersey
Nicknames: If you believe in LeBron James as a tragic figure as we currently do, than his decidedly classic-sounding nicknames — “King James” and “The Chosen One” — couldn’t really be much more appropriate. We won’t even mention Skip Bayless’s recurring references to “LeBrick James,” even though we just did. (8/10)
Definitive Quote: “I spoil a lot of people with my play. When you have a bad game here or there, you’ve had three bad games in a seven-year career, then it’s easy to point that out.” (9/10)
Non-Hoops Ventures: A cartoon series, endless streams of commercials, a super-weird Vogue spread with Gisele Bunchen, a hosting gig on SNL and a co-hosting gig at the ESPYs, and cameo appearances at just about every conceivable major sporting event that involves successful people in some way. All that’s missing is the vanity film project. (4/5)
Poignant NBA Relationship: Probably with teammate and lone peer Dwyane Wade. Like Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity, the two of them are now stuck on that trolley car together, and neither of them can get off without the other, clear until the end of the line. (3/5)
TOTAL SCORE: 81/100