If hindsight teaches us anything, it’s that clairvoyance is an inexact science. But here’s a prediction I’m willing to make, as the NBA regular season winds down and teams start gearing up for playoffs: By late June we’ll be looking back on 2010 as the year LeBron James put to rest any question he’s the league’s best player, as well as its biggest draw.
That’s a bit like saying Tiger Woods will someday start winning golf tournaments again, or Kanye West will stop messing around with auto-tune at some point and make a decent record.
But it bears mentioning anyway. James appears poised to make a deep run in the playoffs, and as long as he makes it, the world is his.
That’s even if he comes up short of a title this year and Kobe doesn’t. That’s even if Kevin Durant outscores him and leads Oklahoma City to the Western Conference Finals.
That’s even if Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns win a ’chip.
As long as the Cavs go deep, and James puts up his usual numbers, there will be no stopping him, outside of some kind of Tiger-like scandal.
And even then, it will be like trying to stop a freight train by sneaking up behind it and pulling real hard.
It’s true that if the Lakers pull themselves together and win another title there will be conversations about Bryant’s place in NBA history – about his greatness, compared to Michael Jordan’s.
It’s true Durant is the game’s next superstar, and is perhaps already its best pure scorer.
But postseason wins are all that really separate James from Bryant at this point – his game, in many respects, is on another level.
And though Durant is still a year or two away from his prime, even his prime likely won’t see numbers as well-rounded as James’.
Numbers sometimes lie, but these don’t: averages of 29.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 8.6 assists per game put James in a league pretty much of his own.
Bryant and Carmelo Anthony both score less while averaging more shots. Most of the players ahead of James in rebounding statistics are centers or power forwards.
His assist total is the envy of point guards like Derrick Rose, Brandon Jennings and Chauncey Billups.
There’s also the fact he’s the unquestioned leader of his team, plays unselfishly but still nearly leads the league in scoring, and makes the players around him better.
He’s a likeable guy, an easily marketable guy; the type of guy kids aspire to be when they’re grown.
During the Jordan era, Nike was able to turn spin that type of material into a cult of celebrity North American sport had never seen. Here’s betting they could do it again.
Of course, with great celebrity comes great scrutiny, and how James handles it will go a long way in determining how he’s remembered.
His personal life is more or less unblemished, and it will probably have to stay that way for an extended period if he’s to become like Jordan.
There’s also the question of where he decides to play next season. Moving to a spot less prepped for title contention than Cleveland could put his reign on hold.
But assuming he continues making the prudent choices that got him here, assuming his teams continue to win, and assuming his game continues to improve … the crown will have changed hands.
We’ll look back on this season not as the year it all began, but the year the LeBron James era came into full effect.