Memo to LeBron: MJ is doing fine without your help

Nov 18, 2009 - 9:28 AM By JIM LITKE AP Sports Columnist

Memo to LeBron:

With all due respect, you're taking this "King James" thing too far.

Being a great player and one of the best talkers in the league doesn't mean every half-baked idea that pops into your head has to come out of your mouth. If all you want is a new number, say so. If it's more adulation, then just say that. There is enough of both left to go around.

If it's only the number, send a letter to the league office by March handing back No. 23, bring your marketing people into the loop and then show up next season - wherever that turns out to be - wearing No. 6.

It's that easy.

In the meantime, save your breath. Nobody is buying that cockamamie story about you wanting to make sure that Michael Jordan 's contributions to the game are "recognized in some way - soon."

Jordan already has one of the most recognizable faces on the planet. He also owns six NBA rings, every other line in the record book, two Olympic golds, an NCAA championship, a statue in Chicago, a bust in the Hall of Fame and a fortune - I could go on - but perhaps most impressive, his name is, and always will be, part of the conversation whenever and wherever basketball is played.

He's done fine without your help.

And as long we're being brutally honest, the one thing you could do for him is to hang onto your old number. More than a few of us see it on your back and think, "That No. 23 is incredible ... but he's no Michael Jordan."

If it's any consolation, neither is anyone else. Kobe Bryant tried going down that road - copying Jordan's walk, mannerisms and even his speech patterns - but it turned out to be a dead end. It took him a while to figure it out, but you can't be like Mike, either - at least not until you've got a half-dozen championships in the bag.

Being compared to him has to be more depressing still. My guess is that's what prompted this whole episode. You were in Miami the other night, with Jordan in the stands, yet all anybody talked about before the game was the announcement that Heat guard Dwayne Wade had been "hand-picked" by Michael to debut the 25th anniversary model of the popular Air Jordan sneaker line.

So you drop 34 points on the Heat, win the game, and come up with an homage of your own: a petition drive to get every player who wears No. 23 to give it up and retire the number league-wide. Never mind that NBA policy leaves the decision up to each team.

"I feel like no NBA player should wear 23," you said. "Nobody. If I'm not going to wear No. 23, then nobody else should be able to wear it."

Maybe it's just coincidence the dozen other players currently wearing the number are rookies or scrubs; or that a new No. 6 jersey might be the only way to nudge you back atop Kobe on the merchandise-sold list. But the first maneuver makes you look like a bully, and the second like a pawn in some viral marketing campaign.

Then again, maybe it's just part of your preparations for what's already been dubbed "The Summer of LeBron." You'll be an unrestricted free agent then, with an unfettered hand to write your own ticket in a town of your choosing. The higher-ups in Cleveland won't tell you to button it up at the moment because they won't risk aggravating you.

Apparently, you didn't hear the word 'no' often growing up, and there's no chance you'll hear it from the assembly of yes men surrounding you now. But you're a smart kid and besides, it's never too late to exercise a little self-control.

So do the rest of us a favor: no more carrying on about how you want to honor Jordan by taking off No. 23, or how you plan to begin honoring Julius Erving by putting on No. 6. More than a few of us see that number even now and think of Bill Russell first.

That's the problem with your whole plan.

There are great players in every era, but nearly every one of them won a few titles before they began regularly holding court. You're in the headlines almost every day, but you've been to the NBA Finals exactly once. As Magic coach Stan Van Gundy tried to explain, a little perspective in such matters goes a long way.

When Van Gundy heard about the plan to retire Jordan's number, he started making up a list. Even the shortest one would have to include Russell, Wilt, Kareem, Oscar, Dr. J, Magic and Bird.

"There were guys who could play the game before Michael. LeBron James didn't grow up watching those guys play," Van Gundy said.

"Pretty soon our players will be wearing 373. All the two-digit numbers will be taken."

The great thing about being a kid is that by Tuesday night, you'd already moved on to another topic - offering to save the Cleveland Browns.

"If I put all my time and commitment into it, if I dedicated myself to the game of football, I could be really good," you said.

No doubt.

But the next time the temptation to talk about yourself arises, remember - leave a little oxygen for the rest of us.

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Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org






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