The Internet can be an interesting place for LeBron James to spend his time these days.
Because of a high-profile basketball career in the spotlight that’s now ticked into its 13th season, he’s become a natural target for web-based content, be it an article, blog post, Vine loop, highlight video, meme, photo gallery, social media campaign (or, truth be told, this column you’re reading).
So, on the eve of his 31st birthday, holed up in a hotel room in downtown Denver to avoid the frigid 20-degree temperatures outside on Tuesday, James ventured online to pass the time. He found two distinctly different stories involving his name.
One of them was cut and dried and no getting around: NBA.com’s John Schuhmann compiled a list of the players in the league with the worst shooting percentage on shots taken outside the lane with a minimum of 200 attempts and James was the worst of the group at 28.5 percent, even below Kobe Bryant, whose shooting woes in his 20th and final season have been well documented.
“I saw it,” James admitted to ESPN.com late Tuesday night after torching the Nuggets for 34 points (Denver’s starters combined to score 35) in a 93-87 win to finish out Cleveland’s road trip 2-2. “I saw it.”
If you watched the way James approached the game, the admission was hardly surprising. James shot 7-for-12 on the jumpers he popped at the Pepsi Center on this night. His shot selection clearly seemed to be motivated by that list that was going around.
The other major story involving James on Tuesday was infinitely more complicated and couldn’t simply be silenced through swishes. A grand jury declined to press charges against the police officer responsible for the shooting death of 12-year-old Cleveland boy Tamir Rice. In the 24 hours since the news broke Monday, a #NoJusticeNoLeBron mini movement had begun to gain moderate attention. The suggestion, originating from activist and writer Tariq Touré, was that James should sit out games indefinitely to personally protest the lack of an indictment.
This one, he couldn’t control so easily. To get his jump shot back on track, he followed a tried and true formula. Even though the Cavs were playing in their fifth game in the last seven nights, he made sure to schedule individual practice time during the trip. “It’s just an example of me just putting in the extra work and watching film and seeing what I’ve been doing – a lot of off-balance shots,” James said. “And just keeping a good center base today and I was able to drop ‘em.”
With the Rice case, even if he chose to take up the calls for him to sit, there would be no guarantee things would turn around. “I think the most important thing that we all need to understand, the most important thing, this issue is bigger than LeBron,” James said. “This issue is bigger than me; it's about everyone. And gun violence and tragedies and kids losing lives at a young age, some way, somehow we need to understand that that matters more than just an individual."
It was a mature response from someone who has experienced a lot in his 31 years. He would have been well within his rights to feel exploited as the face of an intended movement whose activists didn’t seek his consultation before putting him in that position. Instead, he admitted he was not fully informed about all the particulars of the Rice case, and turned the focus as best as he could on the broader issue facing this country.
As James’ collection of hair follicles atop his head has diminished, with a few gray strands simultaneously managing to work their way into the mix, he’s found a comfort in the place he’s in. No longer the prodigy – Ben Simmons’ dunks were being written about Tuesday, even though James had three pretty spectacular ones of his own – yet bucking against the regression that comes with being an elder statesman, it’s a place that James enjoys. A great existence, even if it can become a burdensome one.
“I mean, I loved being an 18-year-old, 19-, 20-, 21-year-old, but the stuff that I enjoy today doesn’t even compare,” James said. “I mean, the stuff that I was doing back when I was 18, 19, 20 doesn’t even compare to the life that I have now and what I like, what I enjoy, I don’t want those days back. I’m happy where I’m at. I feel good.”
What do you get someone like James, with an outlook like that, for a birthday gift?
“Peace and quiet,” said Cavs coach David Blatt, knowing full well that James privately estimates he only gets 10 off days a year. “That’s what I would get him, if I could. But I can’t. … Even a day, where nobody bothers him.”
Well, peace, quiet and a Wi-Fi connection might be an even better present. The Internet will always have more in store for James.