My nine year old nephew Elijah (a H-U-G-E Kobe fan!) will vehemently disagree with the title of this post. But Elijah, Auntie is merely using GQ’s words.
I LOVE GQ magazine. Even though it’s a “men’s” magazine I rarely miss a month. This is a well written piece that had me living vicariously through the “GQ 6” and it had me chuckling to the end. I’m with my nephew – I think Kobe is totally awesome, but so is LeBron :-).
Six pale, earthbound desk jockeys from GQ challenged the greatest basketball player on earth, also known as LeBron James, to a game of basketball at the time and place of his choosing. Unfortunately, the challenge was accepted
In retrospect, obviously, it was too good to be true, but in the grip of the fantasy we didn’t see it that way. We spent long stretches of our workdays talking about how there are five of us and only one of him, or how Trent and Will are nearly as tall as he is, or how one man, I don’t care if he is the greatest basketball player on earth, can only cover so much ground. It’s not like he’s a Transformer.
Andy, our executive editor/player-coach/liaison to LeBron’s publicist and the Cavaliers’ PR folks, sent us the following e-mail in late November: “It is on. Team GQ will be traveling from New York City to Cleveland, Ohio (in a van, make and model to be determined), on Sunday, December 7. We will be playing LeBron James, five-on-one, at 1 p.m. on Monday, December 8, at the Cavs practice facility. I repeat: It. Is. ON.”
The predictable flurry of YouTube clips soon followed—LeBron dunking from the free-throw line, LeBron blocking a shot by Chris Duhon all the way out to half-court, LeBron taking flight from ten feet out and throwing down a dunk of such unrestrained fury over Damon Jones that it will forever be the most memorable moment of Jones’s NBA career. Again, Andy via e-mail: “If we’re lucky, he’ll just jump over us, and we won’t suffer the indignity of taking his junk square in the face.”
But then Adam started in with the X’s and O’s—how we need to force LeBron left, how three-pointers are his Achilles’ heel, and how he, Adam Rapoport, style editor at Gentlemen’s Quarterly and occasional wearer of skinny white jeans, was prepared to take the charge if LeBron drove into the lane. Over the next week or so, as plans solidified (we would be driving to Cleveland not in a van but in an Escalade, a hybrid Escalade!), the delusional chatter continued. There was even talk at one point of “allowing” him a teammate—one of his Akron boys, maybe—because five-on-one couldn’t possibly be a game, and it would be kind of embarrassing if we beat him too handily. At the very least, we all agreed (with the exception of Andy, who is always the voice of reason, and Fred, who’s been around longer than the rest of us and possesses a veteran’s hard-earned wisdom): Mr. Chosen One was going to have to work to make it a game. We weren’t driving eight hours to look like a bunch of assclowns.
you can see the Nike billboard from the interstate. LeBron’s massive, striated arms outstretched, a faint halo of chalk dust surrounding him as he gazes skyward. It’s ten stories high and 212 feet wide and dominates the eastern face of the Sherwin-Williams building, which is basically across the street from Quicken Loans Arena, or the Q, where the Cavs play their home games. Last year, federal officials tried to force the city to take it down because it violates the 1965 Highway Beautiﬁcation Act, which apparently forbids a billboard from being within 660 feet of a major highway. (Technically, the dispute was over a previous version of the banner, an equally stunning if less messianic image of LeBron in midflight, the ball cocked high above his head.) But to his great credit, Ohio’s governor, Ted Strickland, refused to remove the billboard, referring to it as a “beautiful display of commercial art” that the people of Cleveland have the rare and wonderful opportunity to enjoy. He’s got that right. It’s also a bit of a reality check if you happen to be among a group of magazine editors arriving in the frigid city at night and pulling over to the side of the road to take in just how physically awesome the man is whom you’ll be playing against the next day. Let’s just say it makes you question some things.
We meet in the lobby at ten thirty and pile into the Escalade. The uncomfortably seductive computer-generated GPS lady-voice guides us south on I-77 toward the Cavs’ practice facility in Independence, fifteen minutes from the 35,000-square-foot house where LeBron lives with his longtime girlfriend and their two sons. The nerves of Team GQ appear to be a little jangly this morning. There’s a growing awareness that this is really happening, that in an hour or so we’ll be stepping onto a court with LeBron James, and that any number of things could not go well. We’re not sure what it means, but everyone in the Escalade has to pee.
It’s fair to say that the very, very sweet Cavaliers practice facility exists for the sole reason of making LeBron James happy, minimizing how far he has to travel to practice and surrounding him, in the absence of an actual big market, with a lot of state-of-the-art, big-marketish stuff. And it’s also fair to say that everyone who works here, from the twelve-year veteran Zydrunas Ilgauskas (a seven-foot-three-inch gentle giant with a feathery shooting touch and the look of a man who’d be just as content operating a cigarette kiosk in downtown Minsk) to the friendly media rep who gently mocks us as she passes out LeBron bobbleheads, is part of the LeBron James Happiness Project. If he can be made happy enough, perhaps he will stay—that appears to be the subtext of more or less everything here, though also everyone in the organization seems to be doing a good job of not getting so publicly worked up about it.
Way, way on the other side of the courts, at the farthest basket from where the reporters are corralled, LeBron is bullshitting and laughing and practicing high-arcing rainbow jumpers from deep in the corner of his court. His publicist gives us a wave and we head over there, feeling like boys in grown-up costumes, but then LeBron has to go o to do some other media stuff, so we pick up some balls and start warming up. As we clang shot after shot, I notice that the Cavs’ GM, Danny Ferry, is wandering around the gym. It occurs to me that what we’re about to do could not possibly have been sanctioned by Ferry, and his presence here could completely put the kibosh on our hopes and dreams. A game of H-O-R-S-E? Sure. A free-throw contest? By all means, that sounds like a fun way to do a magazine story. Wait, what, you guys want to play the most valuable athlete in the world in a game of five-on-one? Stand right there while I call security.
but it actually happens. Not quite as we’d planned, but we play a real game with the best basketball player alive. (Deluded Kobe fans, send your letters to Raha Naddaf at GQ.) Before I describe it, I’d like to pause and say that almost from the moment we met him, a few things were clear. One, he’s very funny. Two, there can’t possibly be another 24-year-old in the world more at ease with who he is and where he’s going than LeBron James (witness his basically telling Charles Barkley to shut his piehole when Barkley criticized him for talking about where he might or might not be playing in 2010). I imagine there are plenty of times when that quality comes off as arrogance, but at least in our time with him, shooting some hoops and then talking for a while after the game, he came across as the anti-Jordan—extremely smart and likable and interpersonally generous, not the imperious empty suit everyone knew Jordan was but was too afraid to say. Three, he would have absolutely crushed us if we’d played him five-on-one. He would have crushed us if it had been five-on-one and he had his right arm duct-taped to his side.
While we were still shooting around, waiting for LeBron, we did this thing where we all lined up and dribbled the ball toward one of the cameramen, then broke o to the left or right and made way for the next guy—you know, like we were a real team and this was a real game. In the raw footage, you can see LeBron in the background, on the other side of the court, looking over and then calling to someone o-court to toss him a ball. And then when he gets it, he dribbles up fast and takes the last place in line, just in time, and does a little shimmy for the camera like he’s one of us.
For this great article in it’s entirety including pictures go to:
Watch LeBron SCHOOL the GQ Team!
ESPN analysts explain why LeBron is the best: