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LeBron James created much of the pressure he now feels

Rick Bonnell
Rick Bonnell covers the Charlotte Bobcats and the NBA for the Charlotte Observer. You can reach him by email.

NBA most valuable player LeBron James gave a particularly introspective interview recently to ESPN’s Chris Broussard.

James said he frequently watches video of Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan when Jordan was the best player in the game. Lack of fear is what James observed as Jordan’s greatest strength:

“I watch Jordan more than anybody, for sure … MJ wasn’t perfect. MJ had bad games. He had turnovers. He had games where he felt like he should have been better. But I think the greatest thing about MJ was that he never was afraid to fail,” James said.

“And I think that’s why he succeeded so much, because he was never afraid of what anybody ever said about him. Never afraid to miss a game-winning shot, never afraid to turn the ball over. Never afraid.

“That’s one of my biggest obstacles. I’m afraid of failure. I want to succeed so bad that I become afraid of failing.”

I think James is right that Jordan’s disinterest in others’ expectations of him was a big part of his persona. What wasn’t said – and perhaps should be – is that if James feels pressure from others’ expectations, he helped bring that on himself.

Jordan, for whatever his flaws, under-promised and over-delivered. The frenzy that surrounded him was seldom of his making. Of course he had/has a huge ego, but he didn’t go around broadcasting how great he was. He didn’t have to or care to.

Maybe this is a generational thing – no thought sits unstated on Twitter these days – but James has been different. Before he even left high school he accepted this “Chosen One” label.

The hype was justified, but it wasn’t necessarily healthy. I remember attending a press conference after one of his high school games in Greensboro, and thinking no one can be packaged this way as a teenager and turn out normal.

So then he decides to leave Cleveland for Miami – an understandable choice no matter what Cavaliers fans think – and he makes the regrettable decision to turn his announcement into a one-hour infomercial. Then he amplifies that mistake by counting off how many rings he’d win at a Heat pep rally.

You can say all that was youthful excess, and you would be right. But when an athlete sets such a high and public bar for himself, is it any wonder James would admit to a fear of failure and envy Jordan’s tunnel-vision focus?

I’m not criticizing James. We all make miscalculations, some of them more public than others. I feel bad for him that he’s created a perception that any season that doesn’t end in a parade means he under-achieved.

FIVE PASSING THOUGHTS ABOUT THE BOBCATS AND THE NBA

• I think the most intriguing team in the NBA this season will be the Brooklyn Nets. General manager Billy King has made a huge bet on how much aging ex-Celtics Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have left. King was urgent to surround point guard Deron Williams with weapons, and King’s owner – a Russian billionaire – clearly isn’t the patient sort. Whether by success or failure, this will be a spectacle.

• I realize core players Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young didn’t play Thursday morning. But the lack of effort the Philadelphia 76ers expended in that exhibition against the Bobcats should really trouble new coach Brett Brown. I saw a bunch of guys lucky to be in an NBA training camp playing like they couldn’t care less.

• Regardless of whether they make it to the regular season, I wouldn’t expect any of the three remaining Bobcats with unguaranteed contracts to be cut before the end of the preseason. With Al Jefferson and Brendan Haywood out, the team needs those extra bodies for practice.

• The Cavaliers, the Bobcats’ preseason opponent Thursday at Time Warner Cable Arena, should be this season’s Golden State Warriors, as far as jumping firmly from the lottery to the playoffs. Cleveland has as much young talent as any team in the league. The open question is how center Andrew Bynum will bounce back from a season-long knee injury when he was with the 76ers.

• Reports out of New York say former N.C. State player C.J. Leslie is iffy to make the Knicks roster after that team gave him a guarantee for this season. I know the Knicks have money to burn, but why offer that guarantee to a player who wasn’t drafted?

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