By Don Wanlass
I’m not the first person to underestimate LeBron James and I probably won’t be the last.
I did not think James could lead this Lakers team to the NBA championship last October when this season to end all seasons began. James was 34 at the time and coming off a season in which he had been seriously injured for the first time in his 16-year career.
Yes, the Lakers had added Anthony Davis as a free agent to team with James, but the Lakers had more holes than one to fill and Dwight Howard, Danny Green and Jared Dudley would not have been my choices to fill those other holes.
Frank Vogel was an under-the-radar hire as head coach that proved to be general manager Rob Pelinka’s second best off-season move last year, but Vogel would only be successful if James let him be succesful.
James had to buy in to Vogel’s defense-first style of play. James, an intelligent man for someone who skipped college, knows defense wins championships. He bought in, brought the rest of the Lakers with him and led the way to the Lakers’ 17th NBA title Oct. 11 with a win over the Miami Heat.
James may be the second best athletic specimen to ever play basketball. Wilt Chamberlain was the best. He was a quarter miler in track during his college days and, long after his basketball career ended he made beach volleyball a popular sport.
They changed rules trying to slow down Chamberlain. They never did that for James.
Still James has managed to overcome The Decision — his announcement to sign as a free agent with the Miami Heat in 2010 — and become a basketball icon along with Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan.
He has done it by winning on the court — four championships, 10 trips to the NBA Finals — and off the court where he has become a role model, a successful businessman, and more importantly, a successful parent.
And this championship with the Lakers may have been his crowning achievement. The Lakers hadn’t been in the playoffs for eight years before James led them there this season. It was a season for the team faced tragedy — the death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter in a helicopter crash in January — and the unknown — the coronavirus pandemic.
After a four and half month “vacation” the Lakers gathered together in the NBA bubble in Orlando, Florida, to resume what had been a successful season. The Lakers had the second best record in the NBA before COVID-19 halted the season.
The Lakers went through their eight-game schedule in Orlando as a tune-up to the playoffs. They won only three of the eight, but once the playoffs started they were ready to play.
They blew through the Portland Trailblazers, the Houston Rockets and the Denver Nuggets, winning all three series in five games.
The Heat managed to extend them to six games only because the Lakers couldn’t slow down Jimmy Butler in games three and five.
Butler showed in the finals that he is on e of the elite players in the NBA. But he couldn’t keep up with James.
After averaging 25.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 10.2 assists per game (he led the league in assists) during the regular season, James averaged 27.6 points, 10.8 rebounds and 8.8 assists in the playoffs.
Those are outstanding numbers for anyone. They are particularly outstanding for a 35-year-old man who has played more than 1,500 NBA games (playoffs and regular season) since he graduated from high school in 2003.
In the past, I have scoffed at the King James title James has used, but his majestic ways have made be reconsider.
For now, he is the king of the NBA. And he will be until someone else comes along to take the crown away. It won’t be anytime soon.
MUST BE OCTOBER: The Dodgers are going into the tank so it must be October. After steamrolling Milwaukee and San Diego in the first two rounds of the playoffs this year, the Dodgers and their fans were busy patting themselves on the back and overlooking the Atlanta Braves, who were the only other team to go through the first two rounds of the playoffs undefeated.
The Braves are now working on a seven-game winning streak while the Dodgers have lost two straight heading into the Oct. 14 game three with the Braves and the Dodgers don’t know when or if they will see their ace pitcher again.
After surrendering four runs in the ninth inning to lose the series opener against the Braves 5-1 Oct. 12, the Dodgers found out hours before game two that pitcher Clayton Kershaw was suffering back spasms and Tony Gonsolin would replace him on the mound.
Gonsolin has pitched well this year, but it had been a while since he had worked. Still he gave the Dodgers four good innings before falling apart in the fifth. For the second night in a row, the Dodgers’ bullpen wasn’t very good and the Dodgers ended up on the short end of an 8-7 score, despite a four-run rally in the bottom of the ninth inning.
For historians, the Dodgers have gone from behind two games to none in the post season to win three times: in the 1955, 1965 and 1981 World Series. It’s been done before, but not lately by the boys in blue.
The Dodgers were optimistic going into game three, figuring their offense finally woke up in the seventh and ninth innings against the Braves in game two.
The Dodgers aren’t out of it by any stretch of the imagination, but they need more timely hitting to overcome a bullpen that all of a sudden has become a weak spot.
SCHEDULE CHANGES: The Los Angeles Chargers can’t buy a break. They are 1-4 on the season, although they may have found their future quarterback.
Now there schedule has been set on its ear by the league office, which had to scramble after a couple of games had to be rescheduled because of coronavirus outbreaks in a couple of teams.
After losing to New Orleans in overtime Oct. 12, the Chargers will have their bye week instead of playing the New York Jets. The Chargers will then host the Jacksonville Jaguars in week seven, travel to Denver to play the Broncos in week eight, play the Raiders in week nine, travel to Miami in week 10 and then play the Jets in week 11.
With a 1-4 start, the Chargers could have used that game against the Jets this week. The Jets are one of three 0-5 teams in the NFL. Two of them play in New Jersey.
Justin Herbert has been everything the Chargers could have hoped for in a rookie quarterback.
Forced into service the second week of the season after starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor suffered a punctured lung from a faulty pain-killing injection, Herbert has managed to run up 17-point leads against future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Tom Brady and Drew Brees, only to see the defense squander the leads and head coach Anthony Lynn take his foot off the gas offensively.
The Chargers have played a rough schedule so far, losing to defending MVP Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in addition to Brady and Brees and the Carolina Panthers.
But they have found their replacement for Philip Rivers. In four games, Herbert has thrown for 1,195 yards and nine touchdowns. He has been intercepted three times.
RIP: Al Padilla, who coached East Los Angeles College to the 1974 state Junior College football championship and coached for years at both Roosevelt and Garfield high schools on the Eastside, has died.
The 1974 Huskies were led by quarterback Walt Ransom and running back Lynn Cain, who both went on to play at USC. Cain also played for the Atlanta Falcons and Los Angeles Rams in the National Football league.
Padilla played college football at Occidental before going into coaching