More than his strength and twisting, acrobatic clutch shooting, what impresses me about LeBron James is that he seems to have maintained a grip on reality. In a "SportsCenter"-dominated culture, James has been able to maintain perspective on a career that has become phenomenal in the span of three seasons.
As a society, we pay lip service to the virtues of teamwork and team play, but at the end of the day, we love our stars. We expect, indeed, look forward to, the emergence of a generational star.
Now we have two.
James and Kobe Bryant have emerged as the faces of their generation.
Bryant turns in amazing individual performances in the West while James, with sheer force of will and physical presence, dominates in the East.
James is called The King and King James, and I often wonder how a 22-year-old celebrity separates reality from the truth. Who among LeBron's entourage reminds him that he's really not a king or a duke or an earl? Who reminds him he's just a human being with enormous talent and flaws -- flaws that must be occasionally pointed out? In this respect, James is fortunate that his first two NBA coaches have been solid counterweights to the league's star-driven culture.
Paul Silas was James's first coach. Silas was the proverbial tough guy enforcer of the NBA. So tough that no one, not even a superstar rookie franchise player, would think of pushing him around. As old school as they come, Silas was tuned into youth and particularly the young African-American men he coached.
Mike Brown is James' second full-time coach. Brown has emerged from the shadows of a long meandering NBA coaching career. He was never an NBA player, and wasn't a big-time college star. Brown played two seasons at Mesa Community College, then two seasons at the University of San Diego. He earned a business degree and dived into coaching.
Brown's steady but modest career path has given him a down-to-earth approach to NBA players, including the superstars.
"The biggest thing is you have to be honest with these guys," Brown said. "You got to treat these guys like human beings; you don't discipline NBA players, you discipline your children. If you come and you get to know them and their people for who they are, and you're honest with them, you'll get the respect back because you'll always have the power of the truth to back you up.
"The power of the truth is something that people can't mess with. Even if they don't like to hear what you have to tell them, they'll respect you because you're open, you're out front, you're honest and they have an understanding of where you're coming from."
Brown began his coaching career with Denver in 1992 where he spent five seasons as a video coordinator and then a scout. He was an assistant with the Pacers under Rick Carlisle and an assistant with the Spurs under Gregg Popovich. Brown spent three years here in Washington with the Wizards, the first two under Bernie Bickerstaff and the third as a professional scout.
"When I was with all those guys, they taught me a thing or two," Brown said. "Not just how to survive in the league but how to deal with certain personalities in the league."
Those personalities were diverse: Tim Duncan, Ron Artest, Jermaine O'Neal, Chris Webber, Rod Strickland.
"All that has helped me be able to coach a guy like LeBron James, because I've been around guys that are close to being superstars or are superstars or great players."