Despite co-authoring a book with LeBron James, Buzz Bissinger has never been one to shy away from being critical of the NBA superstar. And he certainly didn’t shy away from doing just that following the Miami Heat’s loss to the Dallas Mavericks in this year’s NBA Finals. In the following interview, Bissinger says he thought James had turned a corner in terms of being a better pressure player. Turns out he was wrong. The solution, Bissinger says, is a new coach. He tosses out the possibilities of Pat Riley joining the bench.
LeBron would really benefit from a master motivator like Phil Jackson says Bissinger, but he of course acknowledges how unlikely that scenario would be. Bissinger argues that while James is stuck with middle-of-the-road NBA coaching talent, he’d be smart to go back to working with high school coach Keith Dambrot, who he believes was the last competent coach to work with LeBron. Buzz Bissinger joined 1070 The Fan in Indianapolis with Greg Rakestraw to discuss what he saw from LeBron in the Finals, LeBron’s lack of coaching, if he thinks James will continue to defer to Dwyane Wade, if Pat Riley might rejoin the bench given all the circumstances and if he believes LeBron and company will still win multiple rings.
What did you see from LeBron James that perhaps the average person couldn’t?
“I’m not going to say I’m an expert on him, but I’ve met him, I’ve seen him. He’s not a leader. His personality is really flat. If you hear him in press conferences, you really hear no emotional edge. … Even in high school he was not the leader of his team. The leader of his team was this little spark-plug named Dru Joyce, the son of a coach. … We ascribe to him a certain maturity that he doesn’t really have. He acts his age, but he, in many ways, is a manchild. You have to remember he didn’t go to college. He’s pretty much been coddled since he was nine years old. … And he’s never been a great pressure player. Now, I thought he turned the corner. I thought, after the Celtics and Bulls series, where he played superbly both ways, I thought, ‘This is it.’ … What was so bizarre was how uninvolved he seemed to be.”
On his lack of coaching:
“LeBron has not been coached actively since he was a sophomore in high school. He has pretty much played the game he has wanted to and I think he’s really suffering for it. The last good coach he had was Keith Dambrot, who is now at the University of Akron. Keith really really rode him hard and he hasn’t had that since then. I think he needs a coach, he needs teammates, he needs people who are really going to get in his face. … He may be a bigger version of Allen Iverson. The big problem with a team like the Heat is you have two big superstars like that, inevitably they’re going to get in each other’s way.”
Does he expect James to continue to defer more to Dwyane Wade?
“It might play out. The difficulty is, he’s already sort of tried to do that in the Finals. He was mostly almost going for assists and I don’t think he necessarily likes that role and I think that he almost loses his aggressiveness. And I’ve got to say, he is the most hated athlete in America and I find that bizarre. Granted, he handled free agency terribly, he made some bone-headed moves, I think he’s surrounded by this posse of his … I think he should fire all of them. … He needs that in a coach, like a Riley, to figure out what’s his role? … I think the hatred, he’ll never admit this, really got to him. He is a human being and it went from people really sort of liking him to people hating him, almost overnight. And I don’t think it’s deserved.”
Do you think with the way this season played out and a potential lockout situation that we could see Pat Riley on the bench next year?
“Maybe, I kind of doubt it because I think Pat has a lot of pride like LeBron has a lot of pride. … The irony of LeBron is he’s basically single-handedly … responsible for this tremendous renaissance in the NBA. What kind of ratings do you think the Finals would have had if the Heat wasn’t in it? If the Heat was in it without LeBron, it would be totally different. Ironically, he’s the most hated athlete in America but he’s had a tremendous impact.”
Do you think that it’s an inevitability that LeBron James and company will still win multiple titles?
“Yeah, I mean I think it is. I think these guys have pride. I think they need a new coach. Phil Jackson will never come back, but that’s the kind of guy they need, who’s dealt with talent.”