VERO BEACH, FLORIDA - King James, D-Wade and CP3 have learned the hard way that The Jordan Rules no longer apply in the NBA.
Time was when a strong-willed superstar like a Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson could intimidate and bully teammates — both mentally AND physically — to comply with his basketball wishes.
Not anymore. Today’s Millennial hoopsters ain’t having it.
Cleveland’s LeBron James, Dwyane Wade of Chicago and the L.A. Clippers’ Chris Paul discovered this during the regular season while attempting to channel their inner Jordan.
As a result, the trio appears to have changed its leadership approach in the playoffs.
A kinder, gentler guidance has replaced their former “be like Mike” methodology. The Jordan Rules, of course, was the classic tome written by the JT’s own Sam Smith, revealing how Michael’s Bulls teammates could be bent to suit MJ’s highly competitive will.
If mates didn’t fall in line with Mike’s beliefs as to how the game should be played, they were quickly either browbeaten or just simply manhandled into compliance.
If it took whacking around a defiant Steve Kerr to make sure mates followed Jordan’s rules of participation, Michael was more than equal to the task.
Most times, though, all it took was that trademark Jordan scowl or a sharp barb to spook a teammate into doing things MJ’s way.
And who could argue with the results?
Six titles were validation that, despite the appearance of it being classic bullying, Jordan’s overbearing leadership style worked.
For the longest of times, James, Wade and Paul also relied on their superstar status and/or titles as a form of currency that purchased them the right to keep THEIR teammates in tow by any means necessary.
But things have changed over the last year or so — as the threesome recently found out during the regular season.
That trio’s millennial-ish mates have not been hesitant to express the view that no longer does “might make right” when it comes to team leadership.
The 32-year-old, decidedly old-school James found this out in a late season game when a dispute over defensive responsibilities occurred between the man who would be King and 26-year old Tristan Thompson.
On a play at the defensive end, a switch that James thought should have taken place between himself and Thompson didn’t happen. LeBron’s now-open man would end up cruising to the basket for an easy layup.
A livid James then snapped at Thompson for not making the switch. Imagine LeBron’s surprise when the 211-cm Thompson barked back at him that it was LeBron who was at fault.
In a subsequent huddle during a timeout, James sought to get in the final word and put the young whippersnapper in his place.
But Thompson was not about to back down.
He again fired back at James and the two continued to go at each other verbally until teammates intervened and cooler heads prevailed.
Afterward, a seemingly contrite LeBron, to his credit, acknowledged that he had crossed the line. Discussing the mix-up rationally, he said, would have been preferable to the embarrassing on-court jousting.
Hanging your dirty laundry was a bad look, admitted James.
Since then, James has been a model of proper admonishment, if and when it is needed.
James found out the hard way that most times constructive criticism is preferable, as opposed to a “my way or the highway” message delivery.
And if an occasional tongue-lashing is in order, better it is done out of sight.
Give James props, then, for adjusting to the times.
But if he continues the fabulous on-court play he displayed in an opening-round sweep of pesky Indiana, there may be no need for continued delicate verbiage.
LeBron’s actions are speaking for him: Jump on my shoulders, I’ll carry you the rest of the way.
Another player receiving a modern leadership lesson was Wade, following his involvement in a mini-firestorm that threatened to tear the Chicago Bulls in two.
Following a loss in which D-Wade had played well but his mid-20s mates hadn’t — particularly rising star Jimmy Butler — 35-year old Dwyane lashed out at them publicly over what he perceived to be a lack of effort.
Veteran teammate Rajon Rondo, spoke out on behalf the Bulls young ‘uns, saying “My leaders with Boston when we won the title (including Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett) wouldn’t never have handled the situation like that.”
To his credit also, Wade realized the folly of his ways and started exhibiting more common sense as team leader.
(In the past, D-Wade had appeared a bit surly and self-centered at times — just ask his then-Miami coach Pat Riley.)
Following the dust-up, Wade was a mentoring model during a torrid stretch run by Chicago that enabled the Bulls to sneak into the eighth and last East seed.
Chicago then went up 2-0 on top-seeded Boston before point guard Rondo broke his wrist.
Minus their floor general, the Bulls proceeded to drop four straight contests and the series to the Celts.
Not even Wade’s improved leadership style could prevent the Bulls ouster.
Last but not least is the Chris Paul and his formerly overbearing on- and off-court tactics that had not led the Clippers to much of anything except postseason flameouts.
Paul, 32 this week, is one of those guys that never seems happy with how his team plays, win or lose.
His constant badgering of younger, but now maturing players like Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, has reached the point where such actions now fall on deaf ears.
Whether Paul was making sense or not at a given time, Griffin and others have begun to just tune him out and go right on doing their thing.
What has probably contributed to their deafness, MAS surmises, is that Paul is so oft-injured and out of action.
This has forced his Clip mates to rely more on themselves regarding the right or wrong way to go about their business.
Paul seems to have sensed this. And he, too, has been smart enough to back off some of late.
Encouragement rather than admonishment now looks to be Paul’s approach.
CP3’s newfound nurturing was working wonders until Griffin, LAC’s leading regular- season scorer (21.6 per game), broke his toe early in the playoffs versus Utah and was ruled out of further postseason action.
Not even a more patient Paul could prevent the Clips, who had led the Jazz 2-1 when Griffin went down, from falling in seven games.
Call Wade and Paul snakebitten. But don’t criticize their leadership style anymore.
Suffice to say, the superstar trio, Gen Xers all, have gotten the message loud and clear from the upstart millennial rank and file: This is not your father’s NBA anymore.
And certainly not Michael Jordan’s.
In these touchy-feely times, sensitivity is now a must-have attribute if one is to lead.
Each looks to have adopted that trait.
King James, D-Wade and CP3 are living proof that, indeed, you CAN teach an old dog new tricks.
Or in this case, rules.
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