Here’s a short musing about athletes and perspective that I haven’t been able to shake since reading an interesting piece a few days ago about LeBron James and how he’s been able to conserve energy while logging heavy minutes in the NBA playoffs.

The upshot: He spends more time walking instead of running than almost every other player in the NBA, and in the playoffs he’s walking almost a full 80 percent of the time.

And he’s flat-out taking plays off. Per ESPN.com:

It manifests itself in many ways. For example, during free throws, James will often walk to the other end of the floor. It saves him having to run when possession changes. He also at times will take himself out of an offensive play and stand on the wing, knowing he needs a breather. “It helps having teammates out there who can take a few possessions for you offensively,” James said. “And you can kind of understand you can use all the energy on the defensive end for a few possessions.”

As James unapologetically explained further, “It’s just about growing, maturing and understanding that you play smarter.”

I don’t disagree with any of this, really, and it’s hard to argue with the results. James, who is 33 and somehow in his 15th NBA season, is playing a whopping 41.4 minutes per game while averaging 34 points and 9 assists for the Cavaliers. Cleveland survived Indiana and swept Toronto, with LeBron’s heroics taking center stage in both series.

What is interesting, though, is how the response to this stands in stark contrast to how we choose to view other athletes who allegedly take plays off. Or, in a more apples-to-apples case, freely admit they do.

Exhibit A: Randy Moss in 2001 uttered the infamous quote to our own Sid Hartman, “I play when I want to play.”

The full quote, dug out of the Star Tribune archives, preceded a paragraph talking about how teammate Cris Carter said not a single player in the NFL gives 100 percent on every play.

“I play when I want to play,” Moss said. “Do I play up to my top performance, my ability every time? Maybe not. I just keep doing
what I do and that is playing football. When I make my mind up, I
am going out there to tear somebody’s head off. When I go out there
and play football, man it’s not anybody telling me to play or how I
should play. I play when I want to play, case closed.”

While LeBron’s slacking might be more about rest while Moss’ was more about game situations, in both cases there is an acknowledgement that some moments are bigger than others. And when those moments arrived, both rose to the occasion.

Moss had 1,233 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns in 2001. He had six more 1,000 yard seasons on the way to a career that led to his election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame earlier this year.

But the “I play when I want to play” comment still sticks with him almost 17 years later. I doubt anyone will bring up LeBron’s in the lead-up to his inevitable Hall of Fame induction — unless it’s in a positive manner.

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