Shaq is one of the funniest, most entertaining guys to ever play basketball (maybe even the most). While that translated to him probably having the best relationship with the media of any player ever, did it hurt his career? Was he too gregarious to maximize his talent? Is someone who's naturally outgoing and fun-loving going to be as hard-working as you need to be to fulfill your potential? It's an interesting question, and one that came up again following LeBron's lackluster Finals performance.
Is LeBron's personality more Shaq than Jordan? If so, is that holding him back from reaching his full potential as a player? I would say so. I think there is truth to fun-loving guys being "underachievers" (in that they could be great players, but not as great as they could have been). Shaq isn't the only example of this. I think Barkley is similar. He has an outgoing personality and is someone who wasn't always in premium shape. Kevin McHale is another one. In The Book of Basketball, Bill Simmons states that Kevin McHale "was the funniest Celtic of all time." He also mentioned that Bird thought McHale underachieved. He writes:
"People always assumed they were friends - you, know the whole 'two big goofy-looking white guys' factor - but they rarely mingled and McHale was the only teammate Bird always avoided praising, partly because of their friendly rivalry, partly because Larry resented the fact that basketball didn't consume McHale like it consumed him. He praised Parish and DJ constantly but never seemed to have a compliment for McHale that wasn't at least a little backhanded. Even after their careers were over, Bird bemoaned the fact that McHale never drove himself to become the best player in the league, saying that his teammate could have become an MVP had he 'really wanted it.'"
There does seem to be some type of connection with personality and fulfilling your potential. Bringing this back to LeBron, should he strive to have as much fun as possible, while looking to achieve success, or should he put all his energy into having as much success as possible? Should he follow in Shaq's footsteps or Jordan's? I think neither. I can think of one guy who balanced both fun and success and, ironically, it's the guy LeBron's most often compared to: Magic Johnson. Magic was exuberant, but I don't think that he feels like he left anything on the table, like Shaq may, and he didn't need to be pathological like Jordan to do it. So I don't think LeBron needs to model himself after Jordan. But if he doesn't want to end up leaving something on the table, he needs to evolve somewhat (like actually learning to play in the post).
LeBron doesn't need to be like Mike to achieve success. He just needs a little Magic.