LeBron James could learn a lot from Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom.
Lidstrom is the best defenseman of his era in the NHL, some would even argue of all-time. He's the Red Wings' active leader in nearly every major statistical category and has quietly been foiling opposing offenses for 19 years.
But you wouldn't know about it if you asked him.
Lidstrom has never demanded attention in his career. Even when he won the Conn Smythe in 2002 as the MVP of the NHL playoffs, it was almost a shock because it looked like Dominik Hasek was a near lock. Lidstrom doesn't play with flash and arrogance; he just always makes the right play.
No one was surprised that Lidstrom nearly fell off the face of the earth as another offseason of uncertainty loomed concerning his potential retirement from the game. He made a select few comments since the Red Wings were eliminated in Game 7 by the Sharks; in fact most of the information we got over the last month was through secondary sources like Mike Babcock's wife.
At 41 he's one of the older players in the game, but still playing at an incredibly high level (he was nominated for the Norris Trophy as the league's best defenseman for an 11th time). Think about that for a moment. Lidstrom has been nominated for the Norris in 11 of his 19 NHL seasons, most of those coming in the latter stages of his career.
He kept a low profile for most of the summer, but last week hints started to drop that he might be coming back (including a rather unique airport encounter with head coach Babcock). When it was announced that Lidstrom had arranged an 11 a.m. conference call, it was clear that he would come back--as our own Brian Packey pointed out, he would never announce his retirement over a conference call.
Lidstrom could have literally phoned it in, never to be heard from again. But that is just not in his character.
A man of Lidstrom's stature could have demanded a media frenzy for the last few weeks. He might not have gotten his own hour-long special on ESPN like James, but Versus might have gone for it (hell, maybe even struggling NBC would have).
Instead, we rarely heard from him. Our StoryStream on the matter had just seven updates in over a month; James' thread on SBNation.com had 52.
There was no media circus debating on which team was going to try and sign him. Everyone knew Detroit was the only destination. No one else probably even bothered calling.
In the end he did phone it in, but it was from Las Vegas, where he is likely going to accept his seventh Norris at the NHL Awards Show. There was no need to fly back to Detroit for a press conference when everyone already knew what he was going to say.
James seems to have been humbled a bit by his recent failure in the NBA Finals. Maybe it's the turning point in his career where he stops saying and doing dumb things. He could learn a thing or two from the Detroit captain, who has possibly never said or done anything inflammatory in his entire life.
Lidstrom has had plenty of success in his career, but he's had his failures too. The difference is that Lidstrom has never acted like he was entitled to anything. He didn't brand himself "The Perfect Human" the way James labeled himself "King." In a market where he could have went out to another team and gotten much more money, he took less than he probably would have made to stay in Detroit.
When he learned about Brian Rafalski's retirement, he realized that the Red Wings needed him back more than ever. He knew that his departure could potentially cripple the team for next season.
Lidstrom paid his dues, kept his mouth shut and has been rewarded with a decorated career that includes four Stanley Cups, six Norris Trophies and Olympic gold. He demands respect through the way he carries himself on and off the ice, not his words.
On a team that's full of superstars there's no question who the leader is. Like Steve Yzerman before him, Lidstrom has led by example on the ice, not through statements to the press.
I don't think Wings fans would want it any other way.