Friday, May 14, 2010

LeBron Saves

I’m listening to “Oh! You Pretty Things” by David Bowie on repeat, so bear with me here if I veer toward the dramatic.

Those of you who read this blog in order to obtain knowledge about basketball or at least my passion, understanding and thoughts on the game, most likely know that last night, the Boston Celtics defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. You will all most likely know that that loss may have been LeBron James’ final game playing in a Cleveland uniform. This fact will be pointed out you numerous times over the next week by NBA Insiders on ESPN that go by the names of Chad Ford, Rick Bucher, Chris Broussard, Jamaal Mashburn, Avery Johnson, Matt Legler, Michael Wilbon, etc. This list will go on and on and that is not even counting online insiders from Sports Illustrated,,, as well as Cleveland beat writers and any other basketball mind from a city such as Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, Newark (love them NETS!), or this New York.

The speculation will continue under various scenarios: What if Chicago hires John Calipari? Will LeBron want to play with Derrick Rose? What if Chicago works a sign and trade with Cleveland giving them Luol Deng and Kirk Heinrich for LeBron James? What if Chicago can convince Phil Jackson to come back and coach LeBron? What if the Nets get the first pick in the draft? What if they draft John Wall and then work out a sign and trade for Devin Harris with another team? What if Wade, LeBron and Chris Bosh all arrange a meeting on South Beach as they have said they will in order to coordinate how the free agency period is going to work? What if Spike Lee launches his master marketing campaign as he has hinted he is about to do? What if New York Magazine continues to publish pointless articles about getting LeBron to come to New York like they just did this past week?

Perhaps what will be lost in all of the speculation and posturing will be the sheer absurdity of this situation. Maybe the absurdity will be appreciated, who knows? What I do know is that this is a singular situation in sports history. Basically, we have our generation’s equivalent of Michael Jordan (not in talent, style of play, success or anything else, but merely in media attention and marketing capability) entering a situation (he has already slightly entered it, but now the magnification begins) that is unprecedented. With all due respect to Kobe Bryant, no one ever cared enough about Kobe to create this much speculation. Kobe held the world at arm’s length, never seemed to be likeable and never seemed to really invest in being liked by the outside world. He didn’t want to allow any privileged glimpses into his human heart. There was no hugging of the Larry O’Brien trophy and crying like Michael Jordan did upon winning his first title or the Father’s Day Collapse after Michael won his first title since his father’s death. Kobe wouldn’t allow that, so no one truly invested in Kobe as a media figure, as a means of transcendence. LeBron on the other hand was warm. He welcomed the media attention, he welcomed the position he found himself in as the next savior of the game of basketball, he relished the opportunity to become the first sports billionaire. So, in an era of hyper saturated media, we latched onto him. He has a square jaw and is a handsome man with charisma. He is young, he has exceptional talent and grace as well as a flourish for style: these are things that are not just held as the pinnacles of virtue in America, but perhaps throughout the entire world.

If you have followed this blog, you are well aware that I do not particularly care for LeBron James. I prefer Dwyane Wade. LeBron carries a certain childishness about him that seems out of character for someone who is supposed to be a leader and a winner. Dwyane Wade is all business. For lack of a better comparison, Wade carries more of the Michael Jordan gene in competition, though not nearly as intense. Although Michael was the ultimate killer, he made himself seem transcendent and luminous rather than dour and forced as Kobe has. Wade shares much more of Michael’s traits. Wade fills the stat lines just as much and as well as LeBron does, but he continues to be overlooked even though he has already won a championship – this is mainly because his teams have been terrible and uninspiring for the past three years.

I do not want this to turn into a Wade and LeBron comparison because I could go on and on about how much I love and appreciate Dwyane Wade’s basketball game. What I want to say is that after last night, I finally feel for LeBron James. He is blessed with freakish size and strength for a basketball player, which has been paired with exceptional talent. His blend of skill and ability has not been seen before in the NBA and that is why he does receive more attention that Dwyane Wade. Last night in Game 6, LeBron James had a triple double. It was perhaps the quietest triple double by a superstar NBA player, in the playoffs, in the history of the NBA. LeBron finished the game with 27 points, 19 rebounds, and 10 assists. So, to be clear, not only did LeBron put up a triple double last night, he also nearly put up a 20 and 20 as well. Yet, when we look back on Game 6 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals, it will not be remembered for those stats. It will be remembered as the second pivotal game in a row, in a series that may have altered his career, that LeBron James seemed to lack a competitive fire. He played terrible in Game 5. That is undisputable. And the fact that he put up the numbers he did last night and still seemed uninspired is a testament to his talent. The effort that LeBron appeared to put into the game, his final stat-line and the outcome of the series are all incredibly baffling to me as a person who has followed sports, especially the NBA, for nearly his entire life.

What the big crime in all of this is the intense media scrutiny. Now, granted, declaring one of your aspirations is to be the first billionaire in the history of sports is a tremendous way to attract media scrutiny. LeBron has always embraced the lofty dreams and hopes that sports fan have foisted upon his image and with that acceptance comes the left hook, which is that when you are down, when you do not succeed to a level that is commensurate with the faith and trust the people put into you, you are going to be hit and hit hard – especially, if the effort you put in does not appear to be heartfelt and full of soul, if it does not appeal to the hardworking, Puritanical core that lies inside of each beating American heart, no matter how much we may disguise it with a professed admiration for grace and a breezy, Daisy Buchanan/Great Gatsby elegance.

The almost 48 hours leading up to Game 6 were a brutal feeding frenzy of speculation and admonishment on the image and achievment of LeBron James. It is only going to get worse in the next 48 days until July 1, 2010 when LeBron James finally makes his decision on where to play basketball next year. We are going to hear about LeBron every day until he actually makes a decision. The media coverage may eclipse what could be two entertaining Conference Finals series as well as a possible Lakers vs. Celtics Final. Kobe may gain his fifth NBA Championship in the process. In this time, we are going to see LeBron denigrated by some media outlets, by men and women with a mouthpiece who are trying to garner attention and accolade for their opinions. I’m not better than any of them as I even provide my own speculation on this blog. All I know is that at one time I would have revelled in LeBron James’ failure. I would have reveled in it because I envied the ease in which he was able to achieve such great feats, I envied the attention he received over a player who I believed deserved more accolades, I thought he lacked the high-seriousness that a successful athlete should have. People said similar things about Magic Johnson, but Magic Johnson always won and Magic figured out how to kill – if only later and reluctantly. Maybe the same things will happen for LeBron. But today, as I listened to “Oh! You Pretty Things” on the subway and saw people holding newspapers with LeBron’s image on it with headlines that reveled in his failure and headlines that pounced on the possibility that he might come and save New York, I no longer thought that it would be fun to hate LeBron James. I understood, in my own way, the pratfalls of his position and the responsibilities that come with his level of attention and desire for success. Yet, with newspapers littered on the subway floor and sticking out of trashcans and over the tips of commuters’ fingers, I didn’t feel like joining in on the fray. I merely thought of those newspapers being ripped to shreds, those cover pages with LeBron’s image and felt like I needed to get home and have a strong cup of coffee.

Hopefully, I’ll get to enjoy the rest of the basketball season in some modicum of peace that I can arrange for myself. This world is changing and so much our heroes when they fail. “Oh! You Pretty Things,” indeed.

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