A King at Night: Lebron Steals Away
As much as possible, I’ve tried to stay away from covering the Lebron spectacle. The deluge of speculation, self-aggrandizement and misinformation was just a little too hot and gooey to hold onto, especially for a venue as concerned with semi-forgotten former number 2 draft picks as we seem to be.
But as I indicated below, I was sort of taken aback at the ickiness of the announcement’s forum, as well as with my own supreme disappointment at its content. So I have two, hopefully brief observations.
First, there is no doubt that holding an hour-long national television event to announce your choice of employers (in the process slowly torturing your most loyal supporters) is an act of cruel hubris. This has been widely remarked upon and is not exactly a revelation. Still, as our friend David Roth has pointed out at Can’t Stop the Bleeding some of the more vituperative scolding LBJ (or more accurately, “his ego”) has received from the Innernet pundicrats (this one and this one are prime examples) strike one as more than a little disingenuous. Says Mr. Roth:
Obviously this whole thing was going to get dumb, and obviously it has gotten dumb. Obviously LeBron was going to sign a huge contract and leverage his brand (barf, by the way) for maximum revenue, because he has always done that, and obviously he is doing that. Getting Hulk-smash angry at the fact that these totally predictable things are happening strikes me as kind of a waste of energy and virtual ink.
These things aren’t just predictable. More than that, they’ve been expected of Lebron ever since he was, like, 10 years old. How can we possibly scrutinize his every comment and action, endlessly pontificate on his desires and motivations (there’s that ego again) and then self-righteously attack him for his outsized sense of his own world-historical importance? Seems a little hypocritical to me.
I’ve always been struck by the degree to which Lebron believes in the hagiography (the “King James” thing, the “we are all witnesses” thing, the “having a legacy” thing); as a result, it seems to me, he is disarmingly businesslike and matter-of-fact about his own magnificence. He’s got none of Terrell Owens’s pulsating narcissism or even someone like J.R. Smith’s transparent insecurity. He just takes his own status as an extraordinarily important person–which status is constantly reinforced by the media and the fans and his business associates and own teammates–as a given. So it isn’t exactly arrogant (it’s a lot of gross things, but not arrogance) for him to assume that we would want to watch an hour-long TV show about his latest act of self-marketing. We did want to watch it; it’s exactly what we had been asking for.
Here’s the second thing. As I mentioned before, my main emotion at hearing that Lebron was heading to South Beach wasn’t anger or disgust; it was disappointment. Disappointment, not so much at his disloyalty to the hometown team–as we well know, the loyalty of fans and players to their pro sports organizations has never been a two-way street–but because he would have looked so great next to Boozer and Rose and Noah in Chicago. His staggering talents would have been beautifully complemented and enhanced. Best of all, he would have seeded the possibility of an eye-popping rivalry with Wade’s and Bosh’s Heat. It would have been so much fun.
Commenter Mac put it really well (go here and scroll down for the whole thing):
But to me, Lebron will always be a guy who put winning ahead of actually competing, who wanted a ring more than he wanted to win a ring, who wanted the championship belt more than he wanted to be the baddest man on the planet. I am told he is a big fan of the movie “Gladiator.” He fancies himself Maximus no doubt, but to me he proved this summer he is a lot more like Commodus — he wants the throne and the adulation and the symbolic victory in front of the masses, but what doesn’t care about as much is beating anybody in a fair fight. And to me, that makes him a less interesting player and a less admirable champion, even if he wins a title or two or three. Your mileage may vary.
Ultimately, I don’t really care that the Lakers won the Finals this year. What was meaningful to me was the heart-exploding, ferociously competitive seven games (plus two compelling series against OKC and Phoenix, plus their whole curious regular season) that got them there. I care that they played feverish defense and managed to overcome a poor offensive game by their best player and barely squeaked by a Celtics team almost exactly as tenacious and synchronized as they were. We’ve come to so fetishize the spoils of victory–especially that iconic ring–that we’ve almost forgotten the game itself. But the beautiful struggle, the intense harmony of ten bodies in motion, that’s the interesting part. The results are just words on a page; the ring is just a piece of metal. Winning is important, but the process, the effort, is what really compels. The fact that Lebron seems to want to circumvent that process–that he seems, as Mac says, to care more about winning than competing–this is what really bums me out.