Dear LeBron James, I Take It All Back
Anyone who has stumbled upon my writing, here or elsewhere, knows that I have long been transfixed by LeBron James. It is difficult to not be in awe of all he is -- or at least could be -- capable of.
Despite having still only scratched the surface of his potential, James has two straight MVPs. At his best, he balances immediacy and intelligence like few players can. That sometimes turns into a tension between entitlement and over-thinking, but hey, all great beings have their tragic flaws. LeBron is so great he gets a two-pronged sword to hang over his head.
Over the last few months, I have gone out of my way to justify Bron's playoff performance, continued to say Kobe Bryant must surpass him (not vice-versa), and tried to put a good socialist spin on him and his other very expensive friends in basketball labor.
Today, with the news of LeBron's world tour close at hand, I want to take it all back. It doesn't bother me that LeBron James wields an undue amount of power over the NBA's future. But with Kobe Bryant playing like he is, on the verge of a fifth championship, James needs to sit down and shut up until the Finals are over. I know athletes are competitive. But by not showing respect when Kobe (and the Celtics, for that matter) are on a tear, and he's at home ... James looks either like a first-rate jerk or someone who (cliche alert) JUST DOESN'T GET IT.
I never thought I would say that about an athlete. Do you "get it"? Do I? Do either of us have the slightest idea what it means to "get it" with LeBron's brain and body, in his particular life-situation? No, of course not. But there is such a thing as common decency and honor. I don't have kids who learn from sports, and basketball players aren't role models. Regardless, though, this is just so ... gross.
I still think that a lot of the issue surrounding LeBron are more complicated than we like to make them. Even in this absolutely goofy latest development -- a world tour befitting a campaigning politician -- there's evidence that we're seeing a 21st century Wilt Chamberlain. LeBron may be indefensible, but that doesn't mean he's an outright scoundrel. We live to understand.
Except today, with James mouthing quotes so foul and presumptuous I can't stand to retype them, I don't really care about a rational middle ground. I was a teenaged LeBron James defender, and now, the pendulum has come swinging back in the other direction. On a gut level, as a fan and writer, I feel right now like James deserves no benefit of the doubt, no close reading. This is clown-ish, buffoon-ish behavior that plays into every negative assumption anyone's ever had about James -- or the rest of the NBA. Bare bones, we've got a perplexing exit from the postseason, followed by the Super Summit, and now the whistle stop, all while other players continue to toil for a ring.
Look, I'm not one for decorum. A man should say what he wants, when he wants, as long as he's prepared to deal with the consequences. There are many intricacies to James and his situation that lurk below the public relations disaster he's lowering himself into. Sometimes, though, a man forfeits the right to be understood and examined. Sometimes, you've got to step back and scoff.
While LeBron is busy planning his inept marketing blitz, Kobe is in the film room breaking down Elgin Baylor and Oscar Robertson, even candidly discussing his relations with Michael Jordan's game. Oh, and he's making the Celtics -- the same ones who punked Bron in some way, shape or form -- look like paper dolls. Simply put, James is a circus show while Bryant is knee-deep in ultimate basketball. If James can't see it's time to fall back for a week or two, either he's on another planet -- the modern-day Wilt for sure -- or really does think of basketball as secondary to himself as a corporate entity.
Even when Kobe blew up and demanded a trade during the 2007 playoffs (once he was out), it was wretched, tormented, basketball spirit. The timing was bad, but Bryant just couldn't stand it any more. LeBron seems untroubled, and fairly pumped, about a summer that should -- at very least -- be a serious matter. He's deciding his legacy here.
What James doesn't consider, and what drives me mad, is that what will happen on the court should be at the heart of all this. That he doesn't, or is as flippant about that as he is new marketing opportunities, is why today, I can't stand LeBron James.