Choking Down a Blasphemy Sandwich
Because FD is nothing if not a bastion of diverse thinking . . .
A few months ago, Rocco argued that more than spots for any other sport, basketball commercials appear to show players at their most psychologically transparent. In just thirty seconds, a Nike ad can beautifully and laconically reveal the inner workings of a star, and illustrate his place in basketball and our culture in general. Michael Jordan demonstrates his superior abilities, yet his failures remind us just how human he is; Carmelo Anthony embodies and in many ways personifies his hometown of Baltimore; Kobe doesn’t need your love, or so he perhaps unconvincingly declares, and is determined to work for success regardless of his place in your heart. Yet Nike’s two most prominent ads for LeBron don’t reveal much about him at all. The Second Coming says little more than “LeBron will be great and will also pass the ball proficiently.” I don’t have any idea what the LeBrons is trying to tell me outside of “LeBron can dance reasonably well,” and “It doesn’t take much make-up to make LeBron look like a sixty year-old man.”
For three years, we’ve marveled at the achievements and prowess of this basketball savant without having any idea of whom we were actually adulating. Ultimately though, marketing becomes just marketing and players’ true selves are exposed on the hardwood. If this series has been the first true unobstructed view of LeBron, this much is clear to me: while he plays like a man among boys, he acts like a spoiled fucking baby.
I fully acknowledge that all great players work the referees in ways that aren’t always flattering to them. Yet every time a call is made against LeBron, his face communicates, “I can’t believe how mean you referees are being to me! This is so unfair!” No act better encapsulates his attitude than the way he sulked to bench after picking up his 4th foul, put a towel over his face, and melodramatically lay down on the floor. Somehow, the man-child who was either born with or has been given everything (in the basketball sense) has developed a persecution complex concurrently with the countenance of a five year-old whose parents won’t buy him another new toy. This is not a point I need to belabor; we’ve all been watching.
Undeniably, much success and many accolades have come too soon and too easily to LeBron. I don’t know how someone who had been anointed the savior of an entire league before stepping onto a court would not develop a sense of entitlement. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a player so instantaneously deified, and so it’s no wonder that he acts as if the game owes him something. We’ve all contributed to creating this monster, but regardless of its origin, it’s still a monster.
I wholeheartedly agree with Shoals about how LeBron may ultimately change the way we have to watch and appreciate basketball. Despite the Wizards’ defensive ineptitude, he’s still playing against professional players, and dominates in every conceivable way. While I may be an unabashed Wizards fan, I can’t help but stop and revel in the way a 21 year old has totally imposed his will on my team with a dominance I’ve never seen. Early Jordan comparisons are not only apt, they’re necessary. But I don’t care.
If this series revealed much about LeBron, it’s also taught me about my own relationship with basketball. Increasingly, I’m coming to realize that I don’t watch basketball, but instead watch people playing basketball. No matter the transcendence of LeBron the player, I cannot truly admire, or even stand, the current incarnation of LeBron the person.
Where you stand on LeBron may well be the litmus test for how you predominantly choose to relate to basketball. If you see basketball as a purely visual, kinesthetic, and creative art form, LeBron is the epitome of all things wonderful about the game. As Shoals said, he may be so good that he demands a completely new set of criteria for evaluating his brilliance.Yet if you see basketball as narrative, I can’t see how you can truly pull for LeBron. He simply doesn’t work for me as sympathetic character; he doesn’t struggle or fail, he just succeeds as if it were all predestined. In his own mind, he can do no wrong and can’t conceive of anyone thinking otherwise. Characters like these often fall spectacularly, but reality is not constrained by movie or novel clichés. LeBron may well whine his way to upending Jordan’s reign as GOAT and that’s what terrifies me about him; we could all be in store for fifteen years of his pouty and bitchy superiority as he mercilessly crushes those that are tragically mortal.