Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Character I Hate From A Show I Love

This post began as a tweet. Because I had something to say about a story I thought was interesting. Then I realized that no way could I capture my feelings about this story in 140 characters, so I opted to post it to Facebook. When I kept writing, I realized that no one on Facebook wanted a novella on their newsfeed, so as a courtesy, I am opening the floodgates here so this tweet-turned-tangent can take on its truest most uninhibited form.

The piece I'm referring to is this LeBron James profile done by ESPN's Brian Windhorst. To credit Windhorst and ESPN, this is sports journalism. That's a start, and a notable one from the Worldwide Leader in gerrymandering journalistic integrity to attract viewership. As it is a feature profile, it has every right to focalize through LeBron James, the way the entire network seems to operate. Windhorst writes about how different LeBron James is as a person from last year's Finals to today, placing James' proposal to his longtime girlfriend at the crux of said transition. While it'd be easy for Windhorst to have written a piece for the sake of hyping the Heat's title chances, it seems there is an actual point here, and that LeBron is actually growing up.

This piece fascinates me. I'm mad at it, I feel for it, it's good, it sucks. But it makes me feel a lot of things, which is to say, if nothing else, it's an extraordinary picture of LeBron James. Windhorst, in most all his "journalism," pads the Heat, shows them love a little more than I'd like a journalist to. But here, it's different because it's a feature; it's allowed to paint LeBron as the hero. But that aside, he is the villain in these playoffs. Just a tragic villain. He's grown up, but has done so after hopping to the wrong side of the fence.

Right now I'm thinking Kevin Durant is Luke Skywalker, and LeBron James is the NBA's very own Darth Vader. But, that is to say, James' story is tragic. So talented. If only he hadn't decided to go to the dark side, spurning his adoring fans in Cleveland by making them hold their collective breath through 27 minutes of an overly gaudy nationally televised acceptance of slick psychophant Dwyane Wade's offer to form a devastating hoops alliance whose purpose was to rule the NBA for the next decade. In terms of disgusting self-righteousness and crude pageantry, however, The Decision was a mere appetizer for this appalling entree.

What LeBron had mistaken as earnest excitement for the NBA's next big thing sticks out as the most arrogant, polarizing offseason filled with mistake making and camera loving. And the owner of that camera was ESPN and all of its affiliates (except for in the previously linked video, the owner of THAT camera was Chuck Fadely of the Miami Herald). ESPN has since graced the Heat with an utterly disproportionate amount of coverage, going as far as creating a "Heat Index" page for the team, designed to track the progress of the Big Three and aggregate all their personal headlines surrounding Miami's new darlings.

Meanwhile, the Oklahoma City Thunder — a team that A: had a better record than the Heat this season, B: has as many (if not more) All-Star caliber players on it as Miami, and C: has a better, more fervent fan base than the lackadaisical Miami crowd that comes late and watches expectantly rather than passionately — get practically none of the bountiful attention ESPN provides. The Thunder came from having nothing but Nick Collison, Ray Allen and a 28.2% shot at a top-three pick to its (different) name five years ago to now having three offensive forces, two defensive forces, and some quality veteran role players — essentially everything it takes to win an NBA championship. Yet it's Miami we care so much about. Why?

Because the NBA is about LeBron James. It's about the moment he turned bad. It's about him being defeated last season by an aging Mavericks team that was cashing in on its last hurrah and breaking through for the first time simultaneously. It's about him coming back this year and trying to win it again, the haters less vicious and pressure mounted higher. It's whether the Heat will be defeated by the Thunder, or if they will seize the throne and occupy it for years to come. Because James is the league's prodigal son, the most gifted player in its history, and the one of whom all the league's fans have demanded greatness.

The NBA is a drama about LeBron James. But it's also real life, because LeBron James is not a character. LeBron James is a real person. Dwyane Wade is a real person. Kevin Durant is a real person. And yet the way it happens to set up, these monumental storylines aren't depicting fantasy, they're depicting a competition for an accolade, had by two businesses, played out in the arena of their products, selling their brand, their product, their players, to the public. McDonald's can't get emotionally upset when you choose Burger King, but LeBron has been hurt by the hate he's received since "taking his talents to South Beach."

And that pain made him change himself. That and the pain that came with losing the NBA Finals. He changed himself, his approach, after getting bested on the biggest stage for the second time in his mortal career. He grew up. And that's what I love about the drama of the NBA. Even the enemy gets down on himself, but he's still the enemy. Even the enemy grows up, but he's still the enemy. LeBron James is still the enemy, but even he is human.

--Eliot Sill


  1. Post aside, while I agree The Decision was pretty lame to do to Cleveland, I think that radical welcoming party may be the most swaggerific thing I've ever seen and I have no problem with that awesome shit.

  2. I am so terribly conflicted by LeBron that I can barely stand to try to think about him.

    I would like to clarify (and hopefully come to agreement on) the the fact that "most gifted" and "best" player in history are two very different things, although LeBron, unfortunately, might be able to clinch that title as well if he actually starts to perform at the level that his physical potential seems to hint at. But, I still don't think it will ever happen.