Monday, June 13, 2011

The Chosen Villian: Trying and failing to forgive LeBron James

   The 2011 Miami Heat have often been described as having “love-hate” appeal. Meaning, you either love the team for their exciting, explosive style of play, or you hate them for the way they seemed to “schedule” multiple championships.  One’s feelings on the Heat as a team seem to relate directly to one’s attitude toward LeBron James. If you hate what he did to Cleveland with “The Decision”, chances are you were rooting for the Dallas Mavericks during The Finals. If you were fine with the way he went about the offseason, the chances are greater that you were gunning for him to win.
   I decided way back in July that the “love-hate” stamp would not apply to me. I did not have a problem with James choosing to work in the place he wanted to work, with the people he wanted to work with. After all, what honest person would not do the same thing? It was simply a professional choice. What I disagreed with was the way he went about announcing his choice. Boys & Girls’ Club aside, it seemed like a self-centered move to slot your own television special. A simple press conference would have made the parting with Cleveland much smoother, and the hate would likely not have been heaped on in such droves.
   But that was July. As of this moment, I am borderline-disgusted with LeBron James.
   Sure, I was absolutely cheering for the Mavs in these Finals. Dirk Nowitzki was looking for his first championship the old-fashioned way, with the team he had started with. Dirk never show-boated, never trash-talked, never walked through pillars of fire while declaring the expectancy to win upwards of seven titles. Dirk showed up at American Airlines Center everyday with the mindset that through hard work, determination, and grit, he would achieve his dream.
   That is a champion.
   After the scoreboard flashed the “triple zeroes”, as ESPN’s Stuart Scott likes to put it, LeBron quickly slapped a few hands and ducked into the Heat locker room. He went alone, and was the first one off the court. He was escaping. It was not the first time we have seen LeBron show unsportsmanlike characteristics. Back in the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals, when the Cavaliers fell prey to the Orlando Magic in six games, James stormed off of the court and refused to appear for a post-game press conference. It was like watching a child go to their room after throwing a temper tantrum.
   That is not a champion.
   The handshakes after this game six were indeed an improvement, but the hurriedness of it all made it seem like James was only doing it to keep all of his haters at bay. He was essentially propping up the dam of criticism he knew would be heading his way.
   LeBron agreed to a post-game press conference this time, and one figured that the least he would do is make the usual nods toward the Mavs, toss them a little bit of street cred, and maybe even say something about the work he would do in the offseason to improve his game (Normally, this is a classic interview cop-out, but something tells me that even a canned statement like that would have greatly helped LeBron’s image in making him appear to accept his poor Finals performance). Just a simple acknowledgement of his shortcomings would come a long way with the public.
   However it was not LeBron James, but rather BFF Dwayne Wade who gave out props to the Mavericks, explaining to the media that Dallas was “obviously better”. LeBron was sitting right next to Wade at the time, and all the Chosen One had to do was give a few nods of agreement. This he would do. Check.
   Next would come the admittance of James’ poor play in the fourth quarter. James pointed out that in the previous postseason series, he was able to do things “to help us win ball games, but wasn’t able to do that in this series.” Perfect! Cut it right there, LeBron. Hey, not very articulate, but we got the message: you know you could have played a little better in the fourth quarter. Check.
   The King’s crown looked like it would be on its way down. LeBron was giving out the classic “it’s time to move on” speech so many before him had recited, but in this case he may have gotten away with it. The Heat would have learned their lesson, and after a few tired weeks of LeBron-in-the-clutch jokes, the public and media may have began to move on. No more Heat-hatin’. Rats.
   Minutes later, however, the crown came back on. With it, everyone, including nonchalant Heat-observers such as myself, was given a reason to be angry at LeBron. Everyone, because that is exactly who LeBron targeted with a further statement issued later that evening. Everyone.
   LeBron had this to say, to not only his critics, but apparently to every “average” human-being alive today:

"At the end of the day, all the people that was rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today. I'm going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things that I want to do with me and my family and be happy with that. They can get a few days or a few months or whatever the case may be on being happy about not only myself, but the Miami Heat not accomplishing their goal, but they have to get back to the real world at some point."

   The real world? The real world? Here is what happens in the real world, King James. Hard-working Americans wake up every day, put their feet on the floor, and face their problems head-on. We have plenty of obstacles in our path, sure, but in the real world we do not have the luxury of running off to a tunnel by ourselves and hiding from all of the people trying to psych us out. We choose to counter the criticism by proving that we show up to our jobs each time with the intention of putting our best foot forward.
   Our lives may be the same day in and day out, but that comes with not having the privilege of being gifted with an insane amount of athleticism. And is your life any different today than it was yesterday? It is not like you won the NBA title or anything. You have arrived in the real world, where people who want to forgive classless athletes do not have that opportunity because those same athletes keep doing classless things.
   I was rooting for the Mavericks, not against the Heat. However, LeBron’s comments may have changed that. It was a feeble, weak thing to say. Things did not shape out the way he wanted, so he resorted to mocking the lack of prestige our lifestyles have compared to his. He can do what he wants, that is exactly right, but someone who is trying to shake off all of the critics needs a better strategy than poking fun at those who bag on him. Did his mother ever teach him to “kill them with kindness” and “treat others the way you want to be treated”?
   One of my favorite Nike ads of all time shows a young LeBron James dribbling a basketball up the court. As the child advances up the hardwood, he grows older, and shots of James’ high school career are seen in the background. He enters the key, now fully evolved into the Chosen One we know today. As the present-day LeBron James elevates to throw down a slam dunk in glorious slow motion, we hear his voice proclaim “I am LeBron James. You don’t want to be me. You want to be better than me.” Cut to the Swoosh. Just do it.
   Wow, is that ironic or what? After Game 6, I sure hope I am better than LeBron James. I would like to think I am better than to take personal digs at the people whose support I am looking to gain. It simply does not make sense. It proves one thing: LeBron truly has not matured.
   Champions act like winners both on and off the court. It can be argued that that is why Dirk Nowitzki is where he is right now and why LeBron is where he is. The joint interviews with Dwayne Wade seem to further drive the nail home, when Wade is the one (the only one) to pay respect to the Mavericks, it shows that LeBron needs someone to speak for him. In cases like the above, maybe it is better if someone actually did.
   The world does not look to hate people. We want heroes, and we wanted LeBron to be our hero. Maybe some of us abandoned all hope when all of that talent was taken to South Beach, but I think that most of us were willing to give the Chosen One another shot at destiny. After his personal attack on each one of us, I am not sure that many people are going to be as ready to forgive him.
   Lebron will earn his ring one day, but for that to happen, he needs to learn one simple thing. He could learn it from Nowitzki, or Bill Russell, or even Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He needs to realize that champions act like champions, and when that revelation comes, he may find that the world is not so full of critics after all.

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