Lebron James Is Only What You Want Him To Be


J.L. Wall

J.L. Wall is a native Kentuckian in self-imposed exile to the Midwest, where he teaches writing to college students and over-analyzes Leonard Cohen lyrics.

Related Post Roulette

37 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    This is why I prefer pro wrestling.

    Or used to, before they got all topsy turvy and tried to explain to me that Randy Orton was a babyface.Report

  2. I tend to think the tribalism of sports is, in the overwhelming majority of cases, a healthy thing, especially in the US. There are notable exceptions of course (a recent incident in LA comes to mind), but for the most part it satisfies our need to be part of a group in a decidedly low-stakes setting. When that in-group energy gets channeled in other directions, especially directions where the people running the show have access to guns and bombs, the results are not so pleasant. There is in fact part of me that wonders if Ray Lewis’ speculation about the football lockout being likely to result in an increase in violent crime isn’t at least partly true.

    As for the particular tribalism over LeBron, a week or two ago I was fully willing to justify it and was even a proud participant in it. Now? I’m not so sure, though I’m more convinced than ever that the tribalism over LeBron was and is good for the game, much as the tribalism back in the day over Jordan was good for the game (and mostly no better justified).

    Let’s go through the three primary justifications for it, though, real quick:
    1. He sold out Cleveland by leaving for Miami;
    2. He did it in the most devastating way possible, by holding a TV special to do it; and
    3. He went and joined forces with one of his chief rivals for Best Active Player status rather than joining a team where he would be the unquestioned Man and thereby have an opportunity to achieve legendary status. Can you imagine MJ, Bird, or Magic doing something like this?

    I mostly didn’t care too much about the first justification (free agency exists for a reason, etc., etc.), but I wholly bought into 2 and 3.

    It strikes me that part of the point – in addition to the charity angle – of the TV special was precisely to increase interest in the NBA and in the Heat in particular, regardless of whether that interest was pro or anti-LeBron. And, well, mission accomplished there. I can’t recall a year where a team sport’s TV ratings soared as much as the NBA’s this year. And a good thing that, too – it turns out that the NBA’s product is better than at any time since the Jordan heyday.

    As for that third rationale, I think what we are seeing is that having someone to share the load with James frees him up to utilize all of his abilities, and maybe even forces him to do so; I’m no basketball junkie, but it just seems like he’s a more complete player nowadays. I could even make an argument that winning in the NBA as your team’s sole major offensive option can require less talent than winning in the NBA where you are sharing that load with another player.

    Anywho….I’m still rooting for the Mavs. Despite all of the above, it’s still just too much fun to pretend to hate the Heat.Report

    • Avatar BSK in reply to Mark Thompson says:


      He absolutely handled “The Decision” poorly… but was he alone in that? ESPN televised it and it had absurd ratings. He only gave what people wanted (and possibly demanded).

      As to the latter… does anyone really think there is a legitimate debate as to who is the better (or will end up being the better) player between LeBron and Wade? The primary debate has always been LeBron vs Kobe. While Wade has always been considered an elite, top 5 player, I don’t know anyone who ever argued he was the best player. And given that LeBron is a few years younger and is better prepared for the physicality of the game than Wade, and I see little reason to think we’ll ever consider Wade the better player.

      If the larger point is that LeBron teamed up with another elite player, sports is riddled with similar examples. How quickly we forget that Kobe essentially forced his way to the Lakers by refusing to play for Charlotte, who drafted him. Go back further and, while we don’t necessarily see players ‘conspiring’ in the way that LeBron/Wade/Bosh supposedly did, they had no reason to. With fewer teams in the league, teams were stacked naturally. No, Bird never went to play with Magic because he already had McHale and Parrish. Magic had no reason to leave with Kareem and Worthy. The Bulls acquired Pippen by Jordan’s 4th year.

      In the end, LeBron has every opportunity to change his legacy. Do we remember Elway as the diva who forced his way out of Tampa or as the blue-collar hero of Denver? Do we remember Josh Hamilton as the drugged-out bust who screwed over a young, moribund franchise or as a heroic, inspiring MVP? I could go on. The fact is, narratives are written and perpetuated without challenge. Until someone writes a new narrative that becomes the truth. In reality, the truth lies somewhere in the middle, which is the gray area we tend to hate.Report

  3. Avatar BSK says:

    “That we live in a time when, as Jerry Seinfeld pointed out long ago, we root for jerseys rather than players is disregarded, as is the fact that Lebron James is hardly alone in choosing to go to a better team or take more money rather than remain with the one that drafted and developed him.”

    LeBron took less money to go to Miami. This is often glossed over because it doesn’t fit the narrative of him-as-pure-villain.Report

  4. Avatar BSK says:

    A few years ago, Shawn Marion (when still with the Suns) was criticized because he said that he would rather be the best player on a struggling team than a role player on a championship team (in context, it seemed as if his point was that he’d rather be the catalyst for a struggling team achieving but, let’s just go with the perception). But, isn’t the latter, which everyone argued was what Marion should have preferred, exactly what LeBron did? He chose to be a part of something larger instead of a one-man-show that never moved beyond the opening act.

    Sports specifically, and society in general, hates nuance. We want things in black and white. We want good guys and bad guys. Heroes and goats. As such, we vilify a guy because he crossed one line we arbitrarily focused on. Do we vilify Ray Bourque and the Bruins for trading him to the Avalanche to win a title? Did people bash Malone and Payton when they signed on with the Lakers with the hopes of winning a championship? Now, those guys were towards the end of their careers, but the point is, for whatever reason, we decided at this moment that loyalty was the virtue. And because LeBron violated loyalty (presuming he had reason to be loyal to a team owned by a man who acted like a petulant child and with a GM who couldn’t acquire a second-banana to save his life), he gets cast as the bad guy. If we were on some weird, “True champions settle for nothing less than dominating” kick, then we would have chided LeBron as stupid for sticking with the Cavs. The problem is, these “virtues” are decided arbitrarily and, in some cases, after the fact.

    LeBron couldn’t win. If he stays in Cleveland and never wins, he gets ridiculed. Go to NY and he’s a sell out. Chicago makes him a Jordan-wannabe. The Nets… ha! Welcome to Newark. Miami made him a pariah because people like to hate on the best. For me, I was never the hugest LeBron fan, only because I hate when hype machines get ahead of themselves. However, over the last few years, LeBron has proven to be everything we expected and more. When he got attacked from all angles for doing nothing different than any of us would do given an opportunity (live in a great city, work with your best friends, and leave a small fraction of money on the table is essentially meaningless when we’re talking 9 figures), he became a sympathetic figure as far as I was concerned.Report

  5. Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

    Also, players demanding to be traded to win titles is not a new thing. Kareem to LA, Wilt to LA, Moses Malone, etcetera. In addition, both Bird and Magic didn’t have to use free agency to have great teammates. They were lucky enough to be drafted on teams that only got stronger through the draft and other teams doing horrible trades.

    You can attack LeBron for being kind of a dick to his Cleveland fans by making a big deal of the Decision, but his reasoning isn’t anything new in the NBA.Report

  6. Avatar James Hanley says:

    A great post, but with one major error. Kentucky basketball is more than simply villainous. Rupp Arena is, in fact, the main entrance to Satan’s lair. Trust me. I’m from Indiana, so I know.Report

  7. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    The criticism I so often see is that the three of them “colluded” to play together, and that allowing players rather than GMs to make those decisions will destroy the NBA: it’s “letting the inmates run the asylum”. That’s enough to make me a Heat fan (at least until the Warriors are worth rooting for: I’m not holding my breath.)Report

  8. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    Is LeBron James to the Cleveland Cavaliers as Brett Favre is to the Green Bay Packers? If not, why is the perceived ethical calculus different?Report

    • Avatar mark boggs in reply to Burt Likko says:

      I long ago gave up the detailed pursuit of sports (except soccer), but wasn’t the problem with Farve that he kept yanking the Packers along, acting like he was gonna retire and then popping back in at the last minute making it difficult for the Packers to figure out where they needed to draft or develope talent for the future, e.g., draft a quarterback thinking Farve is done only to have him keep going for two or three more years when they could have really used a cornerback?Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Burt Likko says:

      No. Lebron left in the prime of his career, Favre at the end of his. The Packers had drafted Favre’s replacement. The Cavs couldn’t replace Lebron, and suffered an historically bad season. Plus, Lebron left them live on ESPN. Cavs fans were piiiiiiissed. Favre was bad; Lebron was much, much worse, for the fans he left.Report

      • Avatar BSK in reply to Chris says:

        Skin hue?Report

        • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to BSK says:

          Maybe a small percentage. But if say, Peyton Manning decided to leave the Colts to play for the Texans the year after the Colts were within a few plays of the Super Bowl, the reaction in Indianapolis would’ve been probably close to Cleveland’s.Report

        • Avatar Freddy "Chopsticks" Chopin in reply to BSK says:

          It’s always fun to read BSK’s comments–inevitability, you just know he’ll pull out the race card. Always, always, always, it rears its ugly head.

          I’m pretty sure it was the KKK and Isray who snuck the Colts over the Indiana state line in the dead of night back in 1984.

          And we all knowSheets White Knight Art Modell swindled the Browns and their diehard fans out of Cleveland (again, in the dead of night) to move to Baltimore.

          BSK–OJ guilty or innocent? Mumia–guilty or innocent? H. Rap Brown–guilty or innocent? Rubin “Hurricane” Carter–guilty or innocent? How about the Central Park jogger beaten to within an inch of her life by a mob of 15-year old “wilders”. Unquestionably, she brought this on herself–because, well, ugh, hmm, because damnit she’s white and she exists. And the Duke “rapes” and Tawana Brawley “rape”, let’s save that for another day–I’m guessing you think white fraternity boys at Duke were guilty.Report

          • Avatar BSK in reply to Freddy "Chopsticks" Chopin says:

            What is the “race card”? Are we playing a game? I didn’t realize that recognizing the way that race (among a myriad of other factors) factors into our perception and reaction to people is a game. Well played, sir. Way to expose yourself for the ignorant ass you obviously are.Report

          • Avatar BSK in reply to Freddy "Chopsticks" Chopin says:

            And, if you were paying attention, I mentioned black athletes who did not get the same treatment as LeBron. So, obviously, I’m simply “playing” the “race card” and nothing else. Bravo, jackass.Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Freddy "Chopsticks" Chopin says:

            How about the Central Park jogger beaten to within an inch of her life by a mob of 15-year old “wilders”

            You mean the ones whose convictions were vacated when it turned out that they were innocent?Report

            • Avatar Freddy "Chopsticks" Chopin in reply to Chris says:

              Well thanks, Chris. You do know that I’m part of a quintet of Heidis, don’t you? We’re all of the identical kind as well.

              That gave me a serious chuckle–your comments a few back–“I’m not a liberal” or something like that.

              Just curious-what positions, ideas, philosophies, etc separate you from Liberals?

              Chris, I have something GREAT for you—have to run now, but you’re going to love this–no one has ever gotten it right so maybe you’ll be the first. PLEASE, NO CHEATING–that’s no fun! See ya soon!

              One question–this is embarrassing to ask–how do you italicize a word-I’ve tried every possible thing and nothing works. HELP!Report

  9. Your first few paragraphs made me think of a recent XKCD comic and the theme of that comic fits perfectly with this post…


  10. Avatar dexter says:

    I don’t know if the Saints winning the Super Bowl had any long term benefits for New Orleans, but it felt good to think that we could do something besides drown in a sea of bad government and poverty.Report

  11. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    Lebron isn’t really that much like Akhilles

    He’s here to stay?Report

  12. I don’t know if it’s quite as much as rooting against Miami as it is rooting against Lebron. If there’s one thing that the playoffs have proven, going back to last years debacle against Boston, it’s that he’s no MJ. He’s not even Robert Horry, Reggie Miller, John Starks, Steve Kerr, Joe Dumars or any of the other players that actually are good when the season’s on the line.Report