Tuesday, June 14, 2011

We're All Eternally Saved Because LeBron Lost The Finals, Or Something

I'm chilling here at home, enjoying my three days off in a row that I get thanks to my new job. It gets boring, just like it would any time I had a three-day weekend where I didn't go anywhere. But I have to admit, the adjustment to squeezing a 40-hour work week into four days instead of five has been quite enjoyable. When Sunday evening comes and I know I'm off work for the next three days, it's a tremendous feeling. Those four work days seem to fly by. I couldn't do it without my iPod and the sports talk shows that I listen to every day. If not for that, I would lose my shit counting checks ten hours a day.

And what have I been hearing on those talk shows all week? How can LeBron James choke so bad? What's wrong with him? Why can't he perform in the 4th quarter of games? Was he shrinking under the pressure? It's really starting to piss me off.

For you non-sports fans, LeBron and the Miami Heat made it to the NBA Finals a couple of weeks ago, but thanks to their poor play in close games, they just lost the Finals to Dallas this past Sunday. They did not look like the same team that made it to the Finals. James, Dwyane Wade, and the rest of the Heat used smothering defense and seemingly unstoppable offense to dispose of their three prior playoff opponents in five games for each series. They played tight with the Mavericks in Game 1 of the Finals before disposing of them, then they wiped the floor for all of Game 2 except the last five minutes, when Dallas mounted a big comeback and stole the game late. Miami went to Dallas and promptly took Game 3, but the Mavs were able to win a very tight contest in Game 4 before opening up the tempo and getting as hot shooting the ball as I've ever seen a team in the Finals and beating the Heat in Games 5 and 6. If I were assessing blame for losing the Finals, and by the way, I actually watched each game, I'd put LeBron's share at about 8-10%. He certainly could have forced his way into the lane more using his size, and he could have stayed a little tighter with his man on D, usually Jason Terry, who just lit it up from 3-point land. But by no means was it mostly his fault that Miami didn't win. It was mostly Dallas was hotter than the sun shooting the ball, and no team maybe in the history of the game would have beaten them.

The criticism that LeBron has received in this series, and all season in fact, is unfair. I have to say that it's incredible how much hate and venom he's gotten for making his Decision to leave Cleveland last year and go to Miami via free agency. Let's assess what LeBron did in the simplest terms possible: He played seven years for the Cavaliers, attained free agency, and left to go to a team in a better position, in his opinion, to win the NBA title. He left via free agency, an act done by dozens of guys every single fucking year. He went to a better team! That's it! This became a crime of the highest order when, exactly? Oh, sure, his hour-long ESPN special covering his Decision live was tasteless. His term of "taking my talents to South Beach" was very arrogant. His public persona has been that of a man who seems to think that he owns the world. But he has. He has been The King in his own world since he was in his mid-teens. It would be shangri-la if someone who was a prodigy at an early age was humble and self-effacing so that we could feel a little less small when we see him. But that's not reality. The fact is, almost every single athlete at the top of his profession feels and acts more than a little entitled on a daily basis. I don't have a problem with LeBron's behavior or attitude at all. His ego and arrogance has been covered and dissected in public nonstop only because he's the best of the best. Most of his peers in the NBA are just as much a prick. But we don't know that because we don't cover them as closely because they're not as good as this guy is. In fact, think of the ballers in the modern era of "sports journalism" who have been covered as much as LeBron. Shaq. Kobe. Michael. Magic. Bird. Dr. J. Barkley. Maybe Rodman, who wasn't the player those other guys were but got an enormous amount of press because he's certifiably batshit. Tell me what they have in common. That's right, we can go through each and every one of their personal lives and find public shaming and shortcomings and instances of ego and extreme arrogance. All of them. This applies to the other sports and their "heroes" too, but I don't feel like going through the list. LeBron's no different. He doesn't even seem (admittedly from this very far distance) any more arrogant than anyone else, especially the guy he's constantly compared to, Michael Jordan, possibly the biggest dick in the history of team sports. He is just being covered as the best baller in the game today, which he is, and the expectations of the best baller in the game is that he should take out his cock and whip everyone with it anytime he wants and win games by himself. But that's just not his style. So, to recap--he's hated because people perceive him as selfish and uncaring about anyone else, then his game is hated because he's not selfish enough. Makes my head spin.

Oh, and the criticism of his actual game is weak. Again, he's not dominating the way his physical dimensions and basketball skills suggest he should. But everyone invokes the name of Michael Jordan when they criticize LeBron. "He's not mentally tough. Jordan woulda taken over those games. Jordan wouldn't let his teams lose without taking a bunch of shots." THAT'S NOT LEBRON'S GAME DUMBASSES!!! Sheesh. LeBron's obviously been learning a different way to play ball all his life. You know, passing, rebounding, doing things to help his team win other than trying to shoot every single time he touches the orange. In other words, he ain't Jordan. He's pretty fucking far away from being Jordan. And the media and other observers have no idea how to handle the concept of the best player in the NBA not being a guy who takes 30 or 40 shots in a game. The other wing players who have been as talented as him--Jordan, Kobe, and the others who aren't quite as talented but think they are--all loved to jack up shots whenever they could. He's a different player, period, more Magic or Scottie Pippen than Mike or Black Mamba. And that's not a bad thing. That's not a lack of killer instinct necessarily either. I get the feeling that LeBron wants to win just about as bad as the other greats, outside of Jordan, who in addition to being the biggest dick in the history of team sports was also the most determined winner in the history of team sports. LeBron just wants to win differently than people expect him to win. And because he shouldn't get to be the player he wants to be, people just throw it into the same "He's arrogant, he's selfish" pile as they throw his attitude, or perceived attitude. And one more observation from me about James's game, and again, I'm just an outside observer like everybody else--man, he needs to learn a post game fast. He seems to be hugely reluctant to play with his back to the basket and post up his defender. There was a point in Game 6 where the Dallas defense got caught switching, and Jose Juan Barea, a point guard who gives up almost a foot of height and 100 pounds of muscle to LeBron, wound up guarding him. I'm sure everyone thought the same thing I did, which was Oh shit, LeBron's about to take this midget right to the bucket! And what happened? LeBron couldn't figure out how to post him up without shoving him down, and he picked up an offensive foul. No excuse for that. I'm not pounding him and calling him weak and saying he's a fraud. I'm giving a legit critique of one aspect of his game. Can he win a title without developing his post game and his midrange game? Maybe, maybe not. But he's still the most gifted athlete I've ever seen, and I don't think he's going to be held without a title his whole career. Hell, they'll probably win the thing next year because Miami should be able to sign better players to surround James, Wade, and Chris Bosh.

I'm just baffled at all the hate and vitriol this guy and his team got all season long. How it became the worst thing in the world to band together with other great players and try to create a dynasty via free agency is a mystery to me. How it became acceptable for the entire city of Cleveland to act as immature as it did in the wake of LeBron's Decision is a mystery. How LeBron became the poster child for arrogance and entitlement, more so than the other professional athletes running around raping women and driving drunk and acting much more entitled than LeBron, is a mystery. There's something bigger at play. LeBron is filling a need for a national villain, a bad guy we can root against and feel good when he fails. Maybe this happens to the best player in a given league all the time. I lived in Chicago all my life when Jordan ruled the world, so I can't speak to how much others wanted to see him lose. We loved him to pieces in Chi-Town, but he was hated in some areas of the country, for sure. But I can't imagine it was like this. The only other "Best In His Sport" athlete I can think of that changed teams via free agency is Alex Rodriguez, and he got hated on as well, but not quite to this level. And for those who say that Mike wouldn't have left via free agency and try to take a "shortcut," I say: How the fuck do you know? Mike didn't choose to become a free agent before the Bulls were able to win their first title. If they had not put together the right combo to get Jordan a ring, who's to say that he wouldn't have bolted for greener pastures? I'd actually be willing to bet that he would have left because he's so damn competitive. He only stayed because the Bulls happened to get it right and surround him with the right pieces. Don't blame LeBron for trying to find an organization that knew how to put together a winner. Blame the Goddamn Cleveland Cavaliers.

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