I hated “The Decision” just as much as anyone else… if not even a little more.
My favorite pro athlete as a child (and still to this day) was the NHL’s Steve Yzerman, an elite 2-way center who transformed himself from a prolific scorer to one of the most well rounded players in the history of the sport over the course of a long, hall of fame career including multiple rings and countless all-star selections, awards and accolades. He also did it with one team from start to finish… a feat that is almost unheard of in modern pro sports.
More importantly than his preference to stay a Redwing forever was his character; it wasn’t just a matter of fierce loyalty, it was also a function of measured humility, of gratitude for being able to suit up to play to begin with, let alone perform on a hall of fame level. When Yzerman was drafted by the Wings in 1983, they were known as the Dead Things. They were one of the worst teams in the league and routinely were losing more than three quarters of their games. He was drafted as the explosive franchise changing star and he did not fail to deliver putting up gaudy numbers as a pure scorer during the Golden Age of prolific scorers.
If that is starting to sound a lot like LeBron up until the point in which he bolted for Miami, good for you for being receptive to not-so-subtle comparative prose hehehe
Yzerman did not win his first championship with the Wings until the 1996-1997 season. He had already been in the league for a decade and a half. In fact, by the time he won his first championship he was really no longer the explosive superstar of the team. He was now the mature leader type who did all the little things you don’t see on stat sheets. His patience and commitment to his franchise and its plan for success resulted in a dynasty, a legacy for him and a feel good story for all pro sports.
LeBron James could have easily had that same legacy. That’s not to say that LeBron owed it to anyone to stay in Cleveland; he really didn’t. After all, it isn’t as though Gilbert was surrounding him with the talent and resources to win rings in Cleveland the way Ken Holland did for the Redwings in Detroit. LeBron played out of his mind, carrying a mediocre team coached by a decent coach to multiple strong playoff runs and a Finals appearance. But his supporting cast wasn’t enough.
Let’s be very clear: leaving Cleveland isn’t his indictment. It was how he did it. The decision. The show. The bravado. The excuse that the self-awareness that all truly special athletes/artists/performers must have in order to be epic justified it. Instead, it was awkward, immature and ultimately divisive.
“The Decision” made the pursuit of a championship ring a side story, becoming such a distraction that every sign of struggle or failure, no matter how trivial, snowballed into a media avalanche of hate. Then when the Heat reached the finals just to lose to the Dallas Mavericks, the avalanche landed squarely on LeBron’s head with such a thunderous THUD that it could be heard across the blogosphere in the form of ruthless memes and the butt of many a joke
It is incredibly difficult to perform as a champion would when you are public enemy #1… especially if you are LeBron James and have been crowned King before you even became of age. It’s a pressure that has broken child-kings throughout history beyond the scope of professional sports. Heavy is the crown when weak is the brow.
But that failure against Dallas really should have been the end of it. His punishment was exacted. His heart was broken. His guarantee looked silly. He tasted defeat and shame. Tarred and feather, this was his trial by flame. And he truly arose from it a better player, a more complete teammate with more resolve, drive, focus and dominated everyone and everything en route to the finals. There were moments this past postseason when LeBron appeared to be in some sort of idiot savant glass box, detached from the world around him, a sentient being in a matrix of hater apparitions. He’d drive to the hole, use his superior size and strength to overpower smaller defenders and destroy the bigger ones with his quickness. He kept getting fouled and finishing and getting fouled and finishing. His aggression was so ridiculous that he started to attract double and triple teams at an alarming rate leaving a team chock full of sharpshooters open so often, they’d have to be total noobs not to eventually find a rhythm over the course of four playoff series.
And by the time it mattered most, say in the Finals, they were in such a groove that almost every time he drove, pulled the double and kicked it out… to Battier… to Chalmers… to Cole… to Jones… to Miller… to Bosh, even… they’d drain em. Over and over and over again. The Thunder progressively got buried under a barrage of jumpshots afforded almost entirely by LeBron James. All he needed was heart and last year’s public undressing provided him with plenty of it.
It’s easy to hate LeBron after what he did the move to South Beach. There’s something about people that are, for lack of a less cliché term, larger than life, that are aliens to our perspective… we need them to be humanized in order to relate to them and in order for us to accept them. The irony is that at the same time, we admire them for the complete opposite, for being completely not like us and yet we still want them to express all the same sensibilities.
At any rate, I’m putting the pitchfork down and I’m leaving the mob. Listen, there are all sorts of bandwagons and angry hater mobs that rally around a central figure to unload such a mass of attention/hate are really no different, if not worse. And at this point, he has done nothing but kick everyone’s ass and there’s really no indication that he won’t keep doing it for a while. So I’m stepping out of the mob as of right away. He got his ring. He did it by dominating on both ends of the court and without bravado and without any discernable character flaw. Pure determination, desire and power. You have to be a real jerk not to recognize it.
I have no expectation of him, neither bad nor good. If he challenges for another ring and gets it, that’s great. If these two teams meet again and KD (my favorite current NBA player, by the way) exacts his revenge and defeats LeBron, then he would have vanquished a great opponent and gained a great victory.
For now, the crown is as light as a feather. He wears it upon a brow no longer troubled, one hardened by nine seasons of expectations, criticism and lauding. Soon, the euphoria will subside and he will once again feel its weight, its expectations and work to defend his newly minted championship.
This time, I see no reason to believe he won’t wear it regally as was expected all along.