The Departed (Part 1 of 3)
OK, I was going to do one big piece on Lebron skipping town to go to Miami, but each aspect of the story got so big that I had to split it up. Here’s part one, where I explain why a lot of us basketball fans got pissed off at him leaving Cleveland like he did. Now before I get started, let me say that whatever I think of his choice, he had every right to make it.
It’s his life, and I can’t blame for wanting to spend at least half the year in South Beach with two of his best friends playing basketball, and possibly winning a few rings in the process. Now if his two friends were a couple of bums, that would be a different story. But they’re not, as we know. It’s also no disgrace to decide he’d rather be a super powered Robin than Batman. I don’t like it, but it’s his right to do so. He’s not Jack the Ripper, folks; let’s try to keep it in perspective just a little. Yes, the hour long special was really dumb. You’ve all heard the boyfriend-girlfriend analogy by now, so I won’t rehash it. The free agency courting period, which we all know now to be a farce, was a necessary evil; some facade had to be put up to avoid charges of tampering or collusion. It is what it is. OK, now on to the show…
Part One: Why I (and a lot of other fans) Got Mad
He started out as King James, then became known as the Chosen One, and know he’s being called……a punk, a frontrunner, a false prophet, a Benedict Arnold, and a lot of other things. The billboards have been taken down in Cleveland, and the jerseys are being set ablaze. A man once considered the best player in the league, who was the most popular, is now a villain and hated all over. The people who said he was better than Kobe are now trying to disavow that claim, feeling like they were played for suckers by a pretender to the throne. I myself have thrown a few labels his way while I hashed this whole thing out. I called him a frontrunner back when he gagged in game five against the Celtics, and when he first said he was going to Miami, I threw him in with A-Rod like a lot of other people did. Skilled beyond anyone else of his era, maybe any era, but choosing to deny his potential and accept being a sidekick. I imagined Bruce Wayne creating the batsuit, batmobile, and everything else, only to go to Metropolis and ask Superman if he needed some help instead of staying in Gotham City to deal with things there. That’s what it felt like to me, that a man with the tools to be the greatest ever was saying that he’d rather not take his skills as far as they could possibly go. Every unathletic, non jumping, slow footed, amateur hour ready ballplayer (like me) is just unhinged at the idea that a guy who can do everything I wish I could is simply choosing not to. And that just sucks.
I didn’t see Magic jump center in the Finals, but I did see MJ’s championship years from start to finish. So I saw all the games where he overcame adversity seemingly by force of will, or where he came out and crushed anyone who was even considered to be in the conversation with him as best in the league. I remember how he made anyone who had to the audacity to claim Clyde Drexler was close to him look like a total fool, or how he dealt with Karl Malone’s MVP victory in 1998. I saw how he pushed those Bulls teams to greatness, and how he never lost a series to a team he was favored against. We got to see someone take their God-given abilities and get the absolute maximum out of them.. There actually were players as athletic as Jordan, but he kicked everything up a notch and surpassed them all. Lebron was supposed to be better than that; he is physically superior to Mike and not far behind him skill-wise. Imagine a 6-foot-9 Jordan, with the same athletic ability and end-to-end speed. That’s what Lebron was supposed to be. But he chose not to be that; he’d rather be Scottie than MJ.And that pisses a lot of us off because we treat sports like we do other forms of entertainment; we have certain narratives we want to see play out, and when they don’t go that way we get mad. James was supposed to be Luke Skywalker (or King Arthur or any other protagonist from adventure movies), facing the challenge that was laid before him despite his own reservations. That’s what we wanted. When he decided he’d rather be something else, we were aghast that he would turn it down like that. It just doesn’t compute.
The fact that he does want to win makes it even more confusing. It would be one thing if he was just a total slacker and didn’t care. We’d just call him another potential wasting bum and get on with our lives. It’s hard to get but so mad at those types because why should you care if they don’t? But Lebron obviously cares about winning, it’s just that he prefers a different path to a ring than the one we wanted him to take. After learning about Magic (beyond what I saw of his late career), watching Jordan, and reading about Willis Reed, Bill Russell and others, it’s hard to watch the most talented player in the league decide he doesn’t want to claim the throne, that he’d rather be Arn Anderson than Ric Flair. After watching a guy like Allen Iverson push himself to the limit every night even though he was woefully over-matched, it’s hard to watch Lebron throw his hands up and join some other guys after a few years of playoff adversity. Can anyone here imagine MJ going to Boston or L.A. in 1990 because he couldn’t beat the Pistons in the playoffs? I sure as hell can’t. So that’s it in a nutshell. Man up and become the player you were given the ability to be. You could be the best ever Lebron. Don’t settle for the top 20.
Next Up: What the Cavs did wrong