Monday, June 13, 2011

James, Jordan, and Judgment Day: In Defense of LeBron

By Evan Trapp

As the Dallas Mavericks celebrate their first championship and fans of basketball can finally lean back and bask in Dirk Nowitzki’s legendary postseason performance one can’t help but notice the equally bright lights shining on the other side of the court. LeBron James, the demonized “Decision” maker, has once again fallen short of his assumed career goal of an NBA Championship. The man who provided us with the greatest basketball storyline of all-time will have to retreat to his “trusted circle” of yes-men as the taunts of fans will overload the television sports shows, radio airwaves and internet message boards for the following weeks and months.

As a fan of the game, I was rooting for Dirk. His postseason has been something that ESPN makes channels for. But still I held my breath. Because if LeBron could carry this team to two consecutive victories then he very well might be the next… the next… I don’t know. But you know who was on all of your minds.

James is not Jordan. We can all agree on that at this point (somebody ask Scottie now). And we probably could’ve agreed on that point a year ago. “The Decision” was essentially LeBron finally telling the world that he wasn’t the next Jordan. He told everyone who he actually was: a man who would rather play with friends than create enemies, a man who wants a one-hour special to express this, and a man who wants to celebrate this decision with a pyrotechnic display that would put Batista to shame.

"There's no way, with hindsight, I would've ever called up Larry, called up Magic and said, 'Hey, look, let's get together and play on one team,” Jordan expressed after “The Decision” aired, “But that's ... things are different. I can't say that's a bad thing. It's an opportunity these kids have today. In all honesty, I was trying to beat those guys."

This is the main argument against James summed up by the man James supposedly was to become. But James is not Jordan. James couldn’t win a title in Cleveland and even when he was accused of cowardliness and cheating he couldn’t win one in his first year in Miami. And people are now celebrating the fact that has been true the entire time- LeBron James is LeBron James. What more do we want?

I can’t help but think of all those loons that predicted that Judgement Day would occur on May 21, 2011. Didn’t we all think these people were crazy? How stupid and selfish did these people look to believe that our time on this earth is of such great importance that Jesus will make a guest appearance? There is always going these type of religious zealots who are so self-absorbed that they will chose to believe that the Resurrection will occur next Tuesday rather than face the day as it is. This clouds their mind and they refuse to believe that the Second Coming of Christ might not occur on a Tuesday or even during their lifetime. Many times in life people will selfishly think like this. If basketball is religion than Jordan is basketball Jesus. One is selfish to think we could have another one.

James is not Jordan. I mean, Jesus Christ, its time to take down the billboards.

Would the game get better if there is another Jordan or any player as equally dominate? Do we want that type of dominance or do we want to see a playoff performance like Dirk’s get rewarded with the ultimate prize? If the Heat would’ve won the series, Nowitzki’s story would be forgotten in a few months as the coverage would focus on how many rings the Heat will ultimately get. Yet that didn’t happen.

My single fear after “The Decision” was that the Miami Heat would become an unstoppable overwhelming dynasty, like the NBA Live team you created in middle school where you somehow got Iverson, McGrady and Vinsanity on the same team. You would run up the score and went the entire season undefeated, bumping Puffy’s No Way Out the whole time. “Can’t nobody hold me down,” your prepubescent, brace faced, white ass would scream. And the damn game was set on medium difficulty the whole time. What a sad scene. I feared Miami fans would become that white kid. (Note: this could be any white kid, not just me… ok, that was definitely me.)

But the Heat lost. The Mavericks showed that a championship team is not only top heavy but also filled with experienced overachieving players, hungry after years of never getting to the top. Here lies another chapter in the most scrutinized figure in sports. Sure, LeBron could’ve been the king of New York or truly lived out people’s Second Coming fantasies in Chicago, but we wanted that out of selfishness. And in the end, LeBron is still playing on an NBA basketball court. The Post-Jordan NBA has never been so intriguing. There has never been a more easily vilified team as the Heat. I love “The Decision” for the sake of the game. I never believed that James would “save” a franchise and thus remind us all of basketball Jesus. I didn’t want that because we already had it. Its LeBron’s time now. Whatever that may entail, it won’t entail absolute domination.

I’m willing to say that the people in Cleveland are the only people who should still be upset about LeBron. I understand this sort of crazy home team infatuation. A couple years ago Peter Stephens and I had a completely sober photo shoot posing with our recently purchased Brandon Roy Nike sneakers. Thank goodness, the photos of this event have been burned. I remember after Game 4 of the opening round versus the Mavericks this year (You know, the one where Roy looked like he did 2 years ago and scored 18 points in the 4th quarter), I texted several people “Roy hath risen.” It was a timely joke, made on Easter Sunday, but also somewhere in the back of any Blazer fans mind was this blind hope that this was actually true. That he had risen, become the Roy he once was, and would take us to the promised land. Anyone outside the state of Oregon would think this absurd. But I’m from Portland and I will forever think like this. I'm not from Cleveland.

So I ask of you: Do you really want to sympathize with the people of Cleveland for LeBron leaving them in such a fashion? I hope they never win a championship simply because it will be a great sports storyline. I have no personal connection to them so I view it entirely for the perspective of a basketball fan. A bizarre hometown infatuation with a player is one thing. A love for the game of basketball is another.

LeBron James is a great player and he will always be seen as such. He made a strange decision in a strange self-mythologizing fashion. He had a ridiculous welcoming party. And I loved it all. Jordan he ain’t, and I prefer it this way. If there’s anything this NBA Finals taught us it is that no matter what, if any lingering hopes still remained (admittedly, such as my own), he won’t be Jordan. His legacy is his own, and we are all still witnesses.


  1. I think that my distaste for Lebron stems almost entirely from his detachment from reality. He has terrible advisors that are basically yes men that have created this fake bubble around Lebron.

    I was happy to see him lose but I don't want to participate in the same kind of schadenfreude that the Clevelanders are feeling. I mean, I know that there's nothing redeeming about Ohio but these folks need to move on at some point. They remind me of the beaver fans that troll oregonlive and post garbage on any ducks related stories. Cliff Harris would be right to make fun of these "little brothers" too.

  2. I was just talking to a few people about his whole detachment from reality thing today. It reminds me of someone like Michael Jackson or Prince. A talented individual who has created a bubble around himself filled with yes-men. Their detachment from society doesn't necessarily make me dislike them. I am more fascinated by these types of people.

    With that being said, its only a matter of time before LeBron James sexually molests Macaulay Culkin.

  3. I enjoyed Bill Simmons take on Lebronthology in his retro diary. Theory B touches most closely to his detachment from reality. (And yes, I did choose the word "touches" purposefully to hammer home your molestor comparison.)

    Off topic - Grantland has been incredible. Maybe they're just getting the best stuff out in the first few days after launch and they'll slowly fade. But man, that's a site you could spend 3 hours a day reading.

  4. Very well written. Everyone is so desperate for another Michael Jordan, but who the hell wants one team to win 6 titles in ten years?

  5. Could not agree more. Lebron is one of a kind and lets stop comparing him to anything.

    As far as "The Decision" goes, no one recalls that he raised hundreds of thousands for charity for doing it. Who cares that he looked like a pompous, arrogant fool who likes to stroke his ego. It could be argued that 80% of atheletes in the NBA are the samy way (they just aren't good enough to make their free-agency a big enough deal to warrant their own "Decision").

    Cleveland sucks too. The decision to leave was the best decision he has made in his career. Americans leave their jobs for greener pastures all the time. Why should Lebron be deprived of that right?