Tuesday, June 14, 2011

06/14 (LeBron...Yes, Still) Quickie

A day removed from Mavs win/Heat fail -- and it was as active a day for good analysis of a single event as we've had this year -- and I can't stop thinking about LeBron.

Not LeBron, specifically, but more about the "What LeBron hath wrought" situation, the national frenzy of schadenfreude that he not only didn't win the title, but that he played so poorly in not doing it; the most direct reason the Heat didn't win the series was LeBron's late-game failings.

I think my position is fairly reasonable:

(1) Any fan is entirely within their rights to dislike LeBron, root for his failure and enjoy it when that failure happens.

(2) Many/most fans do not resent LeBron for leaving Cleveland for Miami -- although some might not have liked him abdicating the role of leading a team to a title, in hindsight he was never going to lead a team to a title... he is merely the most talented second-fiddle in NBA history.

(3) Where the resentment really kicks in is (a) The Decision, then (b) the Celebration, where the Big Three gaudily announced themselves and their intention to win many titles. At that point, how could you NOT root against them, then revel in their failure?

Here is the key counter-factual, the historical fiction that needs to be written: If LeBron didn't have The Decision and instead simply put out a modest press release announcing his decision to leave Cleveland for Miami, fans would have found the choice a bit ungainly, but without nearly the resentment of the spectacle of the Decision. If the Big Three didn't have the absurd pep rally and claim a stake to many titles, fans would have settled in to see if they can win their first, without nearly the glee when they failed.

It is rare in sports history that we can isolate the root cause of such a dramatic situation, but in this case, we can. Save for The Decision, LeBron and the Heat go through the season and the playoffs disliked, yes, but hardly loathed. Their failure cause for cheering, not jeering.

Then again, without the Decision (or, to a lesser extent, the Celebration), the interest in this Heat team -- which, make no mistake, was the engine behind the NBA's surge of popularity this season -- would not have been nearly as great. So the trade-off is that we wouldn't have cared as much, the emotional roller-coaster wouldn't have been as intense.

Some -- particularly in the media, which feels disingenuous -- might think that we would have been better off without the intense dramatics that led to the intense reactions of the past 24 hours.

That is entirely untrue. What happened over the past 36 hours was close to unprecedented in sports -- the Giants beating the Patriots in the Super Bowl was close, but lacked the laser focus on a single athlete; in that case, the rest of the nation was more rooting against Boston sports fans as a group, rather than the Pats players specifically, let alone individually.

Ultimately, I agree it is corrosive that this might extend another year... or two... or five. This past year -- this past month -- was so much fun for most fans, so cathartic. But if it continues for another half-decade, it will compound whatever LeBron's original sin might have been. I'm not sure fans will get tired of rooting against LeBron, if only because the expectation remains -- despite this season -- that he will eventually win a ring (or rings). But with such intensity?

I'm not sure LeBron going his entire career without a ring ever earns him sympathy from fans -- The Decision was that toxic.

Given the eventuality that LeBron will win a title, the healthiest perspective is to appreciate the national event that was rooting for LeBron over the past year and particularly over the past week. The feeling has a lifespan of a year. It will be fascinating to see if fans care as deeply about LeBron's failure a year from now (if it even happens) or if this was as intense as it gets.

If this past week marks as intense as it gets, I think it was a fun, healthy year spent. If the NBA is still dominated by fans rooting against LeBron -- for his failure -- years from now, his Decision will have had far worse consequences for us than him.

-- D.S.

1 comment:

Atta said...

Oh my god, can one Lebron article be written without the words "The Decision" in it? Sportswriters are referring to it like politicians refer to "9/11". Let it go.