I don’t think I’ve ever felt like this before. Ever.
I am literally sick to my stomach. Like, want to go and puke endlessly in the toilet sick.
Miami is within a game of winning the NBA Title. That’s absolutely disgusting, if not disgraceful to the game. The Heat represent everything that is wrong with today’s NBA and then some. And what’s worse? People will tout James and Wade as terrific ball players – legends even. Except, what have they done?
I’m reminded of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator in which Joaquim Phoenix played a self-centered brat hell bent on claiming the throne. And when it wasn’t handed over to him in a beautiful wrapped bow (due to his negligence), he murdered poor Dumbledore 1 and took it for himself. That’s LeBron James. He’s not Maximus the Conqueror, but Commodus the spoiled, the arrogant. His performance tonight against OKC, while stellar, was overshadowed by the jersey across his chest which currently reads: Cop Out.
James is the finality of David Stern’s master plan which began with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, peaked with Michael Jordan, and hit the ultimate low with LeBron James. After Jordan left, the masses who clung to Jordan’s ass like needy leaches on a fat cow slowly began filtering away. James arrived in 2003 and was supposed to be The Answer. The nest big thing. Except he didn’t deliver fast enough. And so he fled to Miami where he now draws billions of viewers, all of whom are ardently waiting for him and his brood to rise or fall.
Aaron Sorkin couldn’t have written a better story.
The problem is, like most reality TV shows, or sporting events starring Hulk Hogan, it’s all a farce. The stars may play well and give the audience an impressive show, albeit one with all the emotional weight of a ping pong ball. James and Wade will win their championship, and it will feel like one of those pointless fourth grade graduations where everyone involved does their best to play a part (tears, hugging, diplomas handed out, hats tossed into the air), even though they’ve yet to achieve a damned thing. I’m sure if the Heat win, James will collapse on the floor clinging to the trophy with eyes full of tears while his teammates do their best to console him (or get in the picture) … the image will serve as ESPN’s new recurring visual to show off during their pre-show credits; a perfect mirror image to Jordan’s emotional breakdown after the 1991 finals. And it will mean about as much as a Michael Bay film.
You cannot compare such imagery. On the one hand you have Michael Jordan FINALLY reaching the top, having FINALLY overcome his opponents (notably Isaiah’s Pistons) after years and years of falling short. On the other hand you have a player who likewise fell short, but then gave up, and hopped on another train.
Perhaps that’s why this irks me so much. I’m a huge Jazz fan. I loved Stockton, loved Malone. Neither has a ring, and you know what? That’s okay with me, because they remained loyal; they fought the Jordan’s, the Kobe’s, and the Magic’s … they came up short, but walked off the court like men (and don’t try to compare Malone going to LA with LeBron’s decision – the Mailman was practically kicked off the Jazz in favor of AK and the new era, and went with the team that hadn’t won the championship the year before – his other choice was the Spurs – in a last ditch effort to snag that elusive title. Now, had Malone bailed to Chicago to play with MJ, or headed over to San Antonio to play with David Robinson … ) – as my wife says, “That’s why my dad and I prefer college ball. There are no trades. You go to one team and stay there. Some win, some don’t.”
I’m not dissing James, or Wade for that matter. Both are stellar players. But they should’ve remained opponents. In his last year as a Cavalier, I actually started cheering for LeBron. I felt he’d paid his dues and deserved to trump Boston (another perfectly molded dynasty) and clutch the Larry O’Brien trophy … except he fled for the hills and implemented Plan C (if you can’t beat them, then join a team that can).
I blame the press, the media, ESPN, Sports Illustrated. Everyone who build LeBron’s image to unimaginable heights before he entered the league, then tore him down until he had no other choice but to stop, drop and roll.
This series may not be over. The Thunder may show poise in Game 5 (and stop making stupid turnovers), Westbrook may mature into the player he will be in the near future, and Fisher may start playing like he does against the Jazz … but it’ll take a miracle for Scott Brooks’ team to trump the forces of evil.
There was a time when players worked hard. Guys like Larry Bird fought against guys like Magic Johnson and didn’t stop playing until they won … They were the old school guys who rode around on buses, threw fists, drank beer, and worked hard. And we, the fans, looked up to them and mirrored their work ethic. Nowadays those men have been replaced by boys who want greatness to fall on their lap (right next to their X-Box controller). They abuse their fame, dismiss their fans, and spend far too much time purchasing high priced automobiles, or ridiculous eye wear. They’ve turned what used to be a gloriously competitive sport into something akin to Dancing with the Stars, replete with ample doses of flopping, mock heroics, and over dramatized injuries. (And in this economy, where people struggle to make ends meet, what kind of example is that?)
Unfortunately, I’ll still be there watching Thursday (hoping for an upset). And I’ll be there next year. And the year after that. And the year after that. The game has changed, but there are still moments when you see that old, grungy reflection through all the over polished BS. It’s still basketball, and still the world’s greatest game.
As they said of Commodus once he entered Rome, “He enters Rome like a conquering hero. But what has he conquered?”
The same could be said of James.