On Sunday night, the Dallas Mavericks won the NBA title. If you’re a casual sports fan (or not a sports fan at all) you may have missed this headline because most of the attention was not focused on the team that hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy in victory, but rather on the team that lost.
Miami Heat superstar LeBron James is taking the brunt of the criticism, not only for his historically enigmatic performance in his first Finals appearance with his new team, but for ridiculous comments he made after the loss. You know, the ones that implied not so subtlety that he was happier and had less personal problems than any of his detractors.
The argument could be made that the criticism and attention that’s being paid to King James this week is overblown, the product of a 21st century sports media that amplifies the highs of professional sports heroics and digs the ditches to ensure athletes hit rock bottom. There’s certainly some truth in this, of course, but I’m finding it difficult to generate much sympathy for Mr. James.
After all, this is a man who couldn’t just walk away from the Cavaliers when he became a free agent. He had to turn his “decision” into a national spectacle and kick Cleveland fans in the crotch on his way out the door.
And when he joined Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, they couldn’t simply hold a press conference. They had to announce their presence with authority by throwing a monstrous celebration that employed more pyrotechnics than a KISS concert.
And during the infamous welcome party the Heat threw for South Beach’s Big Three, LeBron James spoke of championships; lots and lots of championships. Unfortunately, after talking the talk the King had a difficult time walking the walk. He only managed to score 17 points TOTAL in the fourth quarters of the six Finals games and regularly looked lost and lethargic on the court.
In the aftermath, non-Miami fans cheered his demise. Columnists and pundits crushed him from every imaginable angle. And the Twittersphere became an open forum for all the haters to rant, rave and circulate cheesy jokes at LeBron’s expense.
Yet despite all the negative attention, drama and psychoanalysis, I would submit that things could be worse for LeBron James. Much, much worse.
He could be playing in New York City.
There was a time not that long ago when the New York Knicks seemed like the frontrunners in the LeBron Sweepstakes. Long suffering Knicks fans drooled over the prospect of having the world’s best basketball player come to Gotham. They saw him as their savior; the man who could lead them to championship glory for the first time in 38 years. And they would’ve expected James to accomplish this herculean task despite a lack of talented teammates and horrifically inept ownership.
Now imagine if King James had lived up to the hype and gotten the Knickerbockers into the NBA Finals. And imagine if he then disappeared the way he famously did in the last couple of weeks. And imagine if his response to the criticism of said disappearance was similar to the bomb he dropped in the American Airlines press room after Game 6.
New York City is not for the faint of heart. It is unrelenting and unforgiving. Especially when it comes to sports.
Had the Shakespearean tragedy that was LeBron’s NBA Finals performance played out under the white hot lights of Broadway, the fans would’ve destroyed him. The same people who cheered his arrival and wore his jerseys would’ve spent the majority of this week coming up with new and inventive ways to profanely scream his name.
The media would’ve chewed LeBron up and spit what was left of him onto the back pages of the tabloids. Pun-filled headlines featuring less than flattering pictures of King James would’ve lined newspaper stands all over Manhattan and columnists would’ve eloquently deconstructed his myth and served it to him on a silver platter.
Recently, Alex Rodriguez spoke out on the need for perspective when judging LeBron James. No one knows more about the scrutiny that comes with playing in the Big Apple like A-Rod. His personal and professional missteps have been fodder for public ridicule, and few people in New York City have used any measure of perspective when judging his career. The Hall of Fame slugger has won MVPs and a World Series ring for the Yankees, and yet it’ll never be enough to overcome his past mistakes.
In a year of questionable decisions, questionable statements and questionable play in the Finals, we should all take a moment to give LeBron James credit for coming to the very correct conclusion that NYC was not the place for him.
It’s quite literally the least we can do.