This is obviously out of date, since game 7 already happened, but I wrote before then, I swear.
Lebron James has been the most scrutinized, analyzed, and polarized figure in sports ever. You can argue with me on the ever part, but I’ll stick to my guns. James is the first basketball superstar for the digital age as Bill Simmons pointed out in his article on Grantland that Shane Battier, his teammate pointed out,
He sneezes and it’s a trending topic on Twitter. He is a fascinating study because he’s really the first and most seminal sports figure in the information age, where everything he does is reported and dissected and second-guessed many times over and he handles everything with an amazing grace and patience that I don’t know if other superstars from other areas would have been able to handle.
Though I was unable to watch his 45 point game Thursday night due to a lack of cable TV and sparse internet connection, I was overjoyed to see that he is getting praised, but then I stopped and thought ahead to Saturday’s game seven where, unless James equals or somehow surpasses that effort probably even if the Heat win, the media will do little other than destroy him for the next five months.
Most of this started with “The Decision”, where James infamously announced that he was taking “his talents to South beach.” Sure, he was criticized and overanalyzed before, but that moment left such a bad taste in so much of the media’s mouths that it caused this ridiculous spiral of over intensifying every single word, step, and form of body language that has come from Lebron since. And I’ll admit that I was caught up in it’s whirlwind. I went from kind of liking Lebron James to despising Lebron James, thanks, in part to what I still think a poorly handled “Decision”, but mostly due to the media’s influence.
But now, I sympathize with Lebron and I really hope that he succeeds (I think a subjective term in itself) because at this point, I think that it would much greater than any single achievement Michael Jordan ever made. Lebron James is a media guinea pig and I strongly believe that the media in combination with Lebron’s personality was the cause of his decision to go to Miami. If there is one thing that seems evident from Lebron’s personality, having not come close to actually meeting the guy in person, it’s that he wants to be liked. You can see it with how he came in to the league, embracing everyone’s excitement that he was the next big thing, to how he handled his teammates in Cleveland; they always looked like they were having fun as he was always leading elaborate handshakes, chest bumps, etc.
Because he is the first superstar of the digital age, he was the first superstar to constantly here from the media what “we” want from him, nonstop from the media and media-influenced public alike (see Twitter, Facebook). He listened to talking heads as they said things like, “if he doesn’t win multiple championships his career will be a complete failure” (I paraphrased this quote from memory). And so, he decided to join Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh for a super team in Miami because that was the best path he saw to make everyone happy. It was, to him, showing everyone that he doesn’t care about anything but winning championships – a quality that Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant have been repeatedly praised for. But when his “Decision” backfired on him, something changed in him as well as the media. Everyone has always wanted Lebron James to be better than Jordan, but those same people measure “better” only by championships.
But it’s much more complicated than that.
Lebron James has been put in a different situation than Michael Jordan and there are many more factors than the ambiguity of the word “greatness” that play into winning multiple championships.
All of last season, he seemed confused and somewhat scared because of the intense backlash he was receiving, which over time led to – as far as I can tell – a period of maturation which has continued through Thursday’s game six. He seems to no longer care what people think about him and there are reports of him shutting himself off to the media entirely throughout this postseason (I think the best thing he could have ever done). And so, whether the Heat win game 7 or not, whether Lebron has another monster game or not, we should just stop and enjoy what happens, and this is what we should have been doing all along. Because considering the scrutiny, I think Lebron has handled the media and all its repercussions strikingly. Media personalities and so called “experts” should not be spending their time talking about what Lebron “needs to do” to be better, or petty criticisms like how he sometimes looks like he’s having too much fun out there, etc. The media should not be creating news and opinions and I think this applies to much more than just Lebron James and sports.