Most sports comedies start with some sort of historical context, either real of fictional, dealing with some sort of tragedy or woe that has befallen a team or city. Then the team gets together and commits a series of blunders and near successes. Then after some magical moment, of either forced racial harmony or the emergence of a collective enemy to rally against, the team begins to play well. In a series of montages, with some humor, the team begins to play great with each member showcasing the specific talent that they had shown potential for all along. By the conclusion of the movie there is some obstacle that the team must overcome and thanks to some clutch performance the team achieves their goal and has a big celebration. Major League is the best example of this, both because it follows the formula perfectly and for extra irony, took place in Cleveland, the city Lebron James left.
With the conclusion of the NBA Finals last night it became clear to me that the Miami Heat’s season was literally the reversal of a sports comedy. And LeBron James was the star.
Before examining the most fascinating story line in the NBA since Magic Johnson announced that he had HIV, some credit needs to be given to the Dallas Mavericks. And me. I had had a big debate with Knick fan friends about the future of the NBA. They all panicked with the advent of the Big 3 in Miami and declared that the NBA was now exlusively a superstar arms race. Ignoring teams like the 2003 Spurs and the 2004 Detroit Pistons, my friends assured me that the Knicks, built around Amar’e Stoudemire with a slew of potential super role players could not compete in the NBA and that the acquisition of Carmelo Anthony for half of their roster was necessary. What followed was the disappearance of Amar’e Stoudemire and an early exit for the NY Knicks. If one team has the two best individual players (Wade and Lebron) in the game it makes no sense to try to out-star power them. The Mavericks have proven that the Hakeem Olajuwon/early Tim Duncan model can work. Get a dominant superstar and build super role players around him. This is a great tribute to Dirk Nowitzki’s will and talent and a relief to NBA fans who were afraid that the league would automatically become 6 super teams and a bunch of teams wasting their time. But back to the anti-sports comedy.
The Beginning Is The End
So after The Decision, which apparently now outranks OJ murdering his ex wife and a waiter as the worst crime ever committed by an athlete if one reads the Twitter feeds of most basketball fans, the Heat had a celebration in front of their fans in Miami. This was obviously premature being that it was the first, rather than the last, thing they did as a group (the Big 3 at least). By the way, if you Google “The Decision,” the first result is Lebron James’ announcement. The second is “the decision to drop the atomic bomb.” This could not more perfectly illustrate America’s misplaced priorities and anger towards Lebron.
Tough Finish Is Tough Start Instead
The Heat went 9-8 in their first 17 games, much to the glee of most NBA fans. In the proper order of a sports comedy this would be the tense finish, barely eeking out a victory in the end. Instead they struggled to open the season and despair seemed to be reigning in Miami. Dwayne Wade was injured (sports comedies often have a late injury that forces everyone else to step up their game, so naturally the reverse has an early injury), which also led to their early struggles.
The Success Montage
This part of the film would basically last from late December to the beginning of June. It would show the Heat rolling, there might be some comedy clips of Joel Anthony hitting free throws, as the audience laughs and says, “Hahahaha – even THAT guy is doing work!” LeBron and Wade would provide oohhh and ahhhhh moments for the audience. The only difference is that in the sports film the montage would start with a big win against Dallas and then end with a thrashing of the champion Lakers, leading to the tense, final third of the movie. Instead, this montage began with a Christmas win against the Lakers and finished with a solid win against the Mavericks in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
The Rick Vaughn In Reverse Moment
In the aforementioned Major League, a major turning point for the Indians is when their talented, but erratic pitcher, Rick Vaughn, finally learns that he needs glasses. From that moment on, he meets his potential and dominates. But before that moment he is a bumbling idiot and it is not clear why. That was LeBron James in the last three games of the playoffs. It was an inexplicable display on par with Vaughn, who could throw 100mph, but was nowhere near the plate. Whether you hate him or love him, the fact is Lebron had delivered tremendous performances both consistent and clutch for the first three rounds of the playoffs. He even played well in the first three games of the NBA Finals. And then, in this reverse sports comedy, he lost his metaphorical glasses. It did not look like someone quitting consciously. It looked more inexplicable. Like someone stole his soul. Meanwhile the last three games became worse and worse displays by the Heat that would have been comedic if they weren’t so sad. Too many passes, too much Mario Chalmers, too much celebrating by Deshawn Stevenson (in a sports comedy a doofus like Stevenson would open the movie talking garbage and then get served late in the movie or at least during the heroic montage part), Dwyane Wade dribbling off his foot, Chris Bosh crying (hey at least he cares), etc.
The Historical Tragedy Is Epilogue, Not Prologue
I have maintained throughout this whole Heat spectacle, but I wanted Lebron to stay in Cleveland. Everyone likes the hometown hero story. And Cleveland has had it tough with their sports teams. And the city felt betrayed. I famously wrote (famous meaning to the 13 people who read the post) that I would root for Kobe this year, which was up until The Decision was unimaginable to me. But then three things happened. One, I watched Kobe again and realized he’s Diet Jordan and it is impossible for me to be a fan of a cover band with a rape allegation. Two, NY Knick fans, who surround me, were the most awful people in the Lebron fiasco. They were ready to suck Cleveland’s soul as long as Lebron came to NYC. But when he opted for South Beach, Knick fans became the most self-righteous bunch of fans in America. Hypocrisy reigned supreme in NYC. Much like the steroid scandal in baseball, America, led by the NY fan base, had turned into a bunch of people who could not wait to trash someone else. America is a bunch of cheats, whether it is on your spouse, your taxes or your math test, but show us some people living a life we are jealous of and we will annihilate them once they don’t live up to standards we don’t hold ourselves to.
As a friend mentioned to me yesterday, how many people have left Cleveland for better cities or better job opportunities that were born there? I know comedians from Cleveland. Could you not make it on to Letterman while living in Cleveland? Why not? There are clubs and open mics in Cleveland. Maybe you should have just worked harder. An interesting point in the very least. But Lebron got to go to South Beach with his buddies and live a dream life. So we went overboard. And that is the third thing that cemented me rooting for Lebron again. The hi-tech lynching that occurred.
Yes, I know I am using the term made infamous by Clarence Thomas in his 1991 confirmation hearings, but in this case it is actually true. Lebron did one thing that annoyed people – he had a television special to announce that he was going to Miami. He did not murder anyone. He did not rape anyone. He did not take drugs. He made one decision and handled it in a less than gracious manner. What he incurred (speaking to everyone not in or from Cleveland), however, was on par with the Tea Party’s response to President Obama. Following on Facebook and Twitter, people who I never knew even knew what basketball was or had ever made a comment about sports, let alone basketball, were all too ready to bash LeBron James and wish ill will upon him. It felt like a cyber posse that became a cyber lynch mob – people just seemed to know that they were supposed to hate Lebron. And about 1% of the comments I read were from people in Cleveland.
And this is not just how some people hate on brash wide receivers in football for being cocky (and backlash). This was deeper and angrier. Something about LeBron has made Americans angrier than they should be. Is it the fact that he has been blessed with gifts that we will never have and he doesn’t use them to their full capacity? That is what bothers me or at least perplexes me. I feel like watching Lebron is like watching a superhero who sometimes randomly decides that he doesn’t want to be a superhero. Is it the fact that a young, rich black man held the NBA hostage with a televised special, foolishly wielding his power without realizing the backlash that would ensue? Will there be the same hatred and bile for the whole league and the vast majority of white owners when they manifest a lockout next season? Or is that fair business? And to be fair the hatred is not just from white people, the same way black cops can mistreat black suspects. But it is unlike anything a white athlete has ever faced.
Even today, his post-game press conference remarks are being twisted and turned into some sort of “I’m rich and you’re poor” sour grapes speech, which seems to be a stretch to say the least. But maybe this is just part of the American pop culture playbook. We built up a high school athlete because he had incredible talent. Then we begin tearing him down as an arrogant Frankenstein that if true, means we bear significant responsibility in creating his image. Now all that is left is the redemption story. But judging from past examples, only history will view him more favorably.
That is, unless he shows that has learned his “proper place,” but after seeing this season in action and the vitriol spewed last night against him, hopefully he never learns it.