One of the hardest lessons I learned from the LeBron James situation in Cleveland is that I can’t let anyone have that kind of control over me ever again. The power that LeBron James had over Cleveland was granted to him by people just like you and me. Sure, it was augmented by Phil Knight and Nike, as well as enablers that worked for both Gordon Gund and Dan Gilbert, but ultimately you can’t be sold anything if you aren’t willing to buy it. When it came to LeBron James, Cleveland bought in hard. In hindsight, too hard.
For all the stupidity that occurred during LeBron’s free agency, it was amplified by the fact that LeBron’s actions forced us to look in the mirror and question ourselves. For a lot of us we didn’t like what we saw. Andy Baskin penned a long piece about how he felt he and the media had failed in a lot of ways in covering James. Even the angriest of fans, including the few that burned their jerseys, were more than likely redirecting a lot of their own self-anger and self-hatred toward LeBron James whether they knew it or not. In hindsight, for me and I think for a lot of other fans out there, it was self-hatred fueling a large amount of the fire. It is important to know that. It doesn’t let James off the hook as catalyst and key figure in the situation, but it is a far more balanced and intellectually honest view and baseline to begin any conversation on the topic.
Behind the scenes yesterday we got into some arguments about the whole NBA situation. The crux of the argument was that among the NBA die-hards at WFNY, this NBA finals has been some of the finest basketball and pageantry the sport has ever seen, regardless of pretense. For the NBA die-hards at WFNY that’s worth a lot. I’ve been watching the Finals too, but it isn’t worth much at all to me.1 For me, it’s really hard to see past the overwhelming pretense that a few of the game’s best players basically rigged the league and that it’s been pretty successful for them.
Some will argue that it hasn’t been easy. The Miami Heat have faced unbelievable pressure from being public enemy number one. Regardless of the fact that they put the target on their own back, it is undeniable that everybody’s been gunning for them. Additionally, they failed to finish off the Dallas Mavericks a year ago. They were being discounted yet again when the Pacers were giving them a run for their money this year. Some will always wonder what would have been if Derek Rose hadn’t torn his ACL or this hadn’t been a shortened season due to labor struggles.2
Regardless, the facts look like this to me. The Heat formed a team with three of the best guys in the NBA, they’ve made it to two consecutive NBA Finals,3 and they’ve probably been favored in nearly every basketball game they’ve showed up to play since they suited up in the same jersey. You can laugh at the brashness of the celebration they had counting up the number of championships they would win,4 but it has only been difficult for the Miami Heat based on those ridiculous standards. The bottom line is that they’ve won basically 70% of their regular season games and made two deep playoff runs in two years.
What does all of this have to do with not letting anyone have that kind of control over me ever again? Doesn’t this mean that LeBron James somehow won? Not to me, because I already own the conclusion.
My conclusion has been and always will be that three superstars in their prime teaming up to form a superteam the way the Heat did is bad for the NBA. To put it at its most basic level, it’s dumb. It doesn’t prove much of anything and it is bad for the league. That’s my conclusion regardless of the outcome of this series against the Thunder. I don’t care how great this series is from a pure basketball standpoint. I am watching it too, so I know technically, it is good basketball. I won’t tell you not to enjoy it, but I will tell you that it seems fraudulent to me and that fraud weighs heavily on top of it all.
To me it feels more like an exhibition. It isn’t ice skating in the Olympics where amateurs are actually competing. It’s more like the Ice Capades. It isn’t Andre Aggassi and Pete Sampras facing off in a major tourney. It’s their tour of exhibition matches against each other after they were retired. Why? Because to me the outcome of this NBA Finals doesn’t matter much more than when those two tennis titans set up nets on the floor of Gund Arena. By the time the Sampras vs. Aggassi tour was happening, the real storyline had already been written. For me, the LeBron James / NBA storyline here has already been written too.
If LeBron James and the Miami Heat win, then it just proves you can fix the outcomes of the NBA when you have guys team up outside of the normal system for team building. “You mean you can stack teams with more talent and have them be successful? Duh.” If they lose, then it serves them right for trying to fix the thing. Still, the appearance in two straight NBA finals proves the point of how dumb it truly is. They don’t have to successfully win it all for my conclusion to be intact. “Hey look how badly we can screw with the competitive landscape of an entire sport! Wheeee!”
I don’t blame NBA die-hards for hating my line of thinking. They’re on Twitter talking it up, looking for superlatives and highlights for the mental montages of all-time NBA moments. In a way I’m trying to write off the very thing that they love so much. I don’t want to take anything away from anyone else, but I also can’t just look at it that way anymore. It’s my defense mechanism and I’m entitled to it. It could be worse though, right? I’m dispatching those defense mechanisms in order to try and enable myself to actually keep watching the NBA at all. It would be much worse if I decided to give up on the whole thing and quit even watching the Cavaliers.
So, we’ll see what happens tonight. The outcome doesn’t matter much to me.5 The story has already been written enough that I have my conclusion. Will I ever buy into the NBA again after such a poor experience the last time? Sure. I never sold out of the Cavs themselves anyway, but I guarantee it will be a much more modest purchase with tempered expectations no matter how big the sales pitch might be.
Has it always been this complicated to be a sports fan?
(Picture: Finals logo from NBA.com)