NBA MVP Spotlight: LeBron James and a Campaign in Silence
James, after all, is not only the hands-down best player in the league, but the top player on the league's best team. That's an impossible combination of gaudy individual performance and team-first deference, a bastion of offensive efficiency and defensive excellence alike—and, get this:
On top of it all, James is this season's most remarkable story.
We already know who the league's best player is. But the MVP award is a standing testament to the power of narrative (how else to explain the fact that Derrick Rose took the trophy home without being the league's best nor its most valuable?). At the risk of making this award-debating enterprise distastefully meta, I'd argue that the muting of James' story is an incredible narrative victory in itself.
The convergence of stars in Miami last season sparked several distinct criticisms. Some objected to the specific way that James left the Cleveland Cavaliers. Many rolled their eyes at the pageantry of "The Decision" and Miami's preseason parade. Some took issue with the idea that superstars felt the need to band together at all. Others merely felt like James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh had created a power imbalance that would ultimately prove detrimental to the league.
Some of these perspectives are more understandable than others, but in the end, it hardly mattered. Over the course of last season, the backlash against James and the Heat grew increasingly indistinct, as all of those unique angles merged together and were fueled by the obsessive coverage of the league's most interesting—and reviled—basketball experiment.
From there, James capped off an otherwise impressive playoff run with an inexplicable finals letdown, followed by an infamous and petty postgame snipe in an interview (per NBC Sports' Kurt Helin) after the series had wrapped up. The recency of the finals (as evidenced by the incessant—not to mention largely inaccurate—jokes about LeBron's failings in the fourth quarter) seemed to position the coverage angles for a recycle, and James himself appeared poised for another year in the black hat.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the 2011-2012 NBA season: An excruciating lockout offered a fresh perspective on who the league's villains really are, and James was left without the spotlight's harsh glow. From there, Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Jeremy Lin and Carmelo Anthony stole the basketball nation's attention, all while James and Company quietly rattled off their most fearsome campaign yet. James wasn't so removed from the public consciousness as to completely avoid criticism (never underestimate the ability of a massive group of people to reuse stale punch lines), but he's largely kept his head down, shrugged his way into increased self-awareness and played some absolutely phenomenal basketball.
James' narrative was supposed to be galvanizing, and in his most brilliant season yet, LeBron is somehow absent from much of the NBA's day-to-day coverage. Never mind that the Heat have looked absolutely dominant both with and without Wade in the lineup. Forget the fact that James is currently posting the highest single-season Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of all time, statistically besting Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain and every other ballplayer who ever lived.
All of that speaks volumes, but pales next to the unheard; there is simply no greater testament to James' magnificence this season than that all-powerful silence—the empty echoes where indictments and slights used to ring and a narrative dominance crystallized by omission.
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