LeBron James and the Paradox of Our Superstar Standards
After taking the time to digest "The Decision" and all its incredible glory, it's become increasingly clear that the expectations we have for our star athletes are obscure, and quite frankly, hypocritical.
I will not defend LeBron James for the charade he put on last week. Almost everyone seems to agree that it was entirely narcissistic, unnecessary, ill-advised, and downright cruel of him to twist the knife in Cleveland's back after he knows how much turmoil that city has already endured.
In fact, I wrote an article on why I thought LeBron would stay and Cleveland and relied on the argument that he would never put the city that raised him through such an embarrassment via a live television special.
Not after having experienced firsthand how much bad luck and misfortune has plagued that city.
Not after he knows how much that fan base adores their self-raised (former) "King."
I was completely and utterly wrong.
LeBron came off as apathetic, lethargic, indifferent. Even when he was shown images of his jersey burning in Cleveland, contrary to what some have noted, I saw no difference in his demeanor.
He said that he "couldn't get involved in things like that" that it was about "business." As if he has no emotional ties to the city that he grew up in, the city that gave him his first opportunity to be a star.
He repeatedly mentioned how much he had helped the city of Cleveland, but rarely showed any gratitude for the opportunity that the Cavaliers gave him.
As many have noted, it was disheartening and nearly sickening to see such a misguided greater-than-life sports figure squander his credibility over something so frivolous.
Which is why I get all criticism about how he handled the whole event.
From a strictly moral standpoint, it makes sense.
But what I don't get is the criticism (aside from those living in Cleveland) geared towards the actual decision itself.
As sports fans, we claim that athletes are too often driven solely by money. That they don't care about winning or the fans as much as they care about the fame and the fortune.
But LeBron James decision, however over embellished it was, was a basketball decision. He wanted to go to a place that gave him the best chance to win.
For that, I can't blame him.
He took less money, he sacrificed his pride and his ego by sharing the spotlight with two other mega-stars, and he opened up the possibility of not being "the man" on his team for the first time in his entire life.
All for the sake of winning championships. I can't fault him for that.
But all of a sudden the criticism comes pouring in as to how James is no longer a competitor, how he's "copping out" by joining forces with Wade and Bosh, how he doesn't care about being great.
Excuse my language, but that's the biggest load of crap I have ever heard.
On the one hand we want to judge our athletes by winning. That's why we immortalize Bill Russell and hold Michael Jordan on the highest pedestal.
No one says, "yeah well you can't count all of Russell's 11 championships because he played with Sam Jones, Bob Cousy, and Bill Sharman (all three of which were on the NBA's list of the 50 greatest players in league history)."
And no one would dare discredit Michael Jordan for playing with Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, and Dennis Rodman.
But on the other hand we want to dictate the way in which LeBron James should win as well?
No star, no matter how transcendent or talented, wins championships alone. That's why it's a team sport.
That's why LeBron couldn't get over the hump with Cleveland. And there's no shame in the fact that he simply needed help.
Everybody wants to say that the great ones find a way to win anyway, but not even Jordan could have won a title with Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison as his supporting cast.
Absolutely no way.
People seem to forget that even Kobe Bryant was dangling on the cusp of chronic mediocrity when his supporting cast was sub-par.
With no titles post-Shaq, and nothing but a couple of first-round exits to show for it, Kobe got to the point of demanding a trade before management stepped up and brought him Pau Gasol.
Remember, Kobe has never won a title without Gasol or Shaq.
Just like Magic never won a title without Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Just like Larry Bird never won a ring without Kevin McHale and Robert Parish.
The list goes on and on.
It's hard enough to win a championship as it is. It's simply irrational to dictate how it should be won on top of that.
Everybody wants LeBron James to be transcendent (admittedly, because he brings a lot it upon himself) but you can't expect him to be a one-man team and defy the logistics of the game itself.
If he's on a championship team down the line, no matter how talented that team may be, you have to give him credit just like we've given credit to every other superstar who has enjoyed the benefits of having a talented roster.
But again, all of this is assuming James even wins a championship with the Heat.
People that use the "cop-out" argument seem to overlook the fact that it's in no way a guarantee that he wins no matter how talented LeBron, D-Wade, and Chris Bosh may be.
If there anything that sports teaches us, it's that any team can win on any given day.
So many variables are involved from injuries, to referees, to shots missing by mere centimeters.
LeBron has not guaranteed himself anything; he's simply put himself in the best possible place to achieve his goal by sacrificing his image and his pocketbook.
To me, that's the ultimate sign of a competitor: putting yourself in the best position to achieve success.
So while I may not like the way the guy went about his "business," I can't scrutinize his basketball decision, and those who do have to truly examine what it is they want from the guy.
And then they should examine themselves and ask: when did simply winning, in any way, shape, or form, fall short of our standards for today’s superstar athletes?
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