LeBron James: The NBA's Anakin Skywalker

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LeBron James: The NBA's Anakin Skywalker
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Rise, Darth James, rise.

Note: There are explicit references to the Star Wars movies in this article.  If you haven’t seen the films and are planning on watching them in the future, this might spoil it for you!


Have you ever noticed that whenever you’re really busy and cannot afford a distraction, you suddenly gain interest in things that would normally never catch your attention?  My floor is really dusty; I should sweep it…All my friends are taking that Facebook quiz to find out what Harry Potter accessory they’re most like—I hope I get his glasses!…I wonder what my great aunt Flora is doing right now.  I’ll give her a call!

During finals week, the most stressful and chaotic time of any college semester, my unlikely distraction was Star Wars.  I always enjoyed the movies, but I had never considered myself a true “fan.”  I have a limited memory of the original trilogy (though I know it’s lightyears—no pun intended—better than the recent prequels), but I understand the storyline more or less.  The only episode I ever saw in theaters was Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and I openly admit being deathly afraid of Darth Maul.  (Come on, I was nine!)

Anyway, one day when I was taking a break from the four essays I had staring (blankly) at me, I watched the “Weird” Al Yankovic music video for “The Saga Begins,” the parody of “American Pie” that pertains specifically to The Phantom Menace.  Before I knew it, I was in Star Wars mode. 

I read the Wikipedia pages on all the prequels.  I Googled “Does Qui-Gonn Jinn make an appearance in Episode II or III?  (His voice is heard briefly in Attack of the Clones.)  I found the YouTube clip of the final lightsaber battle between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith—and realized how it was about 10,000 times more exciting than their duel in Episode IV: A New Hope.  (Seriously, I know the characters are older there, but it looks like a battle over the last prune pie at the local nursing home.) 

This last move proved to be the most damaging for my work productivity.

Long story short: I spent each of the next two nights watching Episode III and Episode II (yes, in that order), finding that I enjoyed them much more than I recalled.  I still see the massive discrepancy between the new movies and the historic originals, as referenced by the hundreds of websites offering critiques (this is my favorite), but the prequels are very entertaining nonetheless.  Clearly, the biggest challenge (which many consider unmet on the part of George Lucas) was designing plotlines and character development around a story of which almost everyone knows the ending. 

In some ways, these new movies failed dramatically (the relationship between Anakin and Padme went from cringe-worthy to hopelessly awkward to just plain pathetic), but in others, it ties together pretty nicely.  (One of my favorite lines in Episode II?  Obi-Wan, after a dangerous cruiser ride with reckless pilot Anakin, says facetiously, “You’ll be the death of me.”  The allusion is fairly obvious but not forced.)

Anyway, the element of these movies to which I paid the most attention was Anakin’s (spoiler alert!) inevitable turn to the Dark Side.  After watching this tumultuous path culminating in the donning of the infamous Darth Vader mask, it became clear to me that the recent events revolving around one of sports’ biggest stars mirrors this stunning character pitfall.

LeBron James is Anakin Skywalker.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Everyone clears the area for the powerful entrance of a Sith.

Think about it.  James coming out of high school was drowned in praise and associated with limitless hope, both for the NBA and for whatever team lucky enough to draft him (which, of course, became the Cleveland Cavaliers).  Anakin was considered the revelation of the Jedi prophecy; he who would bring balance to the Force; the “Chosen One” (which just so happens to be the tattoo inked on LeBron’s back). 

Much like Anakin, LeBron had to train and practice and hone his unprecedented potential in order to become the ultimate force to be reckoned with.  After a few years (seven for LeBron, 10 for Anakin), the respective heroes were stronger than most or all of their peers.

But the pure physical power Anakin and LeBron possessed was framed within emotional weaknesses.  From the very beginning, the Jedi Council believed Anakin to be dangerous; Yoda sensed much fear in the boy, which, the wise Master proclaimed, “leads to anger.  Anger leads to hate.  Hate leads to suffering.”  There’s a reason Yoda was the most kick-ass Jedi who ever lived.  He knew what he was talking about.

Upon entering free agency in the highly-coveted summer of 2010, James was afraid.  He didn’t know what to do, and he only kept hearing what millions of people wanted/expected of him.  He couldn’t please all of them. 

Much like Anakin was constantly burdened by his fear of loss, first of his mother and then of his wife, I fully believe James was scared of his relationship with the Cleveland/Akron faithful who had always meant so much to him.  I understand his later actions did nothing to support this, but I think this was a major reason the decision dragged on as long as it did—and why LeBron never definitively indicated beforehand that he was leaving the Cavs. 

More than anything, though, LeBron was afraid of making the wrong decision.  He understood his status in the NBA and in the world.  He knew that the ramifications of whatever choice he made could impact everyone’s perception of him.  He was beloved, and he was afraid of how that might change.

So, as James so explicitly says in his Nike commercial, he went to his friends for help.  (“They’re my friends!”)  By teaming up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, he not only put himself in the greatest position (conceivably) to win a championship, but he also got cover.  James in Miami is still the center of attention among the Big Three, but their ultimate success or failure will be distributed among all of them.  LeBron’s decision is, by extension, the decision of Wade and Bosh, and that helped comfort James.  Although he took the brunt of the criticism, he had his friends to support him.

Connection to Anakin?  Well, his turn to the Dark Side was influenced (really, designed) by his friendship with Chancellor Palpatine/Darth Sidious.  In times of doubt, Anakin went to Palpatine, who soothed him, stroked his ego and eventually encouraged him to concentrate his power to overthrow the Jedi.  In Episode III, Anakin, terrified at the thought of Padme dying, pledged his allegiance to Darth Sidious because he promised he could save her.

It may not even just be because Anakin and LeBron went to their friends for help, but because of who their friends were.  In this case, the blame isn’t on Wade and Bosh—after all, who wouldn’t want to team up with the most talented player in the world?—but on the people helping guide James behind the scenes. 

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
Before LeBron turned to the Dark Side.

If nothing else, they should have seen the backlash emanating from “The Decision.”  (Seriously, how did they think people would react?)  Similarly, had Anakin heeded the advice of Yoda—who, in one of the most blatant examples of  “tough love,” tells the young Jedi to let go of everything he is afraid to lose—he may have ended up stepping off the dangerous path he followed.

Let’s look at anger next.  Anakin is one angry dude.  He slays an entire tribe of Tusken Raiders in a pit of bloodthirsty rage after they killed his mother.  He throws a hissy-fit (one of many, in fact) in response to the Jedi Council refusing to name him a Master.  He Force-chokes his own wife when he believes she turned against him. 

In every instance, Anakin feels hurt and decides to exact revenge on those causing him pain.

Revenge?  LeBron has a thing or two to do with revenge.  The guy, after all, took mental notes of all his critics.  Charles Barkley has already felt the King’s wrath, being reduced in James’ commercial to a failed role model who devours pink frosted doughnuts.

This brings up another related note connecting Anakin and LeBron.  Both are extremely arrogant.  It’s to be expected when being coddled and pronounced as the best thing since lightsaber-sliced bread.  But it’s an ominous sign when the supposed savior of the entire galaxy aspires to be the most powerful being in existence.  It’s also a bad sign when anyone speaks about himself in the third person.

As far as hate, this one is a little more subjective.  Anakin makes his hatred towards Obi-Wan pretty clear.  LeBron, on the other hand, doesn’t outwardly seem to demonstrate this most volatile emotion. 

Vengeance, yes.  Spite, yes. But hatred?  Not so sure. 

One could say he hates the media for chastising his decision and for debating it for weeks and months longer than they probably should have.  Or maybe he just hates the media for making up rumors of him being romantically linked to Kim Kardashian.  Or maybe he just hates Delonte West.

So that leaves the suffering.  Anakin, whom we can now simply call Darth Vader, contributes to the almost complete destruction of the Jedi, thereby allowing the Sith to regain control of the galaxy.  He also endures his own share of suffering, at the hands of Obi-Wan and some waves of molten lava. 

LeBron, meanwhile, wreaked havoc on the Cavaliers when he brought his talents back to Quicken Loans Arena.  Oh, and the fans booed him a lot, which probably ranks right up there with ninth-degree burns.

So what comes next for the two villains?  Darth Vader rose to power and proceeded to bask in his reign of evil (until his son came around, that is).  LeBron James is looking to spread terror of his own—across the rest of the NBA. 

Time will only tell if the Miami Heat, a.k.a. the Evil Empire, will reach the pinnacle of  domination with an extended run of championships.  Time will only tell if LeBron James has the last laugh—or, should I say, menacing cackle.  Time will only tell if this one-time hero is eventually forgiven and redeemed.

(Someone should tell LeBron Jr. to start working on that last part.)

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BONUS SIMILARITIES BETWEEN LEBRON AND DARTH VADER:

  • Both lacked a father figure in their lives.  LeBron James’ father was an ex-convict who left his wife, leaving her to raise LeBron by herself.  Anakin Skywalker was born through what was considered an immaculate conception and raised during his childhood by his mother, Shmi.
  • Both switched “teams.”  LeBron: Cavs to Heat.  Anakin: Jedi to Sith.
  • LeBron had his Cavs jersey burned.  Darth Vader’s suit was burned as well.

This article can also be found at http://canjet24.sportsblognet.com/.

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