The 2011 NBA Finals have been a joy for diehard and casual fans alike.
In addition to the incredible finishes and compelling matchups, one of the more interesting things I’ve witnessed is the contrast in personality and attitude of each team's front man—Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James.
To me, LeBron is a symbol of modern America. He’s fun, flashy and energetic. He’s always surrounded by countless friends and cares deeply about what they think of him. LeBron is obsessed with his brand and routinely projects himself over any medium available. He’s been blessed with tremendous abilities and seems to succeed with minimal effort.
While many look to “The Decision” as the initial moment they started cheering against LeBron, I found the subsequent Miami Heat “pep rally” to be far more distasteful.
Watching LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh walk into that arena was like watching the introduction of a WWF match. While there were no unitards worn, the pep rally was filled with fireworks, loud music and confetti. If that display of arrogance was not enough, LeBron went on to say that he expected his team to win not just one championship, but at least seven.
How could LeBron and his teammates celebrate like that, when they hadn’t even practiced together?
LeBron clearly wants it all—the brand, the championship rings, the glory—and he wants it right now. He thinks he’s talented enough to just show up and win. He even stated at the pep rally that once it came time for the real games, "they would be easy".
Another attribute LeBron shares with many of today’s youth is his inability to accept responsibility for his actions.
If things don’t work out LeBron’s way, someone else is always to blame. We have clear examples of this from his days in Cleveland. LeBron shrank from the big moment on multiple occasions, but it was never truly his fault. He didn’t have the right coach, he wasn’t surrounded by enough talent, et cetera. There was always a scapegoat.
The characteristic about LeBron most comparable to modern America is his constant need for approval. Just as the rising generation seems to care more about what friends think than anything else, LeBron is constantly seeking reassurance and acceptance from his teammates.
A perfect example of this is found in a recent video of LeBron and Wade making fun of Dirk’s illness.
In an effort to paint Dirk as a faker and undermine his heroic Game 4 performance, the two are shown fake coughing and pretending to be sick. A few steps ahead, Wade leads the fake coughs while LeBron echoes the insult. You can tell by the look on LeBron’s face and the way he imitates the gestures that he wants to be cool, just like Wade.
In stark contrast to LeBron, Dirk is a symbol of Old America.
Foreign-born, Dirk came to the States for an opportunity he couldn’t get in his home country. He’s faced incredible hardship in his pursuit of the American dream but has refused to give up.
Following the Mavericks’ loss to the Heat in the 2006 Finals, he was derided. After he was named MVP and his team was upset by the bottom-seeded Warriors in 2007, he was embarrassed. Until this year, Dirk’s career has been filled with disappointment and early postseason exits.
Despite all of the adversity, Dirk has not lost focus. He continues to persevere and works hard to improve and develop his game. Hours before the start of each game he can be found with his trainer—the same one he’s had for years—practicing his shooting and preparing for the upcoming matchup.
Dirk has evolved as his career has progressed. He used to shy away from contact and get pushed around by physical defenders. No longer. He was once labeled “soft" and had a reputation of not stepping up during clutch situations. Not anymore.
In a way, Dirk has become the people’s champion. We can relate to him, because we’ve all had times in our lives when we fell short. We’re inspired by the hard-working guy who made countless sacrifices and ultimately won in the end. That’s why movies like “Rudy” and “Rocky” are timeless classics.
Heading into Game 6, Dirk finds himself one win away from an NBA title. One win away from realizing his lifetime dream. One win away from a storybook ending far better than anything Disney could produce.
Can Dirk deliver one more epic performance and prove to the younger generation that hard work, sacrifice and perseverance ultimately win in the end?
Let’s all hope so.