One of the first boxing matches I followed with significant interest was Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Zab Judah in 2006. I think my love of rap music attracted me to the event that AllHipHop.com deemed “Hip-Hop’s Super Bowl.”
Judah’s fights abide by a familiar script: Against weak opponents, Zab dominates, presses the action and wins a blowout. Against stiffer competition, he begins strong but fades once his opponent steps up to him. He has lost the majority of his mega-fights.
In the fourth round, Judah hurt Mayweather badly, the worst that Mayweather had ever been hurt. However, after Mayweather survived the onslaught, Judah wilted and Mayweather cruised to a unanimous decision.
During his post-fight interview with Larry Merchant, Mayweather described Judah as a “frontrunner." Merchant asked Mayweather what he meant, and Floyd said, “He comes on strong in the first six rounds and then he gasses out.”
The term “frontrunner," defined in Floyd’s way, resonated with me. People usually use it to describe fans who root for winning teams but I like Floyd’s definition more.
Why? Because it gives me the perfect word to describe LeBron James.
If boxing were a team sport, Judah would align with his rivals rather than fight them. Zab’s hands are quick but LeBron beat him to the punch.
He is the NBA’s most talented player. He is also the NBA’s lead frontrunner.
Last June, I predicted that LeBron would return to Cleveland. Not out of loyalty or a desire to “finish what he started”—but because Cleveland offered a lifelong career without accountability.
You see, LeBron James does not like challenges. Never has, never will.
Forget building an empire in New York City (even though he teased it for two full seasons) or hooping in Jordan’s shadow in Chicago—LeBron is the type of person who uses All-Star teams in NBA 2K11 or plays Madden on Rookie. He was signing with whichever city presented the least amount of pressure on his shoulders.
So when he chose Miami, I was not surprised. I was just mad that I did not see it coming. It made too much sense. As Denny Green would say, LeBron was exactly who I thought he was—he simply found a scenario with even less perceived pressure than Cleveland.
But Nick, everyone hates the Heat! He wanted to take on the pressure by creating a polarizing “championship or bust” mega-team in Miami.
LeBron had NO idea that the public would collectively disapprove of his Decision. He expected to be lauded for his selflessness.
After all, he was leaving money on the table to pursue a ring. We ask athletes to sacrifice personal interests for the sake of a championship all the time. Rarely, does a superstar of his caliber ever do such a thing.
That’s because superstars of that caliber do not do such things.
Larry Bird once said that the greatest part about beating the Lakers was knowing how miserable Magic Johnson—his good friend—was feeling after losing to him.
Kobe Bryant ran Shaquille O’Neal out of Los Angeles so that he could escape the perception that he rode Shaq's coattails to three championships. He then won two titles as THE MAN.
LeBron had a chance to write his own destiny; instead, he writes “Chosen One” across his back. Until a tattoo artist learns how to inscribe his heart, the phrase rings hollow.
Frontrunners perform their best when losing seems impossible. So the Heat dunked and danced, and danced and dunked, and Round 1 was one big party in the M.I.A.
And as the Heat Express picked up steam, they cruised past Boston and embarrassed Chicago. With his boys alongside him, LeBron was in his comfort zone. Things were easy.
LeBron James likes easy. He likes dancing with Dwayne Wade in front of the Dallas Mavericks’ bench after Wade drills a three-pointer for a 15-point lead with 7:14 remaining in Game 2.
This was easy. This was precisely why they created this de facto intramural team in the first place.
Then a funny thing happened. Dallas woke up.
“All season long when the Heat experienced adversity, it took several games for the team to snap out of its funk. The adversity, the depression lingered. The Heat reflected James. Boston and Chicago failed to hit Miami in the mouth and force James, Wade and Bosh to question themselves and Spoelstra. Dallas didn’t.”
Zab Judah loves shooting his left uppercut through the middle—until the moment he eats a flush lead right hand in return. After that, he plays hot potato behind the three-point line.
Playing hot potato behind the three-point line is even easier than dancing around giddily with Wade. For as much as LeBron likes things going his way, he equally dislikes forcing things to go his way.
So he didn’t. Dallas punched him in the mouth and the 2011 Miami Heat went to sleep.
In some ways, I feel sorry for LeBron.
Despite the tough-guy act and dopey press conference quotes, he never wanted this. The poor guy just wants to be liked. LeBron recognized that these days, greatness is measured in rings so he tried to cut the line a little.
To far less fanfare, Dirk Nowitzki had the same chance to cut the line this summer. Like LeBron, Nowitzki accepted less money to play where he wanted. Unlike LeBron, he brought home a championship.
Dirk is the king of the 2010 free-agent class. If you swapped him and James, Miami cruises to the title.
LeBron has become a tragic figure—a cautionary tale of enablement and entitlement. He is a king with no crown—king with no crown. Not even Lady Gaga is still in love with this Judas anymore.
In Miami, he is Alex Rodriguez to Wade’s Derek Jeter. The rest of the country thinks he is a joke. His supporters consist of his mother, his girlfriend and contrarians.
Wait, scratch that—only the contrarians remain.
Much like LeBron predicted, I woke up Monday morning and I had the same life that I had before I woke up on Sunday. I woke up with the same personal problems that I had on Sunday.
But guess what, LeBron? In spite of all that, your performance was still pathetic enough to make me laugh.
Do you want to know how many times?
And not seven…