Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Historic Moment!

Mark it down kids!

For the first time EVER, I'm breaking from my tradition of sporadic college basketball posts in order to comment on something that has bothered me for a long time.

That something is named LeBron James. Here's the thing--the guy fascinates me. I hate admitting that, but it's true. Maybe it's because the media and fans pigeonhole athletes into certain categories--Good Guy, Bad Guy, Mr. Clutch, The Player that CAN'T come through in a clutch, etc. In my eyes, LeBron doesn't quite fit into his assigned category--World's Greatest. I watch him and read about him (not religiously, but more than I probably should) because I just can't figure it out--SOMETHING here isn't right. I don't think that is his category, but up until now, I couldn't have told you WHY. But as I was watching the Bulls-Heat game last night, something finally clicked. I got it. And now I feel compelled to write my thoughts for anyone willing to read them.

Let me begin by explaining a little bit about myself.

I fell in love with the game of basketball at a young age. As a child of the 90s growing up in suburban Chicago, I watched the Bulls winning championships almost the ENTIRE TIME. I mean, literally from 1st grade until my freshman year of high school, the Bulls won all but 2 years.

Watching the Bulls' game wasn't a special event--it was just what we did. The NBA Finals were a family event. I can still vividly remember sitting in my aunt and uncle's living room watching John Paxson hit a game-clinching 3 against Phoenix and my mother jumping off the couch screaming, "IN YOUR FACE PHOENIX!" (To this day I wish I had a video of that moment. It was pretty epic.)

The day after the Bulls' won, my dad would take us to the store to get his "official" Bulls locker room hat and all of us the "official" locker room t-shirt. And for the record, we would ONLY accept the shirt the actual team wore in the locker room while dousing themselves in champagne. If the store we went to didn't have it, we went somewhere else.

To me, that team was the epitome of what sports was about. Phil Jackson was the ultimate coach, each player had their role and everyone worked together in a beautiful display of sports. And in that display, Michael Jordan was front and center--the ultimate basketball player. As long as Michael was there to lead them, it was okay. Even if they lost, you knew that Jordan had done everything possible to change that outcome. He would die on the court before he ever gave up a win.

As a naive little 7 or 10 or 13 year old, my perspective was a bit different back then. Now I know that Jordan wasn't perfect--he was, in fact, human and he was, in fact, at times a stereotypical celebrity. He fought with his teammates, he had internal struggles and sometimes made life choices that were a little scandalous.

But regardless of how my perspective of Michael Jordan as a person has changed, my perspective of Michael Jordan, the Greatest Basketball Player of All Time, has not. He is still a killer. He still wanted to win above all else.

The passion and excitement of Michael Jordan and the Bulls stayed with me my whole life. Watching the game's greatest player gave me an appreciation for the beauty of basketball. As a player myself, I came to appreciate it even more and appreciate athletes who had the abilities to play at a collegiate and professional level. It's a special game. It takes skill, endurance, teamwork, speed and dedication in order to succeed. Although I didn't invent it and certainly didn't change it in any way, I feel as though it's "my" game. I share it with thousands of people, but I feel as though I have a tiny, tiny piece of ownership. It's special. It should be honored. And respected. It's part of my duty to try and protect it.

Which brings me to Mr. James.

When he first burst into the national spotlight, I remember hearing about how he would be the next Jordan, how he would change the game, how amazing he was. Naturally, it piqued my interest because my Chicago-bias believes there will NEVER be another Jordan. The closest I thought we'd ever get was Kobe Bryant and as great as he is, I still think he falls just short.
Before this past season, I never had anything against James. I actually used to really like him--he seemed nice and pretty funny, he was a great player and he clearly loved playing the game. At first, sure, he wasn't winning rings, but that would come as he grew up and got experience.

And then his contract was up and the speculation which began years before increased 100 fold.

By the night of "The Decision" I was pretty sick of the whole thing...but the entire concept of having your own show to announce where you'd be going and the entire way it was handled just infuriated me. That, for me, was the deal-breaker. I lost all respect.

Let me be clear--I had no interest in where he chose to go. Most of us understand that the NBA is a business and essentially, James was looking for a better job. That happens all the time and there's nothing wrong with it. What I had a problem with was the fact that it was handled it so poorly.

Having your OWN SHOW to announce what team you'll be joining? Referring to yourself in the THIRD PERSON? For this girl, that says one thing: "I am so amazing and important that I command you all to watch what I'm doing. I am what makes the NBA and basketball great. It matters SO MUCH what I do that it should be a national event." Translated: "I am bigger than the game." I'm sure this surprises no one when I say for me, that is the ultimate basketball sin. I have zero tolerance for ANYONE who thinks their legacy surpasses that of the sport.

But it gets better! The Heat follow that debacle by throwing a party BEFORE THE SEASON with James, Wade and Bosh promising to win 7 championships...I mean, really? REALLY?!?! Why not just put a big sign on your back that says, "Please, Kick My A**"?!?!

So of course, pretty much the entire sports world is rooting for them to fail. As they should. These guys came together and in throwing that celebration essentially gave every single NBA team and non-Heat fan the middle finger. As the season progressed and the Heat struggled through games, Wade and Bosh and James made comments whining about how unfair it is that nobody likes them. Um, what did you THINK would happen? If you're THAT arrogant, everyone is going to salivate at the idea of taking you down.

And last night, as I was watching the Bulls-Heat game, I watched the Bulls scrap and claw and fight and bring energy and toughness and PASSION to the floor. I can tell when Derrick Rose decides, "we need this, I'm finding a way to score." They play with a sense of urgency that speaks volumes. The Bulls want to win. That's all it's about.

I don't see that in Miami. During the first half, James ran down court, pulled up and hit a 3. He held his follow-through for just a split second as he backpedaled down the floor and something in me clicked. I finally got it. LeBron James doesn't really care about winning. He just wants you to know how good he is. He wants to make dynamic plays that air on Sports Center and give bursts of energy that make you go, "DID HE JUST DO THAT?!?!" He knows that inevitably, his talent will lead to wins and since he paired himself with Wade, his odds increase. He can share the pressure and maybe get a ring, because if he gets a ring, then people will REALLY know how good he is. Because he's REALLY GOOD. And everyone should go see how good he is.
Lebron was a puzzle because he was categorized with Jordan, Bryant and Magic, but he doesn't belong there. I think we all figured that out long ago--but I couldn't put my finger on exactly WHY until last night. To be fair, he didn't ask to be put there. But his arrogant antics prove that he feels as though he's a cut above the rest.

So as the Bulls take on the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, I, of course, am not only rooting for the Bulls to win, but I am ALSO rooting for the Heat to fail. And yes, that sounds heartless, but the only reason I feel that way is because I want him brought back to reality. I want James humbled by the very game he's disrespected.

And I would love nothing more than if the team that made me feel this passion for basketball could be the ones to bring him back to earth.