I must face the fact, of course that Public Opinion is not so unanimous as I would like to think. There are issues at stake, but as too often happens, we are apt to look to men as symbols rather than to the issues themselves. – Oakley Hall, Warlock
There are a variety of reasons we watch sports. The spectacle. The athleticism. The pleasure of having your expectations met, or not. But mostly we watch because of the stories. The stories bring us together allowing us to speculate about what will happen and reminisce about what did happen. We love heroes. And we love villains.
We also love figuring out which one Lebron James might be. As we watch him excite, surprise, disappoint and frustrate us, each of us alone–including Lebron, himself–must decide.
2010 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals Game 5:
In the 2010 playoffs, Lebron James was still in Cleveland and finished the NBA regular season with the best record at 61-21. Lebron was the MVP, was on the best team, and seemed destined to finally win his first championship. Then, inexplicably, he didn’t show up for one of the biggest games of his life. For more on this game, check out Bill Simmons’ running diary of the game, which gives a great sense of the weird mixture of emotions Lebron produces in fans. He also describes Lebron at one point as looking like “he just caught a whiff of a decomposing body.”
One of the possible explanations for Lebron seeming distracted in his game 5 performance is, well, that he was distracted. He was set to be the most sought after free agent in the history of the NBA. Would he stay in his hometown, or would he flee to the larger media markets of New York, LA, or Chicago? Instead he chose to put on one of the most narcissistic spectacles ever produced.
Miami Heat Welcome Party:
The Decision let us know that winning was not as important to Lebron as playing with his friends. Granted, Lebron’s friends are 2 of the best players in the NBA, but it still didn’t feel right. Less than a week after The Decision, Lebron James, Chris Bosh, and Dywane Wade were introduced to fans in Miami in a ceremony complete with forklifts, smoke machines, and a guarantee of “not one…not two…not three…not four…not five…not six…not seven” championships.
What Should I Do:
When the season finally began, Lebron and Nike released a commercial directed at both his fans and his haters. The message: What should I do? The implication: No matter what I choose, someone will be pissed. So he asks: “should I accept my role as the villain?”; “should I be a championship chaser?”; “Should I really believe I ruined my legacy?”
However, this catalog of roles he runs through is as much for his benefit as it is for us. We didn’t know who we wanted him to be. And he didn’t know either.
NBA Finals Postgame:
As it turned out, Lebron made it to the NBA Finals, but, for the second time in his career, he lost. We wanted to hate him. We wanted to see him lose. And he did.
We wanted him to be the villain, but he refused the role. Finally, we realized we hated Lebron not for leaving Cleveland, but we hated him for his refusal to choose a role and be the symbol we are so desperate for him to be.