I misspoke earlier today. And I thank those of you on Twitter who called me out for it.
LeBron James hasn’t earned an NBA Title, and he doesn’t necessarily deserve to win the 2012 NBA Title.
Kevin Durant also has not earned an NBA Title and doesn’t necessarily deserve to win the 2012 NBA Title.
The same goes for Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and Russell Westbrook and James Harden’s beard and Erik Spoelstra and Scott Brooks and Juwan Howard and everyone else who will be participating in this year’s highly-anticipated NBA Finals.
The only people who will have earned the 2012 NBA Title, and who will deserve to raise the Larry O’Brien trophy high into some June night sky, are the members of either the Heat or Thunder team that wins four games. That’s it.
The other team will have earned nothing but a trip to the NBA Finals, which is no small accomplishment but is still a step below the peak of the mountain. And sports are all about making it to the top of the mountain, not scaling it to a step below the zenith. Just ask the Buffalo Bills.
That said, I’m still rooting for LeBron James and, by necessary extension, the Miami Heat to win it all.
LeBron may be four very, very, very, very tough wins away from earning his first ever NBA title, but he has earned my rooting favor.
I realize this will flabbergast some of you. That’s okay.
I realize it may even upset some of you who feel so strongly about LeBron that the mere mention of his name is met with a visceral reaction that no expatiation of stance can persuade. That’s unfortunate, but it is what it is.
I’m also keenly aware that the universally adopted narrative, especially for someone from the Midwest, is that Kevin Durant and the Thunder represent everything that is wholesome and good about sports while LeBron and the Heat represent all that is soulless and wrong.
And that under no circumstances should LeBron actually be rooted for. Such a notion is preposterous, right?
Root for LeBron and the Heat? Root for the sacrilegious sultans of the Super Team? Root for the ultimate hypothetical champions to actually fulfill the first step of the most annoying and self-aggrandizing self-told prophecy in sports history?
Yep. I’m not doing it.
It’s not an easy decision, it’s not an obvious decision, and I reserve the right to alter it at any point during the series. Hey, it’s my decision and my rooting interest, so I can do whatever I want with it, and fans who don’t identify with a particular team should, I think, be open to rooting for the team or player who earns their favor.
So here is why LeBron, and by necessary extension the Miami Heat*, has earned my rooting favor.
* – This notion is so important I’ve said it twice. Why? Because I hate rooting for the Heat. I’m rooting for LeBron, so I have to root for the Heat, which means rooting for their fair-weather fan base and cheering for mercenary team-building over the more organic roster construction of the Thunder. That goes against my principles as a sports fan, but not all rooting decisions are as good-versus-evil, black-versus-white, “LeBron versus Durant” as the media would have you believe.
My Decision To Root For LeBron
I am rooting for LeBron, quite simply, because I am ready to see the most supremely talented team-sport athlete of my lifetime fulfill his destiny.
There is a lot that can be debated about LeBron James. Should he have left Cleveland? Is he “clutch?” Is he underrated? Is he overrated?
But here is a statement that I don’t think too many people would argue with: since the day a basketball was placed into LeBron James’ hands, his destiny has been to become an NBA champion.
It is the ultimate measure of success in the sport for which LeBron has been gifted so much, and anything less than at least one championship would be a colossal failure for the boy and now the man who has been known as The King since he was in high school.
Frankly, most of us have long expected multiple championships from LeBron.
The player to whom he has so often been declared, Michael Jordan, won six. As with the discussion of Kobe’s legacy, that sextet of Jordan titles has always seemed like an appropriate minimum starting point for argument. Once LeBron gets his six (assumed), then we’ll see if he can actually win more than Michael and stake his claim as G.O.A.T...or so the popular discussion, or at least thinking, and definitely the inference, has always gone.
But a funny thing has happened along the way to all of those inevitable titles: doubt has crept in about whether LeBron will ever get one, let alone two…or three…or, of course, six…or seven…
And that doubt has done something to LeBron, at least in my eyes.
It has made him less Superhuman Basketball King For Whom The Sports Seas Always Part and more supremely talented hoops human who has struggled with universal foibles we all sometimes struggle with: immaturity, self-doubt, indecision, handling failure, and many more.
The difference, of course, is that LeBron has had to deal with all of this entirely in public view in ways that only really Tiger Woods and maybe a presidential candidate could relate with, and it’s been this way since his was in high school. And he’s made mistakes. Big ones.
The decision to leave Cleveland is debatable but The Decision, his most infamous moment, isn’t. It was a colossal mistake. He’s admitted that.
Yet the shadow of that brightly-lit interview with Jim Gray is seemingly cast alongside LeBron wherever he goes and whatever he does even today. Some people may see that as warranted. I see it as being pretty unforgiving of a guy in his mid-20s who got caught up in a moment and did something he later regretted. I have to imagine the same holds true for the title counting at the infamous LeBron-Wade-Bosh press conference.
Do you want to have every impetuous decision you made in your 20s held against you forever?
There is no need to forget The Decision, or any other moment of megalomania from LeBron, of which there are many, but how about forgiving?
(Note: those of you in Cleveland are exempt from the forgiving part; I’m not unreasonable, nor can I relate to how The Decision hit you viscerally, so I won’t suggest how you should feel.)
My aim here is to build the foundation for why I’m rooting for LeBron by explaining why the reasons so many others seem to loathe him simply do not resonate as much with me anymore.
I’ve been thinking about this throughout the playoffs, though still keeping LeBron at arm’s length all the while. But reading this article by Brian Windhorst, who continues to know LeBron and understand the context of his every move the best, helped to put my complicated thoughts about James into a clearer perspective.
The article discusses LeBron’s decision to propose to longtime girlfriend Savannah Brinson and other “luminous” changes LeBron has made to himself in the wake of last year’s NBA Finals disappointment. It ends most appropriately:
As Pat Riley said at the start of this season: “There’s no sense in putting extra pressure on yourself. But when you get to the moment of truth, you’ve got to be relaxed. You don’t have to be living up to something you said.”
These words were aimed for James’ ears. By the time they were said, though, James was already fully into his attempts at amateur behavior modification. Whether or not it will ultimately work will unfold over the next two weeks, where James will be put to the extreme test yet again and his performance will be the ultimate indicator. So far the results have been strong, James responding with huge games in pressure situations during the playoffs.
Most important, though, is that James gets another chance.
“It’s been a journey,” James said. “It’s been a long ride. We couldn’t shortcut anything this year. We’re happy to be back in this position.”
This is a new, more humble-sounding, more perspective-laden LeBron James we are hearing.
Some people may look at his “we’re happy to be back in this position” quote as yet more evidence that LeBron doesn’t have the killer attitude that would be dissatisfied with anything but ultimate victory. To those people I would say, I think that is poppycock.
No, LeBron might not literally rip your heart of your chest to win a basketball game, like Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant legitimately might, but that doesn’t make their supposed and celebrated level of sociopathic competitive drive right and LeBron’s somehow wrong. These are sports we’re talking about after all, not actual do-or-die military combat. Besides, notions of “competitive drive” are nebulous and mostly hearsay anyway, despite the amount of breath wasted discussing them.
People look at LeBron’s past reticence to take big shots, and his inability to make some of them when he has, and see a weak-minded sheep dressed in wolf’s clothing who does not possess the requisite internal fortitude to get it done “when it counts” (since only the ends of games of count, apparently).
I’ll admit that for a player to go from the stratosphere of greatness LeBron already resides in to the next and final stratosphere one step up inhabited by only the greatest of the greatest of the great, he has to prove he can be as great and assertive in minute 48 as he is in minute 28 or minute 8; but his struggles to do this yet don’t cast some kind of perpetual pall on all of his other accomplishments.
LeBron doesn’t need an NBA Title to justify all of his other superlative accomplishments in the game of basketball; those will stand on their own forever, and even if he retired today he’d go down as one of the game’s all-time greats forever. The only question is whether his legacy will be more like Dan Marino’s or Tom Brady’s. If he wins a title, he’ll be the basketball equivalent of the two combined into one, and his march towards the rarefied Air of Jordan will officially begin.
And this is why I want to see LeBron James win a title this year, no matter how much I like Kevin Durant and the Thunder while loathing so much about the Miami Heat.
Why I Want To See LeBron Win
I want to see LeBron win because it is his destiny as the game’s most talented player of all time, and I’m ready to eschew the schadenfreude of watching LeBron struggle, and pay for his occasional immaturity, and be humbled, in exchange for the excitement of watching this transcendent talent become as great as he possibly can.
LeBron will be playing basketball for a long time after this year, but he is at his absolute athletic peak right now. Selfishly as a sports fan, I want to see LeBron become his best while he is at his best. I want to see the peak of what this freakish basketball man-machine is capable of accomplishing.
We saw it, I think, with some of LeBron’s incredible performances against the Celtics. Now I want to see it on the biggest stage, with the brightest lights, when rings and legacies are at stake. I want to see LeBron James deploy his remarkable, breathtaking talents like he never has before so we can see something we haven’t seen before and may never see again, not unlike Tiger Woods’ first Masters victory or his Tiger Slam.
The difference, of course, is that LeBron plays a team sport, and does so in a laudable team-first way in which he exerts maximum effort and focus on both ends of the floor. He has to worry not just about maximizing his own talents but the talents of his teammates as well. This is a fascinating dual responsibility that only a few basketball players ever have, and LeBron is one. So far he has never been able to fulfill the responsibility in a way that has resulted in a title, and I want to see him do it.
And LeBron’s history of coming close but falling short, then relentlessly charging back, is endearing him to me.
We know how Michael Jordan had to go through the Bad Boy Pistons to finally reach his first title at around the same LeBron is now. LeBron has been to two NBA Finals already and fallen short. There is no “Bad Boys” equivalent for LeBron, but then again Michael Jordan didn’t face the omnipresent and irrepressible expectations LeBron has either.
By recognizing the arduousness of LeBron’s NBA journey, and forgiving him for his transgressions against our sports sensibilities, and learning to appreciate the balance between pride and humility in his approach to the game of basketball itself, I’ve reached a point of total openness to the success of LeBron James, to reveling in and rooting for him to fulfill his championship destiny rather than reviling him and rooting against him.
I’m not saying I’m right or wrong. I’m just saying that’s my mindset heading into these 2012 NBA Finals.
You have your mindset, and it’s not right or wrong either. It’s yours. And this is why sports, when we cut through all the hype and hyperbole, are wonderful. Because you and I can arrive at totally different rooting interests and use them to extract enjoyment and entertainment out of these silly games that we place so much importance on.
I just think that rooting to see a guy live up to his potential and complete and long and winding journey is far more satisfying a human experience than rooting against him to fall short of it.
So I’m rooting for LeBron James to lead the Heat to victory over the Thunder and win his first NBA Title.
He and his talents have earned my favor.