These and dozens (if not thousands) of other words died in vain over the past two days, sent forth to battle from the tongues and pens of the warriors of the great chattering sportshype machine in response to LeBron James' subpar and oddly passive effort in the 4th quarter of Tuesday's NBA Finals Game 4. General Stephen A. Smith implied (hell, he asserted) on this morning's Mike and Mike Show that LeBron was facing personal issues that were impacting his performance. (In a stunning display of both cowardice and look-at-me yellow journalism, Smith also claimed to know all about the issues, but declined to elaborate.)
Let us stipulate that James, the most physically gifted player in the NBA indeed played badly and un-starlike in the quarter in question. Let us further stipulate that his self-aggrandizing "Decision" was badly conceived and terribly executed. But we come here today not to bury LeBron James, but to wonder what the fuck we as a sports society want from him?
While we all say championships are what matter and build shrines to winners, we have an oddly skewed perspective on LeBron. Instead of celebrating a player who has routinely sublimated his (fairly massive) ego in pursuit of a championship, we flay LeBron any chance we get. The man took less money to play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. He was clearly the star of the Eastern Conference Finals with his two-way play against Derrick Rose and the Bulls. And now, four games later, he's a bum because Wade's outshone him against the Mavericks? Bullshit.
Sally Jenkins rode to the rescue in today's Washington Post, channeling no less a sage than Phil Jackson, the man who convinced both Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant that they needed to share the ball at least a little in order to win. Says Jenkins,
“The fact is, selflessness is the soul of teamwork,” Jackson said a few years ago to EnlightenNext magazine. “We have a practical rule in our game: When you stop the basketball — when it resides in your presence and you hold it for longer than two counts — you’ve destroyed our rhythm. When the ball is in your hands, you become the focal point. And when you become the focus, our system breaks down. It’s that simple.”It's not enough to win now, we need style points. We need our superstars to win the right way, to dominate, to see their enemies driven before them, to hear the lamentations of their women. And to do it selfishly, individually, alpha male-style. That seems a perversion of everything we teach our kids and claim to want from our colleagues.
“It doesn’t matter how good individual players are — they can’t compete with a team that is awake and aware and trusts each other. People don’t understand that. Most of the time, everybody’s so concerned about not being disrespected. But you have to check that attitude at the door — that defensiveness, that protection of your own image and reputation. Everybody needs help in this game.”
For obvious reasons, I have a soft spot for LeBron. I'm rooting for him to have a big game tonight and lead the Heat to a win. And then I want him to walk over to the nearest big-mouth media member and stab him to death with a pencil, exclaiming for all our blood-lusting benefit, ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?
Stephen A. would still call him a pussy.