Tuesday, June 14, 2011

We are all Witnesses -- It's OUR Fault

Someone told me a while ago that you needed a few distinct qualities to be the President of the United States of America. Of course, you need to be incredibly smart, worldly, and dependable. You need to be able to capture the imagination of your constituents with your charisma and passion. You need to show you can lead and protect millions of people. But most importantly, you need to be a little arrogant.

Why arrogant? Because if you think that YOU out of 307 MILLION people are the absolute best choice to lead the most powerful nation this world has ever known...well, you have to be a little bit arrogant.

This sound like any professional athlete you've ever heard of?

Every elite athlete has many qualities - an indomitable will to compete, a passion for the game, supreme athletic gifts, natural skills and of course, a varying degree of arrogance. To be the best player on a team full of professional athletes, there has to be that same type of arrogance a Presidential hopeful has. You have to think that out of all the men and women that have ever played your sport, and thus all the professionals that emerged from that group, that out of all those millions of people, you are the best. You are the greatest, and no one will stop you at this particular moment. At every single level, people have fallen in the face of others with superior skill and ability, yet, you believe that none of those obstacles could hinder you similarly. You believe that you are the best.

Don't get me wrong - this mentality isn't confined to just athletics and politics. It extends to all facets of business, social cliques, and the list goes on. However, in basketball, like politics, the spotlight is on you all the time. There are entire networks dedicated to your every action, and reaction to every action. There are shows to gauge and critique your facial movements and how your posture reflects your deep inner workings. The arrogance is apparent, whether you want it to be or not.

Almost every NBA player I've seen is arrogant in some way. Kobe's arrogant. Shaquille was arrogant. Magic, Bird, Michael, Dr. J, Wilt, Kareem - despite their current statuses as untouchable legends, they were all arrogant too. Dirk Nowitzki is probably the most arrogant German player ever to live. LeBron James is arrogant. But we all know the difference between all the aforementioned gentlemen and LeBron James is.

The Miami Heat lost game 6. Dirk, JET, Kidd, Marion and company all showed them that there are "NO shortcuts," to paraphrase a very rich, but bitter, businessman in northeastern Ohio. I've read in many places that Dallas was "America's team," and while often times the Finals excludes any market besides the two left standing in the postseason, this year, everyone who likes the NBA had a rooting interest. It was America versus the Heat. On an NBA nerd e-mail chain I'm on, we have fans of the L with ties to Sacramento, the Lakers, the Knicks, the Celtics, and the Wizards. For once, we were all pulling for a singular cause. No one was exempt (except for the one Heat fan on our chain - whoops). We all loathed LeBron, Bosh, and the rest of the hangers-on that followed Wade into south Florida.

Our collective hatred of James has several root causes - the coldness of the Decision, the cowardice of becoming Wade's sidekick instead of his greatest rival, his promise of multiple titles before having participated in one practice, his steady inability to breakthrough in the waning minutes of a game and his never-ending conveyor belt of foolish media statements. But I actually think it's the following offense that keeps a Gmail chain of LeBron-centric distain going for over 400 replies.

I understand that anyone who has seen LeBron play basketball pushes expectations onto him. He made a decision to play basketball, not to be compared to Michael Jordan. From the age of 18, every critic, writer and basketball fan have had his cross-hairs on LeBron and his game -- and every year, those expectations only mount with another ringless campaign.

But what makes me loathe James as much as I do is that there is no expectation put upon him that he has not put on himself. LeBron is the douche in college that's bragging about how hard of a drinker he is. In his faded PBR shirt and cargo shorts, this guy proclaims that there is no drink he can't finish, and that nothing else matters besides that title. You could say he think he's The Chosen One...in regards to out-drinking any soul that dares to challenge him. But then he pukes all over himself. He can't finish. Congrats LeBron. You just puked all over yourself.

A year ago, following The Decision, LeBron and Nike launched a marketing campaign, featuring LeBron asking the public, "who do you want me to be? Do you want me to the villain? Do you want me to just go away?" The presumptive message here is that James asks the public for the same rights and privileges as everyone else -- he just wants to be who HE wants to be. He doesn't have to be who YOU expect him to be. Because that's just unfair.

But this is the man who LeBron wants to be. Or at the very least, thinks of himself as.

And this is how he allows himself to be displayed.

True, LeBron never has distinctly asked to be a villain. He never distinctly asked for us to expect him to be the next Michael Jordan. Hell, he never even asked to be a Cavalier in the first place. He did not ask to be drafted by Cleveland and as stupid as he can be, no 23-year-old is stupid enough to turn down a 100 million dollar extension. He has even gone on record as saying that growing up, he hated Clevelanders, who would often look down on James and his Akron-born friends and family.

According to his body art and every nickname he has embraced, King James has hoisted expectations of being the Chosen 1 upon himself. He has asked for us to expect MVP trophies and not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven titles from him. He hasn't delivered either in June. He somehow asks to be considered the greatest, but has simultaneously spurned the alpha dog-archetype that all of us hoop historians hoped he would become. We all thought he had the arrogance needed to lead us into a new era of NBA basketball, but instead we find that his arrogance is dissimilar to legends of the past or the political leaders we follow. His arrogance is that of a braggadocious coward, whose words are followed by nothing but an unwillingness to act.

A year has passed since the Cavs lost to the Celtics because of some mysterious circumstances regarding LeBron's disappearing act in Game 4. 11 months have passed since the regrettable telecast on ESPN of The Decision. Yet, when asked about the former, he evades questions with curt non-answers, saying things like "nah, that's corny" or "No explanation, I just played poorly." (What does "that's corny" even mean? Lesson learned: go to college kids, and you won't sound like an idiot.) Today, when he sees the backlash from America regarding The Decision, he bluntly answers that he wouldn't have changed a single thing. James doesn't seem to have the awareness, intelligence, or humility to offer any type of regret or remorse over poor judgments. All we want in our public figures is for them to either apologize when they're wrong, or apologize and show us they were right all along.

LeBron said after Game 6 that he doesn't owe anything to anyone besides his teammates. But I thought we are all witnesses, LeBron! Or did Nike tell us this without asking you if they could put your face next to this slogan? I guess by selling us all on your image of royalty, greatness, and grandeur, you don't owe your consumers the promise of any of that.

The biggest gripe any of us should have with LeBron is his constant desire to ask for everything, deliver nothing and then accept none of the responsibility. Every time, he comes out with an answer indicating that it's our fault that we fell for his sales pitch; that somehow, we built up all these expectations, as he helplessly watched from the hardwood. Sorry Bron - its your word versus a million. Pretty sure we're all right.

He promised us not just greatness, but the greatest, and has thus far fallen so far short of all of our expectations. Some King.