Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Man, The Myth, The Bron

                Many years ago, a basketball phenom came out of high school into the NBA. He was drafted by a perennially poor franchise, but still blossomed into one of the elite players in the league, winning a league MVP, and making 3 All-NBA first teams. However, his franchise was poorly run. Management never seemed to surround this ultra-star with adequate talent to allow him to win a title. No one really ever blamed him; he was doing all that could, carrying the team on his back on a nightly basis.  There was one season where he made it to the league semifinals, but he unfortunately ran into that time era’s juggernaut.  Again, the player’s effort, heart, or skill was hardly questioned. When he was suddenly traded by his franchise, it took many by surprise; he was sent to a team that was loading up on superstars, building a superteam gearing up for a title run.  That team did win a title, and that player was a centerpiece. His name is Kevin Garnett, and many Minnesotans (whom he previously played for) actually were glad that he won a title in Boston. Most felt he deserved it, and blamed the Timberwolves management for wasting away a brilliant career by not surrounding him with much talent.
                Enter LeBron James (Bron).  A super phenom drafted by a woeful franchise.  He also toils away for years on a team that refuses to put adequate pieces alongside him in the hopes to win a title. He comes up for free agency, and what does Bron do? He leaves for another team, the Miami Heat. This team also is gathering up the top free agents of the year, building for a title run. However, when Bron makes this move, he becomes a nationwide pariah. Everyone seems to turn on him. In Cleveland, no one appears to be appreciative of the hard work Bron has put in to win a title (Back to back 60 win seasons, a Finals appearance). No one looks at the ineptitude of the Cleveland front office; no, everyone just looks at Bron, what an a**hole he is for turning on his city. What happened?
                The Decision was the beginning of Bron-Hell 2010-11. It turned people against him.  But why?  One of the first arguments you’ll hear is that “He should be wanting to beat Dwayne Wade, not play with him, that’s what a real champion does.”  This seems like an asinine point of view. First, it assumes that basketball is a single man’s game; it’s not, it’s a team game.   Players need to form crisp teams to win.  As mentioned above, Garnett was unable to bring a title home on his own, he needed help, he needed a team. Bron needs help, just like every other player.  The double standard is apparent when you listen to announcers and analysts spoon feed us sayings such as “Everyone in the league would want to play with Jason Kidd,” or “As an NBA player, you jump at the chance to be on Tim Duncan’s team.”  So in those situations, it’s ok for an athlete to join up with a star, but for Bron, he is not allowed that luxury. He has been exiled to basically play a one-against-all-game.
                A barely mentioned point of the Decision was the sheer idea of it. I applauded Bron (and Chris Bosh) for making the choice that they did. Think about it, how many hours of offseasons are spent with exasperated sports fans debating “WHY did athlete X go to team Y for just a little more money! He’s so selfish; he doesn’t care about winning at all.”  One glaring example, Johnny Damon, comes to mind. You may remember when he left a powerhouse Red Sox team for a marginally higher amount of money to join the hated rival New York Yankees.  I will never forget wondering why he did that. The Sox were prepared to pay him handsomely, but he left for seemingly pennies (to athletes) more to his biggest rival!  At this point, I remember discussing with my father, why don’t these athletes combine together and form super teams? They earn more than enough money; wouldn’t it be smarter to cement your legacy with titles than to join teams that don’t have a chance at winning for more money? After all, one of the first arguments people will shout at you when you try to say an NBA player is comparable to Michael Jordan is that Jordan is the owner of 6 championship rings, and the other player is not.  Over the days my father and I discussed this idea, it just so happened that the Los Angeles Lakers, with Shaq and Kobe already on their team, signed an aging Karl Malone and Gary Payton, two of the greatest players at their positions (career-wise), to play for them.  As it happened to work out though, Malone and Payton were too old to be effective.  It did however pave the way for other teams to replicate that philosophy.  For instance, the 2008 Celtics did it with slightly younger superstars and won the title. Who can blame the Heat for trying the same thing? With younger stars? It’s silly that all of the sudden fans across the nation now view stars grouping together as unfair, when there was no uproar over it just a few short years ago.
                What else cripples Bron’s image? The Jordan comparison. The Jordan comparison is ridiculous for many reasons, but the one that’s most recently reared its head is that you can see that the detractors of Bron seem to be the only ones comparing him to Jordan.   They’ll attack Bron by saying Jordan would have never let such and such happen, or Jordan would have done this or that differently.  As a supporter of Bron, I don’t even bother comparing him to Jordan. He’s just simply not, no one is (Kobe pending), and what’s worse, basketball analysts used verbally recognize this fact. Bron is much more similar to Magic Johnson, a gifted scorer and equally gifted distributor.  There is simply no reason to compare Bron with Jordan.
                The above argument fails because Jordan and Bron ARE TWO TOTALLY DIFFERENT PLAYERS! If you want to make a comparison to Jordan, use Kobe. They have a similar skill set and mentality. Both are deadly scorers, terrific defenders, and pathological competitors. I’m not saying Kobe is better, but he is a more similar comparison because they are closer to being the same player. Bron’s style of play is a completely different beast; someone with an incredible physique and phenomenal skills, but not someone with a competitive streak to rival Jordan’s. He has always been more content to dish the rock to an open teammate before forcing a difficult shot (another Garnett comparison) like Kobe or Jordan would.  Along those same lines, what truly makes one player better than another? Sports writers constantly cite Jordan’s competitiveness as his leverage over other challengers. Basically, that means if you’re not a psychotic competitor, you can’t be the greatest. I completely disagree. It would be foolish to argue that Bron’s physical gifts are less than Jordan’s; he is the more physically gifted athlete.  Sure, he’s not as competitive (for now), but that doesn’t mean he can’t be as good. If Bron averaged a triple double for his career (not saying he will) and won 7 titles, I would claim that he is better than Jordan. Could you really disagree?
                So….what is it that people really hate about Bron? The arguments his detractors give appear to not hold water, and they keep spewing them out because they don’t want to admit what the real motive is. It’s simply a case of the Haves vs. the Have nots, the Plebeians vs. the Patricians, the Wealthy vs. the Poor. Think back to before Bron chose to go to Miami. He was probably the most marketable player in basketball; everyone in America loved him, just like America blindly supports underdogs. Bron used to be an underdog; he was a likable face on a sh***y team, but played his guts out each night.  All of the sudden he wound up on a powerhouse that everyone was saying had a guaranteed title. As America does, they began to root against the ones in power, and Bron was the centerpiece of how the Heat came to power. He was the most physically gifted and arguably best player in the league.  What people are afraid to say is that they hate Bron because he wants to win, because he has made his current team a force in the league and he is no longer an underdog. The sad thing is that Cleveland, unlike Minnesota with Garnett (although there are Minnesotan that have turned on him), absolutely turned on Bron with an unpredictable ferocity (even Cavs owner Dan Gilbert unleashed a hate mail against Bron). It’s sadly pathetic that one, the city of Cleveland won’t recognize how inept their ownership is, and two, that they won’t even support their hometown hero anymore, that they have to be destined to hate him.  Why (again, like Minnesota) can’t the inhabitants of Cleveland root FOR Bron to win a championship somewhere else, and truly support him
               In honesty, the hatred for the Decision stems not from the showmanship of Bron (admittedly, a small portion is), but the simple fact that Cleveland was a Have, and they became a Have-Not in a matter of seconds. Even sportswriters are not immune to wanting to root for an underdog as they also have been carrying a bias. I don’t particularly mind if someone dislikes Bron or the Heat; what does irritate me is that people won’t admit WHY they hate him. Own up to your true thoughts America. After all, creating fabrications of who and what Bron is and pretending that you’re above them only destabilizes your arguments further.
                 In essence, Bron made the best choice for him, he wants to win and he took an opportunity that he felt would give him the best chance at that.  He’s not the next Jordan, and he will probably never be like Jordan; but keep in mind that he does not desire to be like Jordan either. He wants to be LeBron James, his own man. A man who made a decision that altered his career and (he hopes) propelled him to new heights.

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