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Lebron James: Man Out Of Time

 

The unmaking of Lebron James feels inexorable at this point.

In stark contrast to Michael Jordan, whose game grew from his defeats at the hands of the elite teams of the 1980s, and who claimed six titles and the GOAT title, James’ tale is one of descent, the surefire legend staggering from the peak where he first emerged, downhill through eight seasons of on-court wonders that couldn’t meet our impossible expectations.

That’s the story so far.

Can it be turned around with a Miami title next year? Maybe a couple more in the years to follow?

I’m unconvinced.

Not just because the spiels of hate will continue from the internet and talk radio because that kind of anonymous rage carries only so much weight in the conversation. Eventually, it’s white noise.

And not because the media’s glare withers everything, because even a single title will reframe the discussion on James, like it’s doing with Dirk Nowitzki, like it did with Kevin Garnett. We’ll all be standing in the catharsis blast zone on that one.

I think James’ real problem is he remains as culturally tone-deaf as any superstar in NBA history.

***

In the past, I’ve spent a lot of time in the UK and Ireland. You’ll find few wealthier celebrities than U2′s Bono and The Edge, two guys whose egos may actually surpass James’. But while I was there, you’d often find them walking unmolested through Dublin, or inconspicuously occupying a table in the Clarence Hotel, which they very publicly owned. In Ireland, celebrity is less a balloon to inflate than it is one to puncture. Which is why the guys in U2 carry themselves differently on Irish soil than they do abroad.

Much of this cultural attitude seems tied to the national economy, which lagged, at the time, far behind that of the United States. Limited upward mobility and class separation were hallmarks. Money was tight. The middle class was increasingly illusory. Fast forward to today, and those things are pervasive all over the world.

Consider, then, this awesome — and now infamous — James quote in the context of the worst U.S. economy in 70 years:

“All the people that was rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day, they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today.”

Translation: James gets to walk off the court and into a summer filled with every possible indulgence known to man, and you get work at Texaco. And he wants you to know he relishes that.

How many titles will it take to render that kind of thinking palatable?

***

I’m not blind here. James has taken heavy fire, and the magnitude of the attacks has been wildly out of proportion to his crimes (real or imagined). It’s only fair to cut him some slack on his answer because he just failed on the biggest stage possible — again — and the wound was raw.

And it’s not like he’s a horrible human being. He’s hardly Ruben Patterson, right?

But, I still think it’s obscene how unaware James appears about what’s going on around him. In 2011, that sin feels greater than his failure to develop a post game or allowing the stories of the 2010 and 2011 playoffs to be written while he stood by and watched from the weak side.

I admit my biases here. I hold a rather deep contempt for the narcissism and garishness that accompany the worst of celebrity. I’m also young/old enough to harbor a desire for our athletes to embrace the cultures that built them with some measure of grace.

James is basically the antithesis of Bill Russell, a man who personified team, and exemplified the most admirable aspects of turbulent cultural times.

It would have felt deeply wrong to me to watch Russell hand the Finals MVP trophy to James had the Heat won this series.

And that’s the problem. Until James develops some perspective beyond his own insular world of self-congratulation, it will always feel wrong.

Of course, we’re all witnesses.

And he’s only 26.

There’s plenty of time left for him to show us something new.

  • The good German

    Please stop it! Give me a break, I don't want to read about #6 anymore…

  • Eric

    The really funny thing about his "you're life sucks" quote is that he's saying that we shouldn't derive happiness from watching him play basketball. Imagine that for a second. Whether you get pleasure from hating James or supporting James, you still have to wake up and face reality sometime. Maybe the NBA's new slogan should be "where nothing especially significant happens".

  • Conall

    Your analysis of celebrity culture (or lack thereof) in Ireland is interesting. But just because Bono can walk down the street unmolested here doesn't mean he is not reviled by many people. I think that's just the culture here, people invariably won't approach famous people in the streets or in pubs etc. But the reason many people here hate him is not just because of his massive ego. Bono is also a well known tax exile, so while he goes around preaching about saving the world, he actively searches for ways to avoid paying income tax in Ireland, going so far as to move all U2 operations to Holland. Given the state of the economy in Ireland and our plummeting reputation on the world stage (we've reverted to the status of international punch lines) this hypocrisy on his part rightly pisses a lot of people off!!

    • Ryan DeGama

      First, thanks for the comment. I love Ireland dearly, Dublin and Galway in particular. Cool to know we have eyes on our site from across the pond.

      Good points, all. Bono probably draws more loathing/adoration than James does…

      • Ciaran

        Assuming you went to college in Ireland? Where you did you go? I'm from Galway. Spent a summer in Boston and following the Celts since.

        Bono at least knows not to call himself the king…or sell out his home. Lebron is one of the least self aware people on the planet. Seems like he is surronded by a crowd of yes men. Pity for such a talented player and someone who is so good to watch. Is he the new Wilt? Fades under pressure.

        Ryan would love an article on trade targets. I would love to get Demarcus Cousins. I think his attitude could be improved by playing with all the veterans and he would give us an important inside presence going forward to protect against the likely hood of Dwight not coming here/getting traded to LA.

        Keep up the great work!

        • Ryan DeGama

          We had a piece on potential acquisitions recently:
          http://celticshub.com/2011/06/07/who-will-run-wit

          More will surely follow…

          As for me, lived in Edinburgh for the most part but did a chaser in Dublin, in a flat near Chapel Street (and Slattery's Pub, which had brilliant Guinness). Only made it to Galway a few times but it was lovely…

  • CsFanInArkansas

    Dude, all of LBJ's basketball career – from his days as a high school baller until today – has seen people trying to elevate him to some legendary status which has only fed his ridiculous ego.
    We've never heard of ANYONE being in this guy's ear, trying to keep him grounded.
    The country has watched him play ball for at least 9 years now and all we've seen of him is a self-absorbed, big-headed, immature douche.
    Even in losing this year in the Finals, it's all about him as he tweeted that only God knew when it was his time (speaking of himself, not his team) to win a championship.

    The guy is freakishly talented – and I agree that he has plenty of time to "show us something new" – I just don't see it happening. He's had 8 years in the league to find some level-headed mentors that aren't afraid to tell him to quit with all the immature bullshit, play the game harder than everyone else and be a team guy…
    …That's obviously not the kind of company he wants to keep.

  • LebronJokeDroid

    What do LeBron's fiancee and William Clark have in common?

    They both did it with Lewis.

  • Dave

    Except Bill Russell didn't have a microphone shoved in his face every moment of his waking public life.

    So what if James isn't very articulate or doesn't think very well on his feet. If it isn't clear already that the guy is out of his element in the public spotlight then I don't know what it's going to take for people to realize that.

    How about just lowering expectations a tad? Would you rather he just said no to interviews? I would because he doesn't strike me as being able to advance an idea very far.

    But in the end he's just a basketball player. Not a US Ambassador.

    As for his game, give it some more time and I'm pretty sure he's going to be part of a championship sooner or later.

    • CsFanInArkansas

      The media is what guys like LBJ live for these days – that's where getting your brand out there in front of everyone makes you some serious chee$e off the court.
      He wants a global brand of LeBron James. He admitted to staying up all night after one of the Finals games reading blogs and message boards about HIMSELF.
      He knows he's a media icon – he WANTS to be in the media like the rest of the jacklegs in Hollywood.

      The problem with him is he runs around with his "entourage" rather than smart people. People that tell him "The Decision" would be a good idea. People that don't tell him "those pre-game pictures you're doing with your Cavs teammates make you – and the rest of them – look like class-less unprofessionals"…and so on.

      I don't think it's an issue of not being able to think well on his feet…it's more an issue of he says what he thinks – which has pretty well revealed that he's an immature, self-absorbed, self-proclaimed king, entitled douchebag…and fans of the game don't like those guys.

  • skeeds

    Hm… I'm allmost feeling for the guy right now, although I hate everything about him. For me it was allways easier to hate him when he was dubbed the messiah, than now. THere has never (correct me if I'm wrong) been more pressure on a guy coming in the league to be the greatest.

    Ohio issued a statement naming the Mavs honorary citizens, because they beat Lebron. That's just horible. His comment was as polite a "f@#$ck off" as he could give. For the shit he's had shoved in his face since the stupid "decision", he's been too reserved. He has to accept he's the bad guy and start playing like one.

    What suprises me so much though, is how all these things make all the real problems of the Heat seem all Lebron's fault. It is riddiculous at least to say that one player's game, yes, even "the King's", is to blame for a team that can't close out games. The media is oblivious to the fact that the mavs played impossible defence on him, with high-low double teams of Kidd+Marion, and all Spoelstra came up with was iso after iso. You have the best SG in the game right now, a PF with huge range, and the most versatile offensive weapon since Magic Johnson, and you find nothing smarter for them to do than the most basic of pick'n'rolls. That's the last 5 minutes of every finals game this year. It's as if this team was trying to prove the haters wrong, rather than make the right plays.

    Spoelstra's psychological approach and isnpiring pep talks are good up to a point. especially when a team is constantly attacked by the media. But when the shit hits the fan, you don't need pep talks, you need to draw plays. He's definately the one to thank for the Heat's loss. And if they're ever gonna make it they'll need a more skilled coach. All comparisons aside, MJ happened to play for Phil Jackson. That right there is the difference between having a Dominique Wilkins career, and being the GOAT.

  • janos

    Hi Ryan, is Janos. Everyone make comment on Lebron, is hard time for him – no doubting. But he can go fucking himself for all I care. I seen article today web talk 2012 odds for NBA titling, Celtic come in between 8-1 & 12-1. Knick very interest at 25-1 to 28-1. Other good team higher like Heat, Thunder, Laker etc… Maybe you make bet and then get big win, and be richman like Lebron. Hopefully you make more nice in interview?

    Please let us know on site if Howard trade. Thank you.

    • http://gymratrants.blogspot.com Tom W

      Janos, I wish I could thumbs up your comment 100 times, mainly because of your f bomb usage.

      • mugi

        true that lol

  • Morpheus

    Funny, because i was just thinking this last night in the shower – for some reason, that's where i think best.

    Seriously, the only moral quality holding him back, restoring his respect from fans all around the world is humility. Humbling himself. That comment he made was pure ignorance, unnecessary, derived from the inability to humble himself.

    And his "entourage" isn't helping him either, in fact they're bringing him down, but at the end of the day they don't speak the words that come out of his mouth.

    • skeeds

      No man, I think it's the other way around. Bird wasn't humble, Magic wasn't humble, Jordan, Kobe, all these amazing players. they were assholes. They'd kill their mom for the ring,and they weren't even embarrassed to say it.

      Him and the Heat lost a Championship this year mostly because he tried to prove he's Jordan. To close out games on his own. If he's ever to make it, he has to stop trying to prove anything, to be a good guy, the dream child, the Messiah. I'd like him much more if he accepted this villain persona they're portraying him as, and play like a real bad guy. And telling everyone they can f#$@ck off and keep living their own lives is a step in the right direction.

  • Morpheus

    You learn about principles, moral values growing up, so that you can apply them when you become responsible, independant, make your own way in the world. Bron just seems to have skipped that part of life. It doesn't help that he's been spoon fed by the media since his HS days in Akron, but he's a man, he should know that small talk is just that….small talk, but since he's responding to fans via Twitter and through the media, he's obviously sweating the small stuff – he shouldn't be.

    As long as he continues playing the villian role as opposed to playing 4th quarters, than he'll remain just that, a hated villian.

  • Morpheus

    Tell you who's also out of time. Otis Smith.

    IF Danny pulled a trade for Dwight at draft time, how AWESOME would that be. Don't think it would be a straight 2 way trade, have to be a 3-4 team blockbuster.

    • kricky

      Man, that would be like summer 2007 all over again!

      Christmas in June!

  • janos

    Good one I seen on computer: Lebron remind me of Jordan. But only when Jordan play baseball.

  • Mike

    Great article, great insight, and very well said.

  • deuce

    1 The Decision: The most narcisistic load of shit ive ever seen.
    2 His performance in the 2011 playoffs: Average for a guy with his talent.
    3 His comments (see above): Stay in college kids.
    4 The future: He could win multiple titles.
    5 My hope: He wins a couple and grows up.

  • the blind

    Lebron's way of thinking about the world is no different than the elite running the US now.

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