|LeBron James is one win away from securing his first NBA championship. (Getty Images)|
I could be imagining this — I was on vacation in L.A./Hollywood the last week with the family, so there were numerous hallucinations — but it seems to me that a lot of people are admonishing me for rooting against LeBron James. I don’t mean me personally, I mean all of us in the “We Hope LeBron James Fails Miserably Club.” Like I say, I could be imagining it, but it just feels like there have been many people lately who are writing and saying and tweeting that it’s unseemly or bitter or just plain wrong (perhaps even crazy) to root against LeBron.
I’ve decided I’m going to keep rooting against him anyway.
The vibe — if I’m feeling it right — is that it’s time to let go of the LeBron “Decision” to leave Cleveland. I would agree with with that. Of course I wish LeBron had stayed in Cleveland, and I certainly wish he had not left in such a crass manner. But such is life. LeBron seems to have some regrets about the way he handled things. That’s old news.
The vibe — if I’m feeling it right — is that LeBron is such a wonderful player that he deserves a championship. I would generally agree with that too. It’s always a little sad when great players — Ernie Banks, Dan Fouts, John Stockton and Karl Malone and so on — retire without a championship. LeBron is probably the most amazing basketball player I’ve ever seen. I’m not saying best — that’s still Jordan Island for me and there are others to consider — but if you break the game up into buckets like shooting, driving, passing, offensive rebounding, defensive rebounding, on-the-ball defense, help defense, ball handling, pick-setting and a hundred other things, I would say LeBron would fill more buckets than any player in NBA history. He’s the best player in the world right now. For this, a championship would be fitting.
The vibe — if I’m feeling it right — is that LeBron has paid his dues. This, too, I would agree with. He lugged some seriously flawed Cleveland teams deep into the playoffs, and I actually think this Miami team on the brink of a championship is really flawed too. I think without him, the Heat are first-round playoff losers. LeBron said a dumb thing here and there, he made a poor decision here and there, but all in all he has represented the game well enough, he has amazed a billion people around the world, he has led the way in making basketball popular for a new generation. I’m good with all that.
I’ve decided I’m going to keep rooting against him anyway.
It’s nothing personal. It really isn’t. When LeBron went down with cramps at the end of Game 4 in these NBA Finals, someone asked me: “How does that make you feel?” I said: “Terrible.” I don’t want LeBron to get hurt. I don’t want him to suffer pain. I just want him to lose basketball games.
This is one of the wonderful things about sports to me. It’s make believe. It’s a safe place to invest your emotions. I call the act of hating someone in sports “Clemenating,” and I just don’t think the games are nearly as much fun without it. In my life, I’ve gotten tremendous joy — and felt horrible pain — clemenating John Elway and Kevin McHale, Steve Carlton and Reggie Jackson, Roberto Duran and John McEnroe, on and on and on. There was never anything personal in any of it. I loved watching McEnroe play tennis, and I love listening to him as an announcer. I just wanted him to lose.
I think LeBron is better as a villain than he is as a superhero. I’ve seen LeBron from both sides now, and I can tell you: He’s way more fun to root against than he is to root for. In pro wrestling, you probably know, there are babyfaces* (good guys) and heels (bad guys). A few of the more gifted — Ric Flair above all — could be either one. But most cannot cross the line. They are the sort of wrestlers you can’t help but want to see win, can’t help but want to see lose. It comes from the gut. LeBron is a heel — at least I think so.
*Brilliant Reader fix from babies.
You, of course, are more than welcome to disagree. That’s the beauty of this. But I want LeBron to lose. Does the Decision have a little something to do with it? Probably. Does his cartoonish “not two, not three, not four” championships speech have a little something to do with it? Probably. Does his decision to build his own All-Star team to try to take over the NBA have something do with it? Probably. Does the hype that attaches to everything he does have something to do with it? Probably. Does the way he seems to get more questionable calls than others have something to do with it? I would have to say “probably” to all of it.
But none of it is the big reason. A couple of weeks ago, I found myself watching this tennis match between two players I had never heard of. They were playing some tournament I had never heard of. I had no idea what round it was, what was at stake, who was announcing. Nothing.
And as I watched for two hours — admittedly dozing off several times — it occurred to me that at no point did anything click. I didn’t start rooting for one or the other. When one guy took the first set, I didn’t hope the other guy came back. When I was ready to leave, I left and never once wondered who won. At no point at all did I develop any sort of buy in. Yet, I kept watching. It feels like, more and more, this is what sports viewing is becoming for me. There are so many sports on television, so many conferences, so many leagues, so many countries, so many games, that I find myself watching hour after hour without emotion. I’m watching to pass the time. I’m watching for entertainment. There’s nothing wrong with this kind of sports viewing — few things are more enjoyable for me than watching an Astros-Rockies or Hawks-Jazz game just for fun — but it’s not emotional. It’s not affecting. There’s no investment. It’s sports from a distance.
But LeBron — it’s up close. It’s personal. I care. I really care. I know that he probably will win a championship tonight. I know that he’s a force of nature. I know that Oklahoma City, as talented as the Thunder are, seems too raw and young to rise to the challenge*; I know that teams don’t come back from 3-1 deficits in the NBA Finals. I know that when tonight ends, I’ll probably be feeling a bit dejected and my Twitter account will fill up with Miami fans taunts. And rooting against LeBron will never be quite the same.
*Oklahoma City has been so frustrating to watch this series. It fouls on back-to-back three-point shots. It dribbles off its foot on the game-turning possession. It takes dumb and quick shots when it really needs to score. But I’ll say this: Miami will want to get the Thunder now. Because I’d take Oklahoma City’s future over Miami’s or any other team in sports right now.
That’s OK. I’ll be rooting against LeBron to the end. And if he loses tonight, if Oklahoma City somehow knocks off Miami, I’ll be happily dreaming about a comeback to end all comebacks — at least for one night. And it will be wonderful.