On How LeBron is the Mirror on The Wall (And the Mavericks Aren't)

First of all, I'm aware that writing about LeBron on a Mavs fan site is taking my life into my own hands, but 1) It's the most recent thing that's happened, 2) There will be some good Mavs stuff, I promise.


Second, this column is not an attempt to say anything nice about LeBron James, and it is not an attempt to say anything mean about him. He's clearly the best player in the world, all champions deserve their time in the sun, I don't particularly like how he comported himself in moving from the Cavs or how the Miami Heatles came to be (which was probably entirely illegal, if the NBA had any real interest in collusion rules), but none of them murdered anybody and I can't blame anybody for doing what they can to be on the best team so, you know, whatever.

When LeBron James won the championship that he always seemed destined for, it was longer after he first came into the NBA--8 years--than many people imagined it might be. It was his third Finals trip.

What he said upon receiving it--"It's About Damn Time"--doubled down for all those people who hate LeBron James by underscoring why they hate LeBron James. Leaving aside the fact that Michael Jordan was in his 7th year and 28 when he won his first title, James, completely without meaning too, seemed once again to be urinating on an entire league.

Dirk Nowitzki was 32, in his 13th season when he beat LeBron James to win his first title. Shawn Marion was 33 and in his 12th NBA season. Peja Stojakovic was 34 and in his 13th NBA season. And Jason Kidd was 38, and in his 17th NBA season. Each had had moments when they should have won, and moments they could specifically point to when they COULD have won.

But LeBron, at the age of 27, in exactly his second year of being on the world's first super team, in his (not coincidental) second straight year of being within two wins of an NBA championship, in his third year of being with four games, and literally one year removed from seeing all that happen literally in front of his eyes, proved unable to spare himself--and that really is what it boils down to.

It wasn't that bad a comment. Even if it had been, minutes after achieving the pinnacle of success and a lifelong dream, I wouldn't especially blame him for accidentally running his mouth. It's the perfect time to do it. I am certain I'd be saying, in his shoes, some really weird shit. But it's not 100% the media's fault, for always probing the cracks in LeBron's armor (which, of course, they are, it's the best reality show in the NBA). The guy cannot stop sticking his foot in his mouth.

It's not worth caring about. But if we did, what we might say is this: If you are widely suspected of not being willing to struggle to win a championship, if you are consistently damned for being so entitled you tore out your home state's heart on national television and assumed people would understand because how cool is it that you get to play with your best friends who are also the best players in the world, and then participated in mad orgy where a Bill Russell like streak of dominance was predicted on your behalf, what you probably should not say, at 27, after 8 years is, "About Damn Time".

If you care about that kind of thing, that is. I mean Juwan Howard's right freaking there, man. But the thing is, the real thing is, it's not really LeBron's fault. It's not his thought, that it's about damn time. It's ours. And if you want to blame him for caring about that, feel free, I do. Still.

I remember an ESPN poll last year, before the NBA Finals, that was something like "Who needs to win this title more, for their legacy?" It was LeBron v. Dirk. And LeBron won, in my memory by a lot. This was of course completely insane. Though many of us hoped that the Heat would lose forever, it was never exactly likely. And only in our completely absurd sports world where winning somehow reflects soul, and luck and quirks never happen, would you have read so many articles these last two years about how if the Heat lost, they needed to trade Bosh. As if, somehow, by being good enough to get to the Finals for two straight years and not winning was a sign that they were somehow flawed---not that the talent was incredibly obviously there, only the ball wasn't quite bouncing their way.

It was this insanity that led to the unbelievably obnoxious storyline that Dallas, with this year's DPOY, Shawn Marion and DeShawn Stevenson, had had no role in LeBron's less than stellar Finals, and made this year not about whether teams could overcome the incredibly talented teams they were playing but whether they could overcome their own inner demons, a deplorable trend in sports commentary.

Here's another LeBron quote, from last night: "I'm a champion, and I did it the right way. I didn't shortcut anything."

Steve Nash didn't short cut anything. Charles Barkley didn't. Neither had Dirk, before last year, and he still wouldn't have even if last year didn't happen. LeBron? Well, he kind of took some shortcuts, didn't he? It's not like it matters. Guy won because of his talent, because he's the most talented player in the league. Because, this year, he was unstoppable when it counted. Derek Fisher tried to shortcut it this year, and Karl Malone and Gary Payton did by joining the Lakers together a few years ago.

It's not why would you say that, it's why would you feel like you have to say that? I hate picking apart the guy's quotes, though obviously not enough not to do it. Having been a Dirk Nowitzki fan forever, and always foremost a Dirk Nowitzki fan, be there never so much basketball, I am never in my life going to be the guy who says that you just have to get nasty to win. Lots of guys are nasty who don't win. Other guys are nasty when it counts, but it doesn't mean throwing elbows.

But when LeBron, who is the greatest player in the world, and now a world champion, says to you "I did it the right way, I didn't shortcut anything," he is responding directly to you. He is hearing the things you said and he is TELLING you, not being content to show you, exactly what he hopes he has proven to you. It is, unfortunately for him, a little sad. If ever there was a time when it shouldn't matter to him what you think, it's yesterday night and today. It still does. Maybe it always will. And maybe that's part of the reason public opinion will never sway his way in the way he wants it to, in the way it once seemed it was destined to, always--he wants it too much.

Kobe Bryant, an admitted adulterer and obvious jerk, at least on the basketball court, does not care what you think. He takes a zillion shots even though his efficiency is dropping like a stone and he has more talent on his team than any time since Shaq. And yet, Kobe has the biggest fan base in the basketball world, and while there are a lot of reasons that's true, the biggest one is that Kobe Bryant is clearly about winning basketball games and not caring what you think. He would never win a championship and then say "this shows that I am a team player and that I am better than MJ", maybe specifically BECAUSE he knows that's what you want to hear. He hates and wants to destroy you. And on some level, you have to respect that.

Tim Duncan doesn't care what you think. He does not, like Chris Bosh, make documentaries in the offseason to try to become more famous. He never appears in the tabloids. He's not only a four time NBA champion, he's won a zillion more games over the last twelve years than anybody, he is exactly one Derek Fisher buzzer beater and one Dirk and-one from making two more NBA Finals, and for a minute there he looked like he'd be making another one this year.

Dirk Nowitzki does not care what you think. No other superstar on Earth would have let their coach get away with telling the media that he had to take some time off because he was out of shape when, whether or not that's true, he clearly also had a serious knee issue. No other superstar would have let the same coach talk about making Dirk the second best player on the team--something Deron Williams will NOT do for another couple of years, until he comes here. Nobody would try it with Kobe. And for years, he was attacked for this, and he didn't respond, because he doesn't care what you think. I like to think the NBA media now appreciates a fierce, implacable competitor on the court who is nevertheless polite and unassuming off, but Dirk did not win a championship and then say "this shows that a team can win a championship with me as its star." Of course not.


LeBron James obviously, painfully, cares what you think. Dwight Howard probably does too, which explains his extremely bizarre behavior this last year when, trying not to be LeBron, he somehow screwed it up even worse. You don't hear this stuff, by the way, about Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony who cold-bloodedly forced trades, and there's a reason for that.

It doesn't make LeBron one inch a worse player, and I hope we can all appreciate that. But it is a little strange, and a little new, and if you want it to be a little annoying, even more than a little annoying, by God who am I to tell you no?

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