Wednesday, May 26, 2010

LeBron James and the Dangers of Living Vicariously

Are LeBron and I kindred spirits? No. But...well, no.

When it comes to analyzing sports, athletes are often painted in broad archetypes. You have your heroes. These are the fantastic teammates. They play the right way. They rescue player-pianos from burning houses. They win. Going through the NBA, you can rattle off "heroes" with ease - David Robinson, Steve Nash, and, of course, your favorite player on your favorite team. As a Nets fan, I am dying to list Jason Kidd here.

Unfortunately, I cannot. More often than not, athletes are seen as "villains". Not the "scheming to rule the world" type (although I don't rule out Stephen Jackson having a grand machination), but selfish, entitled jerks. Even those with spectacular on-court displays often find themselves tarnished by off-court mistakes, like Kobe Bryant and the aforementioned Kidd.

I followed basketball too much in high school. I knew entire rosters around the league, knew where the players went to college, and watched more than 70 of the Nets' 82 regular seasons (and caught every playoff game). Back then, I was totally into the "heroes" and "villains" thing. The first villain to feel my wrath was Stephon "All Alone 33" Marbury. Marbury and many others probably laid awake at night, unable to sleep due to my scathing criticisms. "This guy doesn't work hard!" "He's not a team player!" "He only cares about the money!"

This dynamic changed in 2003. After graduating high school, LeBron James entered the NBA. Few high school classes can clearly identify who their most successful graduate has been. For the Class of 2003, however, the answer is clearly LeBron James. And, now, there was a player my age (well, 35 days younger) in the NBA.

(Side note: I consider myself a Nets fan, and usually don't buy into following a specific player that some fans do. I know it doesn't make much sense - as I am basically rooting for a corporation [or "laundry" as Jerry Seinfeld once put it, but nowadays even the laundry changes]. It is akin to cheering for Universal Studios movies. But, with LeBron, I've made an exception to my silly rule.)

As the years progressed, LeBron grew and adapted to his new world, and so did I. Younger players continued to infiltrate the NBA, and soon my criticisms seemed petty and cantankerous. I don't work hard. I'm not a team player. I only care about the money. Where do I get off criticizing these kids?

Extreme narcissism allows me to continue to track my life along with LeBron. That's why I'm writing this. After his defeat in the second round of the 2010 Playoffs, the media came down on him, and began to write him off as another NBA "villain". Maybe his teammates weren't the problem - maybe LeBron just couldn't win a title. Maybe he'll abandon his team for selfish reasons. Maybe his mom is banging his teammate.

Extreme narcissism (and perhaps some delusion) allows me to deny these insinuations. I mean, LeBron is MY generation. It cannot be over already, right? Sure, he's been in the NBA for 7 years without the all-important ring, but he is (and I am) only 25. Sure, we're all a bit scared and thinking that maybe we ain't that young anymore. The Class of 2003 hasn't had their lives go according to the script - there haven't been multiple titles, but we do have our highlights and game-winning shots. And we're still fighting, trying to cement our legacy.

So what should LeBron do? You know just as well as I do. However, I felt my life significantly improved once I left my hometown. That isn't an indictment of Nutley, New Jersey, mind you. I was just forced to get out of my comfort zone and experience new challenges. I'm a Nets fan first and foremost, and would love to see him come here, but I do not see it happening. But, for his sake, I believe he needs to leave Cleveland behind.

Furthermore, I think Cleveland is cursed. Like the Los Angeles Clippers, the city has openly mocked Native Americans with the Cleveland Indians for far too long. It is no wonder that bad karma has always gone this city's way. So, pick a new team LeBron - if not for yourself, then for your generation. It is a town full of losers, and he has to pull out of there to win.

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