I woke up this morning thinking of writing something about the GOP debate last night in New Hampshire. But that encounter, featuring seven Republican contenders, was so completely predictable that a little LeBron James analysis seems more urgent today. After all, the next NBA season will be upon us before the next New Hampshire primary. First things first.
I confess that the last time I was really interested in a National Basketball Association final, Larry Bird was still playing. I really only paid close attention, season-long attention, to pro basketball when the great Elgin Baylor was captain of the Lakers. Back then both the pants and the shots were shorter. While mom and dad assumed I was fast asleep, I can still remember turning the radio down very low and listening to Chick Hearn’s call of a late west coast Laker game from the “fab-u-lous Forum in Inglewood…”
So, for me this year’s playoffs where not a case of eagerly waiting for the great egos from South Beach to get their just desserts at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks. I really hadn’t been paying attention and came to membership in the “I really don’t care much for LeBron” crowd late in the game, er, late in the playoffs. And, apparently like millions of fans, I enjoyed the outcome immensely.
On the intense stage of a championship, regardless of the sport, it is one of life’s guilty little pleasures to watch the most hyped guy, the guy with all the press, all the cash and all the big talk, fall flat on his face. LeBron James certainly didn’t disappoint. And, as if to further cement his well-earned reputation for lacking in class, he handled defeat with, well, not a lot of it. Class that is.
Let the jokes begin: “LeBron will never make change for you as he never has the fourth quarter.” Or, “The reason why LeBron skipped college was to avoid the finals.”
The governor of Ohio, LeBron’s home state and the place he “abandoned” in order to bring a championship to Miami, actually issued a proclamation praising the “loyalty, integrity and teamwork” of the team from Dallas. Give LeBron this much: he united most of the country behind a team from Texas, no small accomplishment.
Now for something entirely different – Derek Jeter.
Loyal readers know that I have no love lost for the New York Yankees. Being a Yankee fan is too easy, too predictable. Sure it’s the greatest franchise in baseball history, but Microsoft is the greatest franchise in software. Where’s the romance in that?
Still, sometime soon the Yankee captain, a sure fire Hall of Famer, will enter elite company when he slaps his 3,000 career hit. He’s currently six hits shot of the magic mark. I’ll be rooting for him, despite the pinstripes. Derek Jeter is the antithesis of a guy like LeBron James. He’s played his entire career in New York, the media capitol of the world, and has found a way to not be a constant feature in the tabloids. He survived and thrived through the Steinbrenner years. He’s played along side the not so loved Alex Rodriguez and projected a certain calm professionalism that then A-Rod or a LeBron can only dream about. Of course, Jeter has his detractors, but mostly because he’s a Yankee and not becuse he’s a chump.
So, why is Jeter a widely beloved figure in New York and beyond and also widely recognized as both a consummate pro and a genuinely nice guy, while disliking King James is the national religion of sports fans?
Some would argue, Buzz Bissinger, for instance, that LeBron hatred as gone too far, but “the chosen one” just keeps bringing it on himself. James repeatedly violates the first rule of public relations: quit digging when you’re in a hole. Just a small flash of humility, a warm word for the great play of Dirk Nowitzki, maybe even staying out of the spotlight for a while, would start to alter the LeBron storyline, but of such basic common sense the very wealthy and very sure of himself young man seems entirely incapable.
LeBron James will never be a fan favorite. Too late for that. He might still be a respected super star, but not if he spends his NBA career behaving like Barry Bonds in short pants. Sports fan don’t like LeBron James for a reason, just like they like Derek Jeter for a reason.
One of these great athletes gets it. The other hasn’t a clue. One guy is self aware, the other self centered. And that, as they say, is the difference in having folks root for you to reach a hollowed mark and being made fun of by the governor of Ohio.