By Jason Keidel
Ever since Bird and Magic brought life to the lifeless NBA, the league has been a referendum on its stars. Not all stars or All-Stars but the stratospheric few, the ones whose gravity move the game.
And with all due respect to Kevin Durant, this season, like the one before and the one before then, is an embellished fishbowl in which swims one shark.
LeBron James, the globetrotting troubadour of buckets, is under the white-hot light of dissection and introspection. Especially with the Decision Redux – a hybrid action of flight, fight, and finance, the sport’s greatest social experiment. He is, frankly, in a world of his own, enclosed in the microwave of his bold, beautiful choice to come home.
LeBron didn’t just join the Cleveland Cavaliers. He came to save the world, so to speak, to bring financial and spiritual lubricant to the Rust Belt, an area of America that has been lost to the the meat-hook realities of economics, where we build very little on our native soil, shipping jobs, lives, and livelihoods to China and other places where the widget costs way less to make. Pastoral slogans like “Made In America” are now toxic. Patriotism, it seems, is as fashionable as the underhand free throw.
There’s nothing quite as haunting as driving through a town that has been abandoned, with weed-coated railroad tracks and moss growing on the walls of industry. Add to that Cleveland’s collective championship drought and it’s obvious that LeBron is more than a tall man in shorts.
LeBron realizes that he is corporeal commerce, that he not only brings dollars and cents but also sense that something, anything, can happen, whether it’s the last shot of the game or a business sprouting up because of his presence.
Forgive the stretched narrative, but LeBron’s move home was a kind of patriotism, a grand salute to love and loyalty, a Semper Fi of sorts. It’s too easy and inaccurate to say he left for the ready-made monster squad of Cleveland, the idea of playing with uber-gifted Kyrie Irving and deep into the Summer of (Kevin) Love.
And, as you see with their 1-3 record, you can’t cobble together chemistry that easily. LeBron could have won the Eastern Conference just as easily with Miami again. The Heat aren’t exactly slumming now without LeBron. So let’s stop saying his migration to Cleveland was about convenience.
Reports are already swirling that LeBron and Irving are squabbling, that LeBron looks and plays with anorexic weakness. There’s no way three stars can align in one truncated solar system, where LeBron is clearly the sun. Word is even spreading that LeBron is letting the team tank until they get the religion of the extra pass.
Basically, all the things we heard when he got to Miami. Lest we forget the Heat staggered out the NBA gate his first season as lead singer of The Heatles, going 9-8 their first month together. The premature postmortems poured in. Even yours truly posted one. Four Finals trips later, it worked out all right.
Patience is the only adjunct of aging worth embracing. In our 20s we reflexively react to everything, from life to love to sports. If one gal rejects our overtures, we have no game. If our squad doesn’t score first then Game Over. It’s not so facile. If sports have taught us anything, it’s the historical arc and art of the comeback. Did anyone have the Mesozoic Spurs running over the league last year and vaporizing the Heat in the Finals?
Come back in March and let’s see where LeBron has landed.
Miami sportswriter Dan LeBatard asserts that LeBron did the same thing this year as he did in 2010, the only difference is we like the narrative more. But you expect that from a Floridian.
It’s hard to imagine anyone north of South Beach to quibble with the King’s move north. He’s trading in jet skis for SUVs, sand for snow, palm trees for the purgatory of winter, the comfort food of the Big Three for the pressures and perils of the returning Messiah.
And he’s trying to bring hope to Ohio. It’s hard to hate on that. Forget the first four games. The King is far from losing his crown.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden.
You May Also Be Interested In These Stories
[display-posts category=”sports” wrapper=”ul” posts_per_page=”4″]