I am a sports fan, through and through. I grew up watching, appreciating, and participating in the classic American mainstream sports, i.e. football, basketball, baseball. Although my current athletic exploits are in much more fringe sports, I still love to watch the ESPN sports. I once had a conversation with someone who told me she watches games only for the games themselves, and despite regularly watching professional basketball, she really pays no attention to the personalities of the players. I have always viewed athletes in a larger context of who they are as people. I always took this into account when identifying athletes as heroes and role models. As far as I am concerned, there is more to being "great" than being skilled and talented.
This year was the first year I have watched the NBA finals seriously for many years (probably at least ten). For me, the NBA has lacked intrigue even since the end of the Jordan era (every single boy of my generation wanted to be Michael Jordan. Period.). To generalize, most NBA games in this day-and-age are a severely boring escapade in w
hich semi-motivated athletes play a slow-tempo, half-court isolation offense in which the highest paid star can take his defender one on one to the basket, score his 30 points, and make his several hundred thousand dollars for the night of work. Most players do not even act like they care at all until the last 5 minutes of the game. However, during the finals this year, I felt compelled by the competition, largely due to the extreme disparity in the nature and style of the two teams. The super-hyped, super-talented, super-cocky Heat against the super-refined, super-experienced, super-hungry Mavs. I pulled for the Mavs, the whole series, finding great satisfaction in their victory. Why would I pull for a team I have never had the remotest bit of interest in before? The polarizing figure of LeBron James completely turned me off, whereas I could not help but root for Dirk Nowitzki.
I would criticize LeBron James even if he and his team had w
on the NBA championship this year. Why? Because there is more to being great than simply winning. It is the way in which you win that makes you great. I have no problem with Lebron leaving Cleveland to sign with another team (after all, Cleveland is a city with nothing going for it... I have been there; it sucks). However, the whole Heat charade that went on with "The Decision," the ridiculous welcome party and the proclamation and guarantee of seven or more championships was the most ridiculous and classless display I have ever seen. Lesson learned: do not celebrate like you have won before you have even played a game. You may be asking at this point "hey, didn't Mav's player Jason Terry get an image of the NBA trophy tattooed on him BEFORE the season." Yes, but guess what? He won.
He and his team won by carrying themselves with class, playing as a team, and playing harder than their opponents in crunch time. Class shines through at the end of the game, and James was nowhere to be seen it such circumstances in this series, buried under the clutch play of Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, and Dirk Nowitzki.
Winning is important. Winning the right way is more important. A true champion carries himself with dignity and class. LeBron James does not know how to be a role model. He cannot talk to the media, does not know how to carry himself off the court. His ambiguous press-talk statements, his mocking of Dirk Nowitzki on camera, an
d his general air of "I do not care what anyone thinks" prevent him from being a likable character. It is one thing to have a carefree attitude, many have before (Shaq, Barkley, etc). However, in the case of LeBron, it is a facade. He is deeply sensitive and takes everything personally. He puts up a front of confidence, but I would suggest that it is his lack of confidence that got him mired in this mess in the first place. The more he denies it, the greater beating he will take from the media and his doubters.
The way you carry yourself, in and out of competition, is something that it entirely in your control. I would argue that it plays just as large a role in greatness as talent. Dirk Novitzki is great. Michael Jordan is great. Tom Brady, Derek Jeter, Chrissie Wellington, Chris McCormack, and Haile Gebrselassie are great. They are great champions. LeBron James is talented, but it not great (yet). He is not a great champion; he is not even a champion. Maybe he will be some day, if he puts his head down, humbles himself, and stops acting like everyone is his enemy. For his sake, I hope he wins someday. But I certainly hope he wins the right way. Good luck, LeBron.