Events make stories easy to tell. They define narratives and are what provide compelling backdrops. It was a slow-speed chase involving a white Ford Bronco that brought millions to the OJ Simpson trial. Without a car crash on the night before Thanksgiving in 2009, Tiger Woods is just another athlete who got caught cheating on his wife. Yet now his career is split up into two periods: before and after that night. Hell, our entire world history is split up into things that happened Before Christ and after his birth.
So it makes sense that the most compelling athlete in sports right now has had more events — more life changing moments — than any athlete that I can remember…
- On February 8 2002, LeBron James was introduced to the world as a 17-year-old on the cover of Sports Illustrated next to the words "The Chosen One."
- On June 26, 2003 the Cleveland Cavaliers won the draft lottery and announced that they'd be bringing LeBron James to his hometown team.
- On July 8, 2010 LeBron James announced on a 90-minute TV special that he was leaving the Rust Belt for South Beach, and on July 9, 2010 the Miami Heat threw a party where LeBron announced they would win multiple championships "Not 3, not 4, not 5…"
- On June 21, 2012 LeBron and the Miami Heat won their first NBA Championship after losing in the Finals the year before.
Have sports fans ever gone on such a roller coaster ride with one player before? There's usually just one event and it's like Tiger's or OJ's or in a smaller sense Roger Clemens, A-Rod, et al, where a great player and fan favorite makes a huge mistake and crushes his reputation forever.1 Very rarely are there several different highly publicized events that immediately change the way you view that player.
LeBron went from a kid with huge potential and unrealistic expectations, to the savior of his hometown team who you wanted to meet those expectations, to the most hated man in his hometown who you hoped would forever fail to become an NBA champion.
This last event, LeBron finally2 winning the NBA Championship, is one that Cleveland fans had been hoping to avoid, but deep down knew was inevitable. It's hard to predict how you'll feel after something like this. I thought if LeBron ever won a championship with the Heat that I would hate him even more then I already did. But the morning after Game 5, I realized that I didn't hate him anymore. In fact, I think I'm finally able to accept him for who he is. He scored 697 points in the postseason and had one of the most impressive NBA Finals of all time. He is one of the most physically dominating players in the game; there has never, ever been anyone that has had his combination of size and skill. He's the most gifted athlete in the history of the game and will go down as one of the five best players to ever play it.
LeBron shares none of the values on which Cleveland prides itself. He's Adam Banks when everyone wanted him to be Charlie Conway.
He also shares none of the values on which Cleveland prides itself. He was never one of them and he was never going to become who they wanted him to be. The city of Cleveland, in the heart of the Rust Belt, is a blue-collar, underdog town that has had to overcome the death of the steel industry, having a franchise taken away and not winning a major championship since 1964. The only thing LeBron has had to overcome in his career was being drafted by the Cavaliers.
In Cleveland, LeBron James was Goliath in a city of Davids. He was "The Chosen One" from the time he was 16 and was the first high school athlete ever to win three consecutive state championships and make three consecutive All-America teams. By 18, he was the #1 pick in the draft, and by the second game of his NBA career he nearly had a triple-double.
Despite being from Akron, a town 39 miles away from Cleveland, playing for the Cavs was never LeBron's dream. He wasn't even a Cleveland sports fan. While the rest of northwest Ohio had to struggle with mediocre seasons from the Cavs, Indians and Browns, LeBron was celebrating the championships won by his favorite teams — the Yankees, Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bulls. Those teams have won 14 championships in LeBron's lifetime, including titles by all three in 1996. If I went to school with LeBron James and he was just some kid who wasn't the Jesus Christ of basketball, I would have hated him based on his favorite teams alone.3
The reason most sports fans hate him is because he doesn't think the way most sports fans do, that you have to stand by your team in the good times and the bad.4 Bad times have never been something LeBron's had to deal with. He's never had to battle superior competition on the court or root for a team that wasn't favored to win. He's been the overwhelming favorite since he was 16. He's Adam Banks when everyone in Cleveland wanted him to be Charlie Conway.
So it's time to be OK with LeBron joining up with a bunch of All-Stars and creating the kind of team he would have rooted for when he was a kid. He deserves to be winning a championship for a fan base that knows the names of no more than six of the players on the team, a fan base that arrives during the second quarter and leaves halfway through the fourth to beat traffic.
Rarely is the story about a player who is simply meeting expectations.
It sounds like I'm disparaging him,5 but he deserves credit for everything he's been able to do. Not many people can reach the heights that he's reached without having anything to drive them. What does LeBron use for motivation? Even Michael Jordan got cut from his high school basketball team. Most of the stories we hear about players are that they exceeded everyone's expectations (i.e. Tom Brady, Jeremy Lin, Manu Ginobili, etc) or ended up being huge disappointments (Jamarcus Russell, Todd Marinovich, Greg Oden, Adam Morrison, Kwame Brown). Rarely is the story about a player who is simply meeting his expectations. That's what LeBron James is doing, and it's incredible that he's been able to make it so compelling.
1 There have been a few roller coaster rides. Curt Schilling became a legend in New England when he won the World Series for the Red Sox, but then became a villain when he laid off every employee from his bankrupt company in Rhode Island. But no one can argue that this is most publicized roller coaster ride we've ever been on.
2 It's weird to use the word "finally" in that sentence for a 27-year-old man, but it's appropriate.
3 Of course, if I went to school with the actual LeBron James I would have just hoped he knew my name.
4 Or in Cleveland, only the bad.
5 And I guess I am a little bit.
Fan Hub Action
Michael T Carr May 16th
Another good article, Craig Lowell.
Charlie Lobosco May 1st
This is a very compelling story because Mr. Collins is a very passionate, tough, intelligent, athelete taking on some additional responsibliity to help others as…
Scott Cohen May 1st
Charlie.. very well said.. he does have guts
Scott Cohen May 1st
but it shouldn’t require guts. .like you said it’s nobody’s business but his own
Hisham Zameeth April 30th
best player ever…..
Kareem Musa Mayowa April 29th
We don’t need to be hopeless about the situation bryant his. Because even david villa situation also up to the level of his own to…
Maritess Lim April 28th
I still believe in KOBE’s power…… He is still the best…… He will make it possible no matter what……
mimi_aragon84 April 28th
I feel no pity for him. First of all, it is EAGLE, COLORADO, not Eagleton, secondly he enjoyed success and adulation from fans from 2003…
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