By Jason Keidel
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Why not follow a column about the most revered and reviled athlete in New York with one about the most polarizing player in America?
Let’s be candid: the main reason New Yorkers hate LeBron James is not because he burned Cleveland, but rather because he spurned the Knicks. Had LeBron singed Cleveland and signed with New York, the five boroughs and beyond would have been festooned with James jerseys. Kids would have strolled to school wearing headbands; executives would have jiggled a jar of talcum powder before every meeting and clapped their chalky hands into stuffy, corporate air. Women would have worn fake fingernails to bite during games.
Instead, he’s LeBum, LeBust, and other, unprintable monikers. He will always be an eyesore in our city.
And every time he inches toward a title, Gotham is reminded of how much better LeBron James is than Carmelo Anthony. Making things worse, Miami isn’t going anywhere for five or so years, since LeBron is just now entering his prime and Dwayne Wade is also better than Carmelo. So we hate the player and his game despite his three MVP awards buttressed against his three trips to the Finals.
But there are very valid reasons to feel rancor toward King James.
Jock sniffers, sycophants, and media types – or jock-sniffing, sycophantic media types – have told us to get over the whole Decision thing, where LeBron took his talent and temerity to Miami, assuring his fawning fans that he’d bag at least seven rings – maybe one for every deadly sin he’s committed since landing on South Beach.
Actually, we don’t have to get over it, because the whole affair was rather grotesque. It was a symposium on narcissism, hot air rushing out of him like a balloon while he choked in every fourth quarter against Dallas. And until LeBron stops gagging in the NBA Finals, he will be enveloped in an inverted nimbus, doomed to a netherworld of broken promises and the dubious handle of greatest to never win…
LeBron is a few games from his first championship, but he’s been this close before, including 2-1 over the Mavericks last June before his historic swoon, the only player in NBA history to average so many points overall yet so few in the fourth.
Since he needs a theme or theme music or a media muse wherever he goes, the latest take on LeBron is that he’s more mature now, not just seasoned but also serene, all evidently evidenced by his choice to stop chomping on his cuticles. Pundits say it’s clear that he’s seeing some kind of shrink, but are unable to name which doctor or the witchdoctor who has put his palm on LeBron’s problems and said in a soft, Stuart Smalley cadence, “People like you, LeBron.”
Since few athletes in our (or any) lifetime have experienced such a duality of talent and torment, I wonder if A-Rod and LeBron ever chat, tweet, text, or actually talk, that most archaic form of dialogue that now ranks somewhere along hieroglyphics, smoke signals, or Morse code.
If there’s a thread linking Rodriguez and James is the common public perception of them. Each is seen as a traitor, with A-Rod leaving Seattle for Texas in a quintessential, Jerry McGuire, “show me the money” moment; while LeBron took less quid but quit on his local team, an Akron kid who could have been the city’s most celebrated athlete since Jim Brown.
And each man is seen as a colossal choke artist, front-runners of the highest order who hit homers and three-pointers when their teams are two runs or ten points ahead. And even once A-Rod put the Yanks inside his pouch and soared to a title, he still didn’t win over the bulk of his detractors.
And LeBron has it worse than A-Rod. At least the Yankees’ third baseman can say that his contributions are far more restricted on the diamond than the parquet. Indeed, there are many more variables in hardball than on the hardwood. Someone must pitch, catch, and field, whereas LeBron legitimately impacts nearly every play.
Before LeBron James ever played an NBA game he was branded the Chosen One. That nickname has many manifestations. What he does over the next week could determine its lasting definition.