With LeBron James capturing his third NBA title, the debates about him being as good or better than Michael Jordan have stormed the social media monster again. As our sports world becomes prisoners of the moment more than ever, LeBron’s latest success has erased the damaging effects of last years finals loss.
Losing to Golden State last season knocked LeBron off his perch a bit, and the noise about him being a Mount Rushmore guy turned into a boisterous focus on his 2-5 NBA Finals failure.
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Now, he’s back on top and he’s the greatest thing since the hoverboard again. LeBron deserves the praise and accolades he’s enjoying and Steph Curry has to eat the beating his reputation is taking because that’s how the game goes these days.
However, my head gets dizzy trying to keep up with the changing opinions about these athletes and the rises and falls from grace that they experience in one news cycle.
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It’s the MJ Effect.
Once Michael hit the scene and turned the league into his personal playground, partly driven by greatness, a special bond with the commissioner and a need for a basketball hero to place the marketing hopes of the league upon, the game changed and the "I" in Team emerged.
The guys "His Airness" played with all contributed to his six rings, but nobody remembers them. Ask Scottie Pippen how he feels about how minimally his contributions to those Bulls teams are measured by the average fan, when in reality he was just as important as MJ to the dynasty.
He had to work just as hard and held just as many responsibilities, but MJ always got the glory and the endorsements and owned the collective hearts of NBA fans.
That pattern has continued to this day as fans play musical chairs with Curry and James and KD and Russell Westbrook as far as who the best player is this week. LeBron happened to be the last man standing this season, but it could have ended up another way and we’d be killing King James today instead of elevating him to Gandhi with a basketball status.
It doesn’t help the game and doesn’t equally and fairly preserve the legacy of each player.This obsessive focus on one individual inevitably results in other important contributors being forgotten. In last year’s NBA Finals, there were guys balling other than LeBron James and Steph Curry. In fact, Iguodala won the MVP, but nobody really wanted to acknowledge his importance, despite the award.
The narrative was already shaped for it to be Steph Curry’s championship and as far as Cleveland went, most fans categorized that squad as “LeBron and some bums.”
The focus on superstars and “greatest ever” debates has also tainted and misrepresented the accomplishments of Kyrie Irving in these Finals. His contributions to the first NBA title in Cavs history were as important to the team’s success as anything LeBron James did over those seven games.
While his stock as a player has surely risen, Irving’s “moment” was undoubtedly overshadowed by the focus on LBJ, while LeBron’s status as an immortal has skyrocketed -- for the time being. The euphoric high of the NBA world coming off this dramatic series has morphed into a full fledged LeBron James media butt kissing.
City legend Jim Brown wants to build a statue of him and LeBron’s increasingly credited with being an athlete who has a pulse on the issues plaguing society today.
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Said Brown in an ESPN interview, live from Cleveland’s NBA championship celebration:
“LeBron’s a human being with a social consciousness. He’s way beyond his age with his wisdom and intelligence. I have nothing but admiration for him and with his upbringing and all the things he’s overcome he is a champion.”
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While, LBJ has opened his mouth a few times, like during the Donald Sterling situation, and reportedly “donated” or “raised” over $40 million in education contributions, I wouldn’t put him on Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell levels. I wouldn’t even put him on Jim Brown’s level, a guy who has mentored gang members and went into the belly of the beast to reach lost African-American communities.
The hype is surely prepared to elevate LeBron to this next level, proving that you have to do less than ever to be considered an immortal. Maybe my standard of social activism was set too high by my parents and the athletes who came up in the 70s, 80s and 90s.
Or maybe I just want to try and keep 24 hours of focus on one thing.
Let’s enjoy the moment. Let’s enjoy the reality of the moment. LBJ came home and delivered on his goal of winning a championship. He has the NBA in the palm of his hands again and we are looking forward to seeing where he will go next and how many rings he will win when it's all over.
Maybe over time, guys who helped LeBron get to these heights will get their due. For now, they will be prisoners of the moment, lost in the hype and elevation of one human to martian status. LeBron has handled himself almost flawlessly as an entrepreneur and athlete since bursting into the league.
Still, just last year we were about to label him the worse superstar in NBA finals history. Now he’s MJ with the mind of Dr. Harry Edwards and everyone else are just the seven dwarfs.
There’s no chill button in this daily NBA whirlwind of myth destroyers, legend builders and fair-weathered loyalty, where the big picture is never valued and greatness is a blur of reality and fantasy that is reassessed on a day-to-day basis.