Monday, July 24, 2017

The Pleasure Of Defeat

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

If LeBron “The King” James, the man and the basketball player, was tried by a jury of unbiased peers, in Judge Objective’s courtroom, the unanimous verdict would be not guilty – not guilty of falling short of any reasonable or meaningful measure of a man and hardcourt legend. 

In 2003, James was the most heralded high school basketball player since Dr. Naismith hung his peach basket.  James’s combination of size, strength and comprehensive basketball skill was inconceivable.  He passed like a point guard, scored like a two-guard and had the body of a power forward.  The potential for basketball feats never witnessed had NBA fans salivating. 

Fourteen NBA seasons later, James has surpassed any realistic expectations.  Yes, I said surpassed.  James’s resume reads like superhero’s, had basketball been prioritized over crime fighting.  Rookie of the Year.  13-time All-Star.  Three-time Finals MVP.  All-NBA first team 11 times.  Two-time Olympic gold medalist.  Three-time NBA Champion. 

Basketball superlatives aside, James has been first team all-human off the court.  Imagine being the NBA’s newly anointed “next best thing”, immediate hero to Cleveland and your home state of Ohio, apple of Nike’s eye and with a personal gross national product that outranked many countries – all at age 18.  Would nefarious temptations have compromised your scruples?  Might there have been a late night brawl or traffic stop gone awry?  An embarrassing TMZ story concerning a love interest?  With James there’s been none of those famous athlete-run-amuck clichés.  Yes, there was The Decision – James’s mishandled free agency announcement.  And he can be fussy with the media at times (what ultra-competitive athlete isn’t?).  But these are victimless blemishes and petty complaints considering the remarkable grace with which James has handled fame and the blinding light shining on him 24/7. 

Unconvinced?  Read his Wiki page and notice what it lacks: domestic violence, DUI, late-night carousing and general “jerk spoiled athlete” behavior.  What you will find: a stud basketball player, political activist, philanthropist and a man who married his high school sweetheart.  That’s Central Casting stuff for The Great American Hero.

And yet, except for Tom Brady, there’s no other athlete of his stature who galvanizes the cantankerous, jealous and ill-intended haters like LeBron James.  Aside from fans of James’s team, people mostly want him to fail.  They relish in his Finals defeats and mock him for not matching Michael Jordan’s accomplishments.  There’s public pleasure in James’s pain.  When The King loses, the people win. 

James’s obsessive critics are often the same people who deify former greats like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan.  Really?  Johnson, lest we forget in the rightful celebration of his contributions to HIV awareness, acquired the virus as a consequence of promiscuity.  Bird’s estrangement from his biological daughter has largely been dismissed.  Chamberlain, the most dominant basketball force of all time, notoriously bragged about his sexual exploits with thousands of women.  And then there’s the precious Michael Jordan.  On the basketball court, he was the Greatest of all Time.  Off it, he was a terrible teammate capable of visceral, demeaning criticism (similar to corporate icon Steve Jobs), a notorious gambler and an adulterer. 

These are our declared basketball heroes.  And James is our pariah? 

Ani DiFranco’s song “32 flavors” includes this line: “Everyone harbors a secret hatred for the prettiest girl in the room.”  Ditto for the most gifted basketball player in world…based on pure, unadulterated hypocrisy.  On the one hand, Jordan is worshipped and the extramarital antics of Tiger Woods and violent acts of Ray Rice incite appropriate outrage.  On the other, there’s a confounding lust for James’s failures, a genuine pleasure in it, despite him being, by all accounts, a good father and husband and a survivor of a fishbowl capable of exposing the smallest of character flaws.  

But it is what it is; James’s public cast is set.  That aforementioned objective trial will never happen.  No matter, for this much is clear: the conviction of James as non-Jordan and the condemnation of him as the NBA’s villain is more of an indictment of the would-be jury’s values and character than it is of The King’s.

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