This non-basketball fan’s reasoning for being happy for LeBron James and Cleveland.
On Sunday night I lay in bed at about 3.30am scrolling through my twitter timeline, the Americans that I follow were very much suffering from a case of shock and awe. An aside, I was only up this late because my phone shit the bed and Lord knows I was not going to sleep after factory resetting my phone without having re-installed all the apps that were previously on it. But anyway, I tiptoed through the timeline, carefully trying to avoid both Money In The Bank and Game of Thrones spoilers. I did not do this entirely successfully as WWE’s own twitter account let me know that Dean Ambrose had won the money in the bank suitcase (and subsequently the WWE World Title). After this revelation I became increasingly reckless, spoilers be damned, I needed to know who would win Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals.
Full disclosure, I am not a basketball fan. I am aware of basketball through being a fan of other sports and have paid closer attention to the NBA over the last few years by virtue of paying closer attention to American sport’s media in an attempt to become more knowledgeable about football. I know that Kobe Bryant retired this year, and that he once scored 81 points. I know that Steph Curry was first ever unanimous MVP for this regular season and that twitter is not a huge fan of his newest signature shoes. I know that Shaquile O’Neal is exceptionaly large, a national treasure and appeared at this year’s Wrestlemania. I know that Anthony Davis is an extremely good young player and has a uni-brow. I played basketball for my secondary school (high school) in the basketball Mecca that is Crosshaven, Ireland. And once I even scored a lay-up. But, have I ever watched an entire NBA game live? No. I’ve seen highlights on YouTube, I’ve seen basketball at the Olympics where the United States have an embarrassment of riches as well as embarrassingly rich players when you consider that the Olympics is meant to be amateur, and I’ve also seen European basketball on Eurosport where the teams are more well known for their exploits on the football field. I’m looking at you Real Madrid and Barcelona, among others. So I am not completely ignorant when it comes to basketball, but I am hardly a basketball savant at the same time.
So the drama of the final quarter of the final game of the 2016 NBA finals unfolded on my Twitter timeline and against seemingly all odds the Cleveland Cavaliers won, after coming back from being 3–1 down in the series, they won and beat one of the all time great teams in the process. LeBron James won and Cleveland had its first major sports first trophy after a 52 year drought. I was happy about this, happy for LeBron James and happy for Cleveland. However plenty of people were not. Well nobody would begrudge Cleveland of its first major sports championship in over half a century but there a great deal of ill will towards the man who delivered it to them, the same man who made the American public endure The Decision throughout the summer of 2010.
Much of the LeBron hatred can be traced back to that summer in 2010, where he ended his unrestricted free agency with a television special on ESPN, called The Decision, by announcing that he would be joinng up with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh to form the Big Three, which would deliver two NBA championships to Miami in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Even prior to LeBron moving to Miami there was a percentage of NBA fans who refused to embrace him, the young upstart King James (as I type out the words “King James” I realize that is the kind of nickname that is easy to hate) would never be fit to lace Michael Jordon’s overpriced shoes. I understand that every sport needs a villain, but as a neutral onlooker with no affiliation to any particular NBA franchise, I have to tell you that LeBron James has been horribly miscast as one. When the greatest basketball player of all time is quite clearly not the nicest of people, how can the fans who worship at the alter of MJ think so little of LeBron? The man is a phenomenal talent who has been at the centre of American popular culture for more than a decade, has avoided off the court controversy, done a lot of good for the state of Ohio and was hilariously self-deprecating in Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck.
For a country where sports can be a religion, and where religion can bleed into sports more than anywhere else in the world, much of America has seemed to miss the value in the story of the prodigal son. LeBron James was lost, and now he is found. From thinking he had enough of the cold and the lack of nightlife in Cleveland to having a lack of community in the chintzy culture vacuum that is South Beach, he came home and delivered on the championship that he failed to deliver the first time around (by all accounts the Caviliers team he brought to the finals the first time around is the worst ever team to play in the NBA finals). Sure he may leave again in the future for warmer pastures, to play with his friends on a super team and so what? He will always have delivered a championship to a championship-less city against the best regular season team of all time. So well done LeBron James, you seem like a thoroughly decent man and are extraordinarily good at basketball.