Patch asked in its “You Said It” feature if we were rooting for LeBron James . Not so much. I paid little attention to the NBA finals until the tide turned, but over the last two games rooted hard for the Mavericks. Partly that was rooting against LeBron, but mostly it's rooting against Chris Bosh.
I am unhappy that LeBron shipped out of town (he was raised in Akron and owns a home in Bath Township) and especially that he announced it in that unbearable ESPN infomercial. But more than LeBron, I blame Bosh for the decision (if not “The Decision.”)
Anyone paying attention knew that LeBron was defined by two numbers: 23 and 6. His idol – as it was for a generation of ballers – was Number 23, Michael Jordan. LeBron came into the league with the hype and the skills to seriously challenge Jordan for the title of Greatest of all Time, but to do so he arguably has to match Jordan's six NBA championships.
To do that, he needs another superstar. Jordan had Pippen; Magic had Kareem and so forth. The NBA is a superstar's league. To win it all, and especially to build a dominant franchise, a team needs at least two truly great players.
Problem was, the Cleveland Cavaliers weren't good enough to win it all with just LeBron, but were too good to draft the next big star. That left the free agent market, but free agents wouldn't come to Cleveland.
According to reports, LeBron pitched the Cavaliers to his friends Bosh and Dwayne Wade who refused. Wade was understandable – he was living in Miami and is originally from Chicago. But Bosh was languishing in Toronto and should frankly have been thrilled to be considered an elite free agent. Despite an engaged and generous owner, state of the art facilities and a co-dependently loyal fan base, Bosh couldn't be persuaded to bring his talents to the North Coast.
So after LeBron watched the team fail to land a blue chip free agent over the previous two off-seasons and upon having been refused by two of his best friends, the game was up. If LeBron had stayed in Cleveland, winning one NBA title would have been a challenge and the chances of running down Jordan's six were about the same as Michael breaking into Major League Baseball. So he left.
In a way, the people who root for LeBron because he's LeBron have it right. Rooting for a home team is in many ways an irrational act. We are fans because some guys we don't know wear the uniform of a team headquartered near where we live.
And, as entertainment, we allow ourselves to be defined by whether those athletes succeed. I am a fan of, among others, the television auteur Joss Whedon, the singer Nico Case and the writer Michael Chabon. If one of them puts out a poor TV show/CD/novel, I may be disappointed but it doesn't blacken my mood. But if the Browns lay an egg against Baltimore, my kids know to tread gently in my presence the rest of the day.
Rooting against Bosh is far more rational. Bosh's refusal to sign with Cleveland wasn't simply a blow to the team, it was a statement about the place. We're just not cool enough for an NBA star to deign to play for us. The Chris Boshes of the world don't offend just home team fandom, but also hometown pride.
LeBron brought me back into following the NBA and his departure may well be the end of my caring about professional basketball. Increasingly the league is defined by decisions like his and Bosh's. NBA stars aren't merely great athletes, they are media celebrities in a way that few athlete from other sports are. The NBA culture is a celebrity culture and NBA players want access to VIP rooms with real VIPs.
Only a handful of NBA cities offer that sort of culture – New York, LA and Miami, plus maybe Boston, Chicago and a couple of cities in Texas. As star free agents are not only able to dictate their own futures but also to coordinate with their buddies to create talent oligarchies like the Miami Heat, the rest of the league is in danger of becoming a farm league for those eight or nine destination cities.
So, no thank you Heatles; I won't be cheering for you. Cheering for Miami this year requires cheering against where I'm from. So, no, did not root for the Heatles to root for LeBron. Cheering for Miami now means cheering against where I'm from.
Is LeBron's loss basketball karma, do you feel sorry for hometown guy or do you care? Have your say in our comments.
For another viewpoint, check out another editorial here.