“I think you should sit back and enjoy [LeBron] because I think he’s one of the greatest to ever play our game. As far as playing basketball, you’ve got to enjoy this guy. If you’re a basketball fan, you got to sit back and go, ‘wow, how’d he do that?’ But LeBron James is by far our best player in this league.” – Larry Bird
This was Larry Bird, one of the greatest players to ever lace up a pair of basketball shoes, on the BS Report with Bill Simmons this week. All everybody wants to talk about is how Bird said he’d rather play with Kobe Bryant instead of LeBron if he wanted to win, and there is plenty to glean from that opinion. Bird said that LeBron would be more fun but Kobe’s desire to win was greater. And there is nothing wrong with believing it or disagreeing with that.
What struck me the most about Bird’s comments on LeBron is his plea for fans to enjoy him. Okay, maybe it wasn’t a plea but it seemed like he was urging people to realize how rare of a specimen and player LeBron James is and that when he’s gone, we may be filled with regret that we didn’t take more from his career than a chance to criticize him during the 24-hour news cycle.
To a large degree, I absolutely agree with what Bird is saying. I often get pegged as a LeBron-lover because The Decision didn’t get me all riled up and I say he’s one of my favorite players to watch. I try to dispute the exemplum about LeBron being “unclutch” or “not wanting to win enough” because I find it to be a psychosomatic necessity inside all of us, who never had the desire or drive ourselves to become one of these players. I counter this lazy armchair psychologist role that fans play by using my own take from Psych 101 classes and try to analyze the analysts who want to delve into LeBron’s mind, despite having no real clue how he thinks.
It doesn’t help the problem by any means. It’s just more of a defense mechanism on my part for wanting to discuss the game of basketball more than the soap opera we all try to make it out to be.
A couple months ago, Ethan Sherwood Strauss wrote this about LeBron and his label as a “choker”:
We mock a choker under the presumption that failure unmasks the unworthy, like a test that reveals just how little you studied. Though choking is understood to stem from fear, people have a hard time accepting that fear of failure comes with wanting success.
This has resonated with me more than most things I’ve read about basketball and the assumed psychology that circles it. What if LeBron wants it too much? What if we’ve all been wrong about him and he cares about winning more than he does about everything else? What if THAT is what causes him to fail at the least opportune times?
LeBron’s short diatribe about people wanting to blame him for things that go wrong was humorous and yet accurate to some degree. Obviously, he was being facetious (or I hope he was) when he took the hit for unentertaining cartoons and poor dairy choices, but almost any fault or folly of the Miami Heat over the past 15 months has been pinned on him. Maybe it’s fair to do this and maybe it isn’t. LeBron is the best player in the NBA, even if you hate him. So when things go wrong for his team, it’s only natural and fair to put the onus on him, first and foremost.
And honestly, I think that’s how the collective choose to enjoy LeBron James’ time in this league. Larry Bird’s recommendation for enjoying what LeBron does on the basketball court seems to be asking for more tolerance, but I don’t think that’s how people choose to enjoy him.
We enjoy his highlights. Few players dunk in games the way he does, make the passes he makes, or find ways to make the impossible become YouTubeable the way that LeBron does and we love this about him. Despite all of your hatred or dislike for him, he can make your heart jump for even a split-second at times. We enjoy his successes because on some level, I think a lot of people want him to justify the hype with winning titles.
Most of all, people seem to enjoy him through reveling in his shortcomings. I don’t know if that’s fair or not, but it’s a reality. If the Miami Heat are about to lose, the Daily Dime Live’s traffic usually doubles. If LeBron is having a bad game, a lot of people would like you to do the math and total up the number of rings he has won in comparison to others throughout the history of the league.
Whether you want to label it as jealousy, self-righteousness, or just flat-out not liking LeBron because you don’t like him, I don’t know that NBA fans have ever enjoyed the story of a player’s career quite like we enjoy LeBron James.
You just have to figure out what that enjoyment means to you.