I've been a huge Lebron James fan for years. I like the way he plays the game. A superstar who can score with a pass-first mentality. Chris Paul, Steve Nash, Magic Johnson: these are players I've always loved because they get everyone on the team involved. I always liked the Get Along Gang growing up. I'm just wired for admiring this type of behavior, and I like the basketball players who don't have to selfishly dominate.
Lebron was unfairly maligned in Cleveland, playing with scrubs and making them better than anyone in the world could. (Remember how well Kobe did with those Laker teams who didn't have Shaq or Pau/Bynum/Odum in the front court?) I got riled up that people weren't putting Lebron in the right perspective. People were debating whether Kobe was better because he had so many rings (just as many as Steve Kerr) even though every advanced metric puts Lebron way ahead of Kobe. (They were also putting Kobe in the same league with Jordan, even though Jordan never needed a dominating center or front court to win championships.) So when the consensus flipped out because Lebron took less money and sacrificed his ego to play with better teammates, it made me that much more determined to root for him.
But a funny thing happened with a few minutes left in Game 6. I realized I didn't care that the Mavs were going to win. At the end of the day, this is another man who's personal accomplishments have no bearing on my self-worth.
So why do we do it? What draws us into the drama of professional sports, to celebrate the accomplishments of other men? Why was there so much hatred for Lebron, with almost the whole nation rooting for the Heat's downfall?
For the geographical sports fan, the one who loves the team from the location he happened to be born, there's validation when the team wins. "I'm a winner because me and my hometown are winners." There's also a sense of community that comes from victory. As humans we're wired to look for connections, to be a part of something larger than ourselves. And being winners together makes us feel that much more important. But there's also the entertainment aspect. Sports can distract from what ails us. We root for the good guys against the enemy. And sometimes we have to dig deep to explain why someone is the enemy. So we manufacture a narrative to help direct our hate against them. It beats thinking about why our life turned out so much more disappointing then it should have.
The Decision plus party in Miami gave an excuse to hate, a chance to focus a collective anger. The Heat were the bad guys, no matter how unprincipled this stand was. I mean, how often does everyone say they want athletes to take less money and sacrifice their egos to win as a team? Does a pre-season party and TV break-up with an old team really make for basketball villains? Remember when Kobe raped that girl and Jason Kidd slapped his wife? (Or does that just show us we have a propensity to forgive and forget? Or does it show that we forgive and forget winners?)
Anyway, at the end of the day, who cares. People have already moved on (hopefully) and have stopped taking pleasure in Lebron's failures and the Mavs accomplishments. As much as people pissed on Lebron for saying it, he has a point. Once this ended the haters still have to go back to their lives. That is, until they find the next athlete to root for in this perpetual made up struggle of good v. evil that we use to distract ourselves. I'm still waiting for Kevin Durant to have America turn against him in a few years when he does only God knows what.