A Baller Without Title for a Title Without True Ballers
by MARTY PERETZ
Again after a major confrontation, the basketball punditry luxuriates in condemning that wandering leader of an uncelebrated franchise, LeBron James. It is no secret that the tide of public opinion has turned against the former boy prince and uncrowned king, but, as with all scurrility and moral cowardice, critics bury the direst of their malignancy amongst the obvious. No one can doubt a visionary ballplayer, but it is because his cause and gameplay are beyond doubt that the whistles blown against him must be dog whistles and the penalties against him all phantom.
Last night, the Chicago Bulls served the Miami Heat a stunning 103-82 defeat, during which LeBron went a mere 5-for-15, scoring only 15 points total. Deng, of the Chicago security council, smothered his offense, committing no shortage of crimes against LeBron's legitimate right to post up or even own the court, all to the salacious satisfactions of those who believe it morally just that LeBron be denied his place in the sun.
Actions such as these are, of course, perfectly reasonable to critics. Mistreatment and marginalization of LeBron is only quid pro quo because of their claims that those officiating the game do not call fouls on LeBron. Evidently his superstar status enables him ever to play the victim, which creates "justice" when he is incontrovertibly victimized himself. But this compounds injustice, merely treats it as of a piece with the vengeful code of justice envisioned by the great proto-lawmaker of the Arab peoples, Hammurabi, who saw no crime to which he could not respond with a greater atrocity. LeBron is always to blame for how other people treat him, just as he is to blame for how he treats others. He can commit no act for which he is not also at fault.
Such irrationality goes even to his character. LeBron emerged from meager context and molded his own legend, forged in ability, determinism and trial, actualizing himself in extraordinary circumstances to create a peerless career in basketball. He desired only to join a community of ballers, yet was slighted even in this effort by those who considered him too young, too passionate, too focused on himself to play a mature role with established veterans.
Later, after his ascendancy was lore and his place and ability unquestioned, he sought to broaden his base, to forge partnerships, to dynamically approach new challenges and to secure regular contention and primacy in his field. Unsurprisingly, his decision, his forceful selfness, was written off by the sober and homogeneous media as crassly manipulative. Self-interested. Critics who once fawned over his ability to hold his own instead turned to stereotypes of acquisitiveness, power and materialism, those things that dog all ballers who don't step out of comfortable backgrounds and acceptable programs like good little American citizens.
After repeated abuse at their hands, LeBron sought to beat back those demons he so regularly faced in the East and seize his own chance. Doing that required partnerships — Bosh, Wade, men secure in their positions and abilities but who recognized that the East could not be dominated singularly. Together they also recognized the need for a guiding hand that responded to their abilities and their possibilities.
The arrogance of a Riley, a micro-manager who presumes to mold abilities in his image rather than let them flourish as their own, could not work in an East guided by a concert of LeBron/Bosh/Wade. Thankfully, a man like Erik Spoelstra possesses enough ball wisdom to know that feverishly smearing a dry-erase board with plans can't force an issue on the court. He knows that he can't crash the boards from the sidelines, but that LeBron, Dwayne and Chris have to crash them for him, on the court.
Still, like last night, the plan can fail. Spoelstra can insist on plays that limit LeBron, and in that atmosphere, he can be shut down. Opponents can make inroads on Wade and Bosh, and in doing so, they can shut down the partnership, disrupting the rhythm that makes their concert so necessary and so powerful. Such setbacks offer endless fodder for commentators eager to deride and dismiss LeBron, allowing to become an icon to mock. Icons are so easy to blast, because they are dehumanized.
The thing LeBron critics know intimately is that they must make him a silhouette on a t-shirt or a shoe, because then there is no limit to what they can do as haters. We all know it's wrong to hate the player. But if we turn LeBron into just a cynical game, there's no limit to hating. There isn't a person on the other end. The idea of LeBron should absorb it all.
Next time there's a close-up on him during a free throw, I urge you to look directly in his eyes. Look at the confidence that glowers there and how it flickers for just a moment with fear. LeBron knows that every sunk bucket makes him a fixed presence easier to hate: gifted, advantaged, hard-working, successful. He knows too that every brick buys him a moment's peace.... but only a moment. Because those who will stop mocking or making unreasonable demands on him for a second will just resume a second later.
For LeBron, there is no peace. There's a saying in Israel, one you might have heard, one with its own rich tradition worth exploring and celebrating. Roughly translated, it means "crying while shooting." It is our shame that it applies to a baller talent like LeBron.
— Marty Peretz