Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Generational Gaps: Why LeBron James Will Never Be Jordan

Grantland, a sports-writing website sponsored by ESPN and ran by Bill Simmons, is quickly becoming a major voice on the Internet -- or at least my Internet.

It's popularity makes sense, featured columnists and editors are some of today's literary giants (Eggers, Klosterman, and Gladwell) as well as ESPN's best -- Bill Simmons.

One of my favorite parts of the website is the great coverage and analysis of everything LeBron James. This is especially prominent considering what happened the other night (if you don't know what happened then there's a wealth of Internet you haven't explored and TV you haven't watched).

Here are just some of the articles ...

All the writers at Grantland do a brilliant job analyzing and communicating the cultural impact that LeBron James has -- and why we have such an incessant need to pay attention to him -- but one thing I think they fail to mention is the important generational difference that LeBron has become a victim of (don't get me wrong, I'm a Boston guy. I hate the man's guts. But it's unfortunately true.)

In the era of Bird, Magic, Thomas, etc ... big time players were drafted to teams and stayed on those teams. The franchise was built around them and, after five years of hard work and growth, they became a championship caliber team and legendary, well respected players. From everyone.

That phase of pro ball ended -- popularly -- with Jordan. Most major stars after Jordan have played on at least two teams in their career. Just look at the past five years of major trades

-Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett
-LeBron and Bosh
-Melo and Stoudemire
-Steve Nash
-Shaq (extra emphasis for the most teams)

Pierce and Kobe are the obvious exemptions to this trend.

Long story short, there's no more loyalty --  from both players and administration.

Stars have become bigger than the teams they're on and winning championships has been more about individual legacy than the fact that the Lakers and Celtics have won almost every championship between 1980 and 1990. It's about my legacy, not the club's.

Yes, it was always Jordan and the Bulls, Magic and the Lakers, Bird and the Celtics, but they were all around long enough -- and struggled long enough -- that they were able to develop a very, very good supporting cast of role players. In fact, pretty much every major star from the 1980s to mid '90s played with another Hall of Famer for an extended period of time without ever leaving their original team. That doesn't happen anymore.

So, yes, the fine writers at Grantland have done a great job analyzing why we dole massive amounts of attention to the Man We Love to Hate (or, He Who Must Not Be Named). But, most of other pundits have spent the past month or so thinking of ways that LeBron is like Jordan.

But he's not. He's completely different.

Jordan was a mature, battle-hardened, work horse (and a cocky dick) who became a symbol of a team, city, and a generation. All by earning himself a championship -- not by whoring his "talents" to the highest bidder to get on the fast track to the championships because, God forbid, LeBron isn't a NBA champion by at least seven years out of high school.

(By the time Jordan had been seven years out of high school he had:
1. Won an NCAA Championship and earned nearly every college basketball award available.
2. Got drafted a year early.
3. Went back and got his degree from UNC Chapel Hill in cultural geography.
4. Set a still unbroken record for points in a single play off game of 63 and still lost the series to Bird and the Celtics [after missing 64 games from a BROKEN FOOT]
5. Scored 3,000 points in a season with 200 steals and 100 blocks
6. FINALLY, after being in the league for four years, made it out of the FIRST ROUND of the play offs by beating -- lo and behold -- the Cleveland Cavaliers.)

But, given the recent history of transactions and geographical displacement of talent, can you blame LeBron for just being contemporary?

Calling out LeBron for his pre-season fiasco is one thing, but blaming his decision is completely different. That's like calling out your dad for giving up writing letters by hand to using e-mail. He's just getting with the times.

That's what LeBron did. This doesn't just apply to the NBA, but to every major sport. Baseball is the worst of all -- you might as well be a Nomad than a pro baseball player -- but football (Terrel Owens, Randy Moss) and hockey are no different either.

We're in an era where our beloved stars aren't taken care of nearly as much as previous generations. And, because of that, they need to take care of themselves. Do you think Shaq's career would have had the longevity if he hadn't bounced around the country looking for a team to take him in? No.

The times aren't-a-changing anymore, they already have. Sure, LeBron may have pulled the cockiest, most immature, move in sports history by handling his career the way he has, but for simply leaving his hometown is something we can not fault him for.

We seem to forget that he grew up right outside of Cleveland. Can you imagine being of that stature, ambition, potential, and God-given talent and living in your hometown for twenty five years? I would want to leave, too. There's a whole world out there and it's unfair to cage a bird as bright he in a city as dark and dirty as Cleveland.

Long point short is that LeBron can never be compared to Jordan -- as far as legacy is concerned -- because the era that LeBron is playing in is vastly different than when Jordan played.

When Jordan left a void was created (like a bad break up) and during that void the NBA -- and us -- needed to change so we could move on (like a bad break up). This is the change we've created. This is the current state of affairs, where what used to be common practice is now a rarity.

I hate LeBron as much as the next Bostonian, but let's put this cultural debacle into perspective here -- he's just a kid. He's twenty-five and has had more pressure and expectations thrown upon him than most ever will in their lifetime. He's allowed to fuck up.

So, LeBron, I'm sorry for those nasty Tweets I mentioned you in during the playoffs. I realize now that I, like everyone else, got caught up in the disappointment that you are not what I hoped you could have been. You are something different. It was unfair of me for projecting this nostalgic fantasy upon you that maybe -- just maybe -- there might be some unifying player out there that can revolutionize a failing city and bring a Nation together (whether for or against) like what someone else who wore number twenty three did. I realize now that was asking too much.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Im sure the debate has been squashed in light of (somewhat)recent playoff performances...