When you write a book about LeBron James and call it The Whore of Akron, you also forfeit any claim to objectivity or fairness. Not only do I understand this, I embrace it. It never was fair to burden a young athlete with the hopes and dreams of millions of Cleveland fans suffering a fifty-year case of blue balls. Nor is it fair to blame LeBron for the Cavs’ failure to win a championship during his tenure with the team; Danny Ferry’s flailing, Mike Brown’s fecklessness, the Mo Williams playoff horrow show, the Larry Hughes Experience — these things weren’t LeBron’s fault.
My loathing for him is a separate thing. It waxes in direct proportion to his on-court success, but it is fixed at a certain level by the greatness of his game: LeBron James is simply the best basketball player I’ve ever seen. Not the fiercest — to say the very least — and hardly the most successful, but the breadth and brilliance of his skills are, to these ancient eyes, unmatched. So it comes as no surprise that LeBron has won another MVP award, his third of the past four seasons. (Truth is, he deserved to win it last year, too.)
Likewise, it’s no surprise that the media — led, as ever, by ESPN, the unsleeping uber-brand spinning the wide world of sports into ’round-the-clock merchandise — is pushing the story of LeBron’s personal and professional redemption so hard. To Cavs fans, and to those writers who covered James during his years in Cleveland, the stories about how hard James worked on this or that aspect of his game over the summer long ago became an annual exercise in bullshit. As for the ‘I played with hate last year, but now I’m back to my old self’ nonsense spewed by King Shit himself, one look at his career stat line ought to be enough to blow away that smoke.
There’s nothing — absolutely nothing — about James’s numbers this year that isn’t perfectly in line with his entire career. His shooting percentage improved, primarily because he took far fewer 3-point shots; his assists-per-game average was the lowest he’s posted since six seasons ago, likely due to playing more often without Dwyane Wade; measured by Win Shares and PER, LeBron’s last two seasons in Cleveland were better than this year’s model. All the love/hate crap aside, James is now wrapping up his 9th NBA season, and he’ll turn 28 later this year. Yeah, he’s a marvelous talent. But to talk about him at this point as if he’s going to get better and better — or as if his drama-queen persona has suddenly calmed — is sheer public relations.
Meanwhile, LeBron’s epic choke in last year’s Finals has been reduced to a trope along the lines of “I didn’t play as well as I wanted to” or “I didn’t make as many big plays as I’m used to making for my team.” This isn’t understatement; it’s lunacy. James’s playoff collapse against the Mavericks was nothing short of historic, and, like his stats, was wholly in line with his vanishing act against Boston in his last playoff appearance for the Cavaliers.
I foolishly picked the Knicks to beat the Heat. I’ll go with the Pacers next, and so on. Not only because I want LeBron James to fail, but also because the Heat just aren’t solid enough to win it all. They lack a decent center and point guard. Their coach is a cipher. And their best player has a MVP statuette where his heart’s supposed to be.