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 ayoung 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.

Tupac Lives

I’m pretty excited about this whole Tupac/hologram thing, and not just because it means that at some point in the near future, as the technology develops, I might actually have a shot at fulfilling my lifelong dream of boning Bea Arthur. Now that they’ve manged to create an image of Pac so lifelike and compelling that ‘he’ may actually tour, I can hope to repay a small debt I incurred two decades ago.

It happened in early November, 1994, when Tupac was starring with Mickey Rourke in a movie called Bullet. I was profiling Mick for GQ; it was Fashion Week in New York and when he wasn’t shooting on location in Brooklyn, Rourke was pseudo-stalking his estranged wife, supermodel and quasi-thespian Carre Otis, as she flounced through Manhattan. Rourke was a mess, professionally and personally; Shakur was shortly to be tried for sexual assault (and would soon catch five slugs in the lobby of an NYC recording studio, a capping he survived); and I wasn’t feeling so good myself.

I’d seen Tupac a couple of times during the week. I had only a nodding acquaintance with his biography and his work then. Whether out of deference or temperament, he was as quiet as Rourke was loud; each had his own small entourage, and each clearly liked the other. By week’s end, I’d gotten pretty much everything I could from Rourke in terms of interviews, but I wasn’t about to miss out on the chance to tag along to a strip club that Saturday night. The main event — aside from Rourke vanishing into a private room with one of the ‘dancers’ at one point in the evening — was the Michael Moorer-George Foreman heavyweight championship fight, shown on a huge screen behind the club’s stage.

Rourke, Tupac, and company took up most of the first row. For nine rounds, Moorer had his way with the 45-year-old Foreman, who resembled a tranquilized bear. In the tenth, Foreman caught Moorer on the chin with a short cannonball right, knocking him out clean. Mickey couldn’t have been more delighted; I can still hear him screaming, over and over, “Age don’t mean shit!” (He told me later he’d won thirty large betting on Foreman, a claim I found precisely as credible as everything else he’d said that week.)

From the strip club we head to a dance club, where — in a scene choreographed by their publicists and designed to keep them on the front page of the tabloids for one more day — Mickey finds Carre seated in his VIP section. She and her party leave for another region of the club and she sends up a tray of drinks, whereupon Mickey has Tupac deliver a bottle of Cristal to her. It is more than a little like high school, more than a little silly. When Tupac rejoins us, he pulls out a baggie of weed and begins rolling and smoking joint after joint. It’s too loud to talk, but not so loud that I can’t signal my willingness — nay, eagerness — to partake, and Tupac, may God rest his noble soul, seems happy to share.

I felt bad that I’d left my own stash at the hotel, mainly because it was vastly better than Tupac’s. But I’ll always be grateful to him for his kindness that night, and I hope someday I’ll get to buy his hologram a thank-you gift of some sort. I guess dinner’s out of the question.