It’s a glorious day, the beginning of the end of the longest season in NBA history. It began way back on July 8, 2010, when ESPN gave away an hour of prime time and any vestige of its own journalistic credibility to the Whore of Akron, LeBron James, so that James could inflict as much pain as possible upon the city of Cleveland and Cavs fans while being fluffed by Stuart Scott and Michael Wilbon. In a few days, it will end as it began — with myth in place of truth, with the well-kept media poodles panting hotly, and with Cleveland fans left to ponder, as we’ve done for half a century, what might have been but never is.
Were I the sort of man who’d wager on so sad an outcome, I’d take the Heat in 6.
To those who feel I’m selling short the Dallas Mavericks: I hope you’re right. I can imagine Jason Kidd, whose brilliance is past all doubt, leading the Mavs to a win or two, but I don’t think Dirk Nowitzki will light up the Heat’s defense on a consistent basis, and I can’t see Dallas outscoring Miami four times — not without playing the same withering, brutal D that kept the Celtics and the Bulls close enough to lose incrunch time game after game. I can’t see that, either.
The second-worst aspect of this season — I’ll get to the first further down — has been the build-up to the storyline that will rule these Finals: The Vindication of LeBron. There are live horses to beat in objection to it, but no point in doing so. This is America: Winning! is proof beyond reproof, rendering moot all evidence and argument to the contrary. If the bastard wins the NBA title, then he chose rightly, suffered unfairly for doing so, and surmounted his travails as a hero.
That’s the storyline that will be rammed home this week, not because it’s true, but because LeBron has become such a crucial brand. To the NBA, to Nike, to ESPN/ABC/Disney, the Whore of Akron is an earner — which is exactly why, even if the Heat lose, the story of LeBron will leave behind his villainy to focus on his singular greatness.
And this is — it grieves me to admit — as it ought to be. James’s play during the Heat’s title run is old hat to Cleveland fans. He has been the NBA’s best player — by far — for at least three seasons. Until Games 5 and 6 against the Celtics in last year’s playoffs, no sentient Cavs fan ever thought of LeBron as a choke artist, much less a quitter, which is precisely why his tank job inspired such fury and ugly speculation. Only a year and three weeks ago, the Cavaliers were still a betting favorite to reach the Finals, and not even the most cynical pundit had James leaving Cleveland. But to expect the national media or fans around the NBA to hold a grudge on behalf of Cleveland is absurd.
Still, it would be nice if folks would leave behind the ignorant trope that casts Cavs fans as ex-girlfriends. For anyone aware of what soccer means to billions of fans around the world: Imagine that the world’s best player grew up in Spain, or Sweden, or Saudi Arabia, led his national team to the verge of winning a World Cup, and then — while still in his prime, while claiming to grasp the fans’ hunger for a triumph they’d never known — not only decided to take his talents to some other land, but did so in a manner that humiliated his country of birth. People would scream for his blood — not because he had behaved like a bad boyfriend, but because he was a traitor, hated rightly and forever.