I think I might be a pretty weird sports fan. While most people root for the underdog, I root for the favorite.
Now don’t get me wrong. I get as much of a rise out of upsets in the NCAA Tournament as anyone else. But at some point, when the theoretical gap between the two teams gets beyond a certain point, my rooting interest shifts in the other direction. When one team becomes so dominant, so fantastic, I root for them to get their just reward for their effort. Maybe it’s my experience in the trenches of the college football playoff debate (where a lot of people don’t actually want to see March Madness in football) speaking, but I root for history, I root for greatness, and where appropriate, I root for perfection. And I root against history and justice being hijacked in order to film a real-life sports movie.
But even discounting my own neuroses, when you look at it purely objectively… how can you not feel for LeBron James?
Much of it has already been chronicled to death. He’s one of the great talents in the history of the league, but has never been able to take advantage of it when it matters most. He’s been paying his penance for “The Decision” for the past two years. He’s under pressure to live up to his own promise to win more championships than anyone in history, after having already blown one chance. The blame inevitably falls on him whenever the Heat lose, even if Dwyane Wade would get a pass in the same situation. He gets booed every single time he leaves Miami, forced into the role of the villain even against his will.
One thing and one thing only can lift, if not all of it, at least the greater portion of it off his shoulders. An NBA championship.
If it weren’t playing out in real life, it’d be a sports movie in its own right, wouldn’t it? The star quarterback under enormous pressure, taking criticism from all sides, earning redemption by coming through in the big game. We’re the ones getting on his back about his past failings, but if we were looking at it from the outside, we’d be rooting for him to overcome it all. LeBron just won, I believe, his third MVP award. There’s a form of history he’s on the verge of making he doesn’t want: everyone else who won that many MVP trophies also had at least one championship ring by the end of that season. I don’t want that on his record; I don’t want him to be one of the greatest who ever played the game in the regular season who let it all slip away in the playoffs. I don’t want him to confirm his reputation as someone who can’t get it done in the clutch. I want this to work out. I want this to all be worth it.
I don’t want five, not six, not seven. For LeBron’s sake, I’d settle for one. Just one to vindicate himself against all the doubters. I don’t want the history books to look back on everything, on “The Decision”, on the next night in Miami, on all the hatred and drama, and say that it amounted to nothing, that it all ended after two years, that LeBron hadn’t won anything going in and hadn’t won anything going out.
I’m worried that even if they come back, maybe Miami no longer deserves the title, that they can’t just flip a switch and become the best team in the NBA. Then again, maybe no one left deserves the title, if only because I refuse to accept a world in which the Seattle Supersonics have a title, potentially the first of many, when they’re no longer the Sonics or in Seattle anymore. I don’t know if Miami can come back, win Game 6 in Boston, win Game 7 in Miami, and go on to beat the Sonics-in-Exile for the title.
But I have this feeling… I have this nagging feeling in the back of my mind… that LeBron is about to deliver one of the classic performances of all time.
And one day, we may look back on it… and realize we were all playing our roles in his ongoing drama all along.