Saturday, November 14, 2009

I Need No Permission

LeBron James has received extensive plaudits from the basketball press for his supposed maturity. I tend to disagree with this assessment: at times he makes appropriately humble remarks (I was impressed by his TV interview with ESPN's Doris Burke following the Knicks-Cavs game on November 6th; Burke asked him "What is it like for a player of your stature to play here in MSG?" and James deftly deflected the question, saying, "It's not about 'a player of my stature'; whether you're 5 years old or 25 years old, Madison Square Garden is the mecca of basketball, where everyone dreams of playing on the biggest stage") but he has a knack for pouting when he doesn't get what he wants, and drawing attention to himself when not necessary. James's extended colloquies with the sports media over the past year over his impending free agency showed immaturity, in my view; rather than just flat-out refusing to answer those questions, he uttered gems of hubris like "July 1, 2010 is going to be a very, very big day." Finally, just two days ago, he announced that he would no longer breathe his dragon's puffs upon those fires of possibility. But boy, did that Hungarian Horntail enjoy acting like a coquettish nymph!

After LBJ failed to shake the hands of his vanquishers, the Orlando Magic, when the Eastern Conference Finals ended last May, he defended his poor sportsmanship by saying "I'm a winner." Well, actually, on that night he was a loser. Furthermore, he has never ended an NBA playoff series with anything other than a loss. (For the pedants, he did end the 2003-04 and 2004-05 regular seasons with meaningless victories.) James is not the only player to falsely deem himself a quintessential victor: Allen Iverson, recently bemoaning his bench role with the Memphis Grizzlies, told a reporter that "I've never been a loser." Well, actually, he has, every year of his career! Only one squad is truly the winners for any given season.

We may credit these guys' unrealistic self-appraisal to years of coaches, friends, or family figures telling them that they are great. Certainly, self-esteem and confidence are key to success; visualizing a desired result is one of the best ways to deliver the performance required to achieve it. Some psychological research suggests that people suffering from depression are those who perceive the world accurately — that is, they correctly recognize that their limited abilities lead to their failure, while the non-depressed people chalk up failure to unlucky circumstances. Now, I am certainly not equating maturity with accurate perception with depression. (?!) The stakes involved for an NBA superstar are so high that their psyches really might crack if they honestly examined the obvious. But I just wish LeBron would publicly acknowledge that sometimes he's just not good enough.


Abdullah said...

Amen brother.

Fully agreed.

H.O.S.S. said...

This post is unabashedly biased and smacks of haterism.

LeBron is one of the most sincerely humble pro athletes around. Take, for example, his post-game reaction after he was forced to take over Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals against the Detroit Pistons and score 29 of his team's last 30 points to eke out a victory. Although his teammates' performance was particulary horrendous that night, he nonetheless thanked his teammates in the post-game interview for getting him the ball in the right spots. And he sounded sincere.

Not once has LeBron lashed out his supporting cast or demanded a trade. (Kobe, on the other hand, has done both repeatedly, despite always having a better supporting cast than LeBron.)

BA cites LeBron's failure to shake hands with the Orlando following last year's Eastern Conference finals as some sort of definititve proof that LeBron is a bad sport. What he neglects to mention is that LeBron had been playing the entire playoffs with tumor in his mouth. That cannot have been fun. Perhaps the intensity of the moment and the emotional drama finally got to him in a moment of weakness. Yes, he should have shook hands with the opponent. But it is needlessly hateristic to dwell on it.

EarlDaGoat said...

As much as I hate it, I think I am going to side with BA on this one.

LeBron is one of the shrewdest players around. Everything he does is for strategic reasons. I think the Orlando game was the first time we all were exposed to the "real" LeBron and boy it was ugly.

Any NBA player who says their hero is W. Buffet rather than MJ or B-Russ is pure bizniz.

Bhel Atlantic said...

To be fair, James is only 24 (nearly 25) years old, and he has grown up on a very public stage since he was 18. I think he has handled himself very well, overall. H.O.S.S. also correctly notes that James was suffering from a serious health problem (a benign tumor in his mouth) during last spring's playoffs, so perhaps he had extra reason to be grumpy. A fair point.

I tend to side with Earl more than H.O.S.S. regarding the sincerity of James's professed humility. During that same 2007 DET-CLE series that H.O.S.S. discusses, I recall that James took a lot of flack for passing rather than shooting in clutch situations late in games. James defended himself, saying (though I can't find the quote online) something along the lines of "Me being an unselfish player, I'm going to pass the ball." He tends to be a bit mechanical in his exposition of himself. The first rule of verbal communication is: Show, don't tell.

As for his admiration for Buffett, I part ways with Earl on that point. What's the prob? If my prospective lifetime cash flow approached $1 billion, I would want advice from the best.

H.O.S.S. said...

Why is Goat hating on a ballplayer simply because his hero isn't another ballplayer? Props to Lebron for having interests outside basketball. It's refreshing to see a financially responsible professional athlete. Buffett is a self-made man -- a success story just like Lebron.

I continue to be baffled by my co-bloggers' singling out of Lebron for these perceived shortcomings. Everything BA said about Lebron applies with greater force to Kobe and many other players.

EarlDaGoat said...

I feel like H.O.S.S.'s answer is a standard trick from rhetoric class.

BA starts by saying X is bad.

H.O.S.S. says if X is bad that implies that all Y < X are bad. This in turn means that X cannot be bad, because all Y are even worse.

What Earl wants to point out that we are stuck in the following situation:

1) Either all Y < X are not bad -- translation: LeBron is not the most sincerely humble pro athletes around.

2) Or all Y < X is a true statement and so is the statement that X is bad -- translation: LeBron is bad and so are all other NBA players on humility grounds.

I am happy to take either posture, but I slightly prefer 2.

I do not think you can be a successful pro athlete and be humble. Even someone like Duncan deep down is not humble. That is what makes these guys pros: they believe they can take anyone out. What differs is how aggressively they express it. LeBron, like Duncan, manages to keep his true feelings bottled up most of the time, but sometimes the monster comes out.

Bhel Atlantic said...

H.O.S.S. is correct that Kobe Bryant has often acted in a spoiled and immature fashion. Recall the July 2007 incident wherein Bryant, chatting casually with two random dudes (who were bearing a cell phone video camera) in an L.A. parking lot, rued his team's failure to trade Andrew Bynum for Jason Kidd at the February 2007 trading deadline. "Ship his ass out!", Bryant (referring to Bynum) exhorted his team's management. I bet he regrets that now. Sure, Bynum was not particularly instrumental in the Lakers' two trips to the NBA Finals in 2008 and 2009, but looking at his performance in the early going of this season, Bynum could help Bryant earn two or three more rings before he retires. And Kidd is, well, old. Kidd would not have contained Garnett or Pierce in the 2008 Finals.

H.O.S.S. said...

The Goat misconstrues HOSS's comments. My positions is: 1) LeBron is not a bad sport; 2) in the alternative, even if LeBron has done "bad sport" acts, it seems pointless -- and hateristic -- to dwell on his bad acts given that many others in his peer group have done significantly worse. The YouTube video featuring Kobe bashing his teammates to randoms is an excellent example.

Bhel Atlantic said...

Getting back to LeBron, this article published today on ably highlights the immaturity in his recent plea for every NBA player to eschew wearing #23 on a jersey. In addition to the points made by the SI writers, let me say: LBJ deliberately chose #23 in the first place — to call attention to himself as the "Chosen One", having come to fulfill the prophecy** made by King David, er, MJ — when he entered the league six years ago, and now he expects us to be impressed by his humbled reverence toward his forefathers?

** If you prefer not to parse the Christian imagery, then how about this: Somehow I associate Lebron with Hot Rod/Rodimus Prime, and Jordan with the previous patriarch Optimus Prime. Sadly, I don't think LeBron has yet seized the Autobot Matrix of Leadership.

Bhel Atlantic said...

In the comment immediately above I should have linked to the Nike "Chosen One" video that they filmed for LeBron (featuring Jerry West, Julius Erving, and Bernie Mac!) in 2003 before he'd even played one pro game.

Bhel Atlantic said...

... And now LeBron wants us to know that he could star in the NFL if he chose!

This guy will do anything to keep his name in bold print. And he knows that the news media eat out of his hand.

Bhel Atlantic said...

It seems that Associated Press columnist Jim Litke agrees with me.

Bhel Atlantic said...

Jason Whitlock of Fox Sports also has good points in this regard.