Monday, July 2, 2012

LeBron’s Ring Ushers in a New-Look NBA

By Bob Ekstrom

With two years of hindsight, The Decision can now take its place as the transcendent moment professional basketball sees once in a generation. Like it or not, the Miami Heat's title solidifies their place on a new Axis of Dominance that will define the NBA for the remainder of this decade. As surely as the Celtics, Lakers, and Spurs have gone the way of the latest Tom Cruise marriage, we can be as equally certain the Association will look very different next season. It has to. LeBron James is now a winner.

It was only a year ago when we joked how James never went to college because he couldn't hack the finals, how he'll never write a book because he can't come up with a title, how he can't make change for a buck because he never has a fourth quarter. But all that ended a fortnight ago. He no longer carries small change so don't even bother asking.

There is still a bastion of haters claiming this year's playoffs would have turned out differently had Derrick Rose not torn his ACL. And they're right. Up until the Finals. Ultimately, it would have been Chicago rather than Boston helping the Heat pack for OKC. You'd have to be ignorant or petty to discount LeBron's postseason and his determination to carry Miami all the way.

But, of course, ignorance and petulance will always be part of the constitution of the professional sports fan. They are the tools we use to mask the misdeeds of athletes we like and accentuate them in those we don't. They are the differentiators that allow some of us to wear red shirts on Sundays and display Kobe bobbleheads on our desktops, and others to append asterisks to NFL standings and giggle over lame jokes about making change for a buck. If you're not liked, we'll find some way to keep you down for as long as we can.

Somehow, I missed the affront that The Decision was supposed to be to me as a basketball fan. Sure, LeBron screwed Cleveland, so why do I have to take it personally? In wanting to move on, he was no different than Art Modell or BP Oil or even C-Town's own incumbent congressman. Before The Decision, Cleveland was the butt of every joke not already incorporating New Jersey as its punch line. It was never a place we seemed particularly proud of. When visitors came, we'd tuck it away like it was Cousin Marilyn in an old Munsters episode.

But then this guy we've been hypercritical of since SI anointed him the Chosen One as a high school junior leaves town and suddenly Cleveland is Rocky I, Seabiscuit, and the Little Engine That Could, all rolled into one. For a week in July 2010, I obviously forgot my place in a country overrun with bleeding hearts who would appoint themselves protectors of the downtrodden.

I've got a friend who's a St. Louis Cardinals fan. Albert Pujols screwed him last fall, but that didn't mean I had to send him a Christmas card. Hey, I live in Boston. Bruins goalie Tim Thomas is screwing us right now. I'm still waiting for my floral arrangement from the bosom of America. At least we've given you Boston baked beans, Boston cream pie, and an accent that makes the rest of the country sound like honors students in their elocution class at finishing school. Other than keeping Rush out of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, what has Cleveland ever done for anyone?

LeBron couldn't win in Cleveland but he can, has, and will continue to in Miami. America, get over it. Or come to terms with your real issue. LeBron is the most dominant player in the game today. In time, he'll surpass Bryant on our lists of the all-time greats, and may even approach Russell and M.J. That shakes the pillars of the shrines we've erected to those demigods we idolized as younger fans, the ones who never had to change uniforms to win rings, who did it the way our newfound puritanical values say is the right way. The only way.

The Decision was simply an opportunity for us to mask our envy in the name of emotional socialism. Nobody should feel good unless we all feel good, and one of us has been hurting since their favorite son went off with the fatted calf. If we're really so concerned about Cleveland's welfare, let's help shovel bone meal onto their economy, or go over there some Saturday morning with Hefty bags and clean up the lakefront. I for one am no longer going to wear black for their cause. It's summer, I feel good, and I'm rocking the whites.

Come October, we'll have Kevin Garnett back in Boston for another three years. Cleveland will evidently have their newest Chosen One even longer. And every city will still be hating on the Heat. But it will nevertheless be a new-look NBA.

We will never again see LeBron as a loser.

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