Heresy is frowned upon; heretics are never held in high esteem. I know that the concept of heresy applies to the ream of religion but there are secular behaviors that similarly go against declared orthodoxies such that the behaviors are not viewed benevolently. I think I am about to commit a sports heresy. So be it…
- I have had it up to my earbrows with LeBron James.
There – – I said it. Now let me tell you how I arrived at this position of darkness. It began with a minor discomfort when James left the Cavaliers in 2010 to create the first player-manufactured super team. It seemed a bit cheesy to me; I wondered why they stopped at agglomerating only three star players and did not keep going and get seven or nine. It would be even easier to win with that many star players…
The return to the Cavaliers in 2014 followed by the second defection to the Lakers in 2018 were similarly discomforting but less so because I had seen that act before. And the discomfort was assuaged to a large extent because it was enjoyable to watch LeBron James play basketball. In case anyone has missed this news:
- LeBron James is a GREAT basketball player.
My discomfort began to inch upward in the modern era of social media where LeBron James is a constant presence often making pronouncements on issues where maybe – – just maybe mind you – – he may not have as great an understanding as his greatness on a basketball court. Many of his social media pronouncements boil down to a message something like this:
- If you do not agree with me, you need to go and educate yourself.
Then, after winning the NBA Finals last year in the “Orlando Bubble”, LeBron James told folks after the game that he “demanded respect” for the Lakers and for himself for enduring the rigors of the “Orlando Bubble”. I was surprised that the Bubble worked as effectively as it did and I am glad that I was not required to have spent months in such an environment; but in a time of pandemic, living in that bubble so you can play basketball and make tens of millions of dollars in the process is not exactly heroic behavior. Oh, wait… Am I incapable of understanding?
During this year’s NBA playoffs, there have been several outrageously bad behaviors by fans with regard to players. One such incident happened in Philly where a fan dumped popcorn on the Wizards’ Russell Westbrook. From about 2500 miles away, LeBron James took to the social media airwaves to chime in and demand fans’ respect for players and called for the league to see to it that respect was paid. [Aside: Respect is given on a personal basis and it is difficult to demand it without making whatever is offered a bit tainted.]
And then the dam broke… After the Lakers lost to the Suns in the first round of the NBA playoffs last week, LeBron James walked off the court without congratulating the Suns for winning saying that he needed to get a head start on his “treatment”. Respect is earned; sportsmanship is a given. LeBron James’ lack of sportsmanship earns for him the withholding of the respect he repeatedly says he wants.
Why is my displeasure with LeBron James a heresy? Well in the world of sportswriters and commentators, criticism of LeBron James – – and even his cohorts – – is difficult to come by. I can understand the reluctance to risk the wrath of “The Chosen One” – – self-proclaimed no less – – by someone who is a beat writer for an NBA team or one of the vaunted “NBA Insiders” with one of the sports journalism heavy hitters. What seems to have evolved is a circumstance where the thought of saying that LeBron James might – – I said MIGHT – – be wrong or petty with regard to any subject of inquiry from social conditions to quantum mechanics is verboten. Sorry, my years as a basketball official taught me to call what I see – – and what I see here is a man who:
- Is a GREAT basketball player.
- Is staring down the declining years of his career on the court.
- Is looking to be influential in fields other than basketball without the same level of recognized greatness in those fields other than basketball.
Sports journalists should be on the track to chronicle LeBron James’ achievements and failures related to basketball. For some of his other business ventures – – like the soon to be released Space Jam; A New Legacy – – there is also plenty of room to report on successes and failures. However, when he ventures into social commentary or how the NBA should deal with unruly fans, his voice is no more authoritative than the player sitting at the end of the bench for the worst team in the league. Moreover, just because LeBron James makes a pronouncement and takes a position on something other than basketball or his business ventures, it is not axiomatic that it is correct. It is equally possible that his pronouncements are totally irrelevant.
Religious heretics suffered horrendous fates long ago and I am not even talking about the wars that have been waged based on religious differences among various peoples continuing to this day in places from the Middle East to India/Pakistan. A thousand years ago, someone “convicted” of heresy would be burned at the stake; 500 years ago, witches were persecuted for beliefs that were not within common orthodoxy and they too were hunted, tortured and killed. I do not expect any such punishment to descend on me for my heresy here – – but I also do not expect lots of folks to offer vocal support either.
Let me put a minor change into some song lyrics from Jim Croce:
“You don’t tug on Superman’s cape
You don’t spit into the wind
You don’t tug the mask off that old Lone Ranger
And you don’t call out “The Chosen One.”
Finally, since heresy is inherently in conflict with faith in the realm of religion, let me close with this observation about faith from H. L Mencken:
“Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.”
That sentiment would probably have gotten Mencken ignited back around 1200 AD.
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………