Friday, July 9, 2010

LeBron the Beautiful

"It's not about sharing. You know, it's about everybody having their own spotlight." — LeBron James
He's a beautiful man, clear gleaming eyes, an exuberant smile, electric with health. And still fresh-faced, despite the fact that he's now fully adult. On the entire planet there are, I would guess, only a few physical specimens to match him: towering, explosively powerful, a modern-day Ajax.

But perhaps too much an Ajax. He has betrayed on more than one occasion an inability—perhaps an unwillingness—to finish his enemy. I've always sensed that there's something broken in LeBron James—maybe because it's a kind of brokenness I recognize. In the end, he would rather be loved than respected. As a consequence, he will be neither.

In this regard he differs from the great players of my lifetime who preceded him: Magic and Bird, Michael Jordan (basketball history's Achilles), and now the seething, insufferable Kobe Bryant. Of those four athletes, I love only one of them (Magic); but I respect all of them, and in a man's life there's no greater achievement than universal respect.

I said earlier in this blog that sports are an art-form and, as such, are a metaphor of life. Each of these athletes represents some aspect of the American experience: urban black America (Magic), rural white America (Bird), coastal, internationalist America (Bryant). Each embodies some aspect of our national character. LeBron, being the most contemporary, offers us the clearest insight into our current disposition, our current obsessions and values.

It should come as no surprise, then, that King James, as he calls himself, has chosen the the pleasures and decadence of Miami over Cleveland's grim, working-class loyalty or New York's materialist artistry. (LA and Chicago were unthinkable options, having been marked already by greater heroes). He, like the rest of his generation, has been taught to take the easy road on the quest for immortality. He's learned that lesson well.

We live in an age of conspiracies. We shouldn't be surprised that our heroes now conspire together to achieve greatness. Watching "The Decision" last night, a nation of sports fans thought: We've met the enemy. As always, he is us.

Fair enough. Better that he be us—smiling, playful, pleasant, doomed; a child enjoying the fruits of earlier heroes's labors—than an unknown outsider, singleminded with ambition, plotting our Apocalypse.

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