Thursday, May 17, 2012

Sports: Where Perspective is a Bad Thing

Let me preface this by saying that I am no Lebron James apologist. In fact, half of my tweets are dedicated to cheap jokes about the same tired Lebron themes: no championship, indifference to taking big shots, receding hairline. But my dislike of Lebron is not a deeply-held personal conviction. It's just that I'm a Celtics fan, and he happens to stand in their way.

Sports are weird like that. But sports are weird in another way too: when it comes to our favorite athletes, we value their blatant lack of real-world perspective. And when athletes do demonstrate an awareness that there are way more important things out there than winning a game, we get frustrated. Perhaps the central victim of our strange misguided thinking when it comes to sports is Lebron.

The NBA talking points today centered around the Lakers end-of-game meltdown, and the fact that Kobe did not get the ball at the end of the game. Kobe's single-minded obsession with basketball is often praised by commentators, as is the fact that he loves to take the last shot. Yet, as was pointed out repeatedly today (and as has been discussed before), Kobe's insistence on taking the last shot probably hurts his team. Of the many examples: Kobe shoots a paltry 31% (below Lebron) when trailing by one or two points, or tied, in the final 24 seconds. His team in 2011 was outscored in crunch-time when Bryant was on the floor. Since 2007, Bryant is 0-7 on game-winning or game-tying field goal attempts in the playoffs (the rest of his team: 4-7). Somehow, though, despite all logic stacked against Kobe's late-game ball-hogging, it is credited to him as righteousness by the NBA press.

Lebron is lambasted for refusing to force a shot at the end of the game. However, statistics show that Lebron's decision-making is actually better at the end of the game than Kobe's. In the weird world of sports, making rationale decisions are simply not that important. Fans prefer to see single-minded narcissism, it seems.

Another example - and believe me, this one is much more difficult to write - is the difference between Lebron's attitude and that of Kevin Garnett. By all accounts, Garnett's life quite literally revolves around basketball. He is so intensely obsessed with the game that he has said, with believable sincerity, that he would literally die on the court if it helped the Celtics win. What kind of insanity is that? Yet Garnett's attitude and approach is endlessly lauded, even by those who are turned off by his in-game antics.

Lebron, on the other hand, was raked over hot coals of indignation after last year's finals for saying to fans who criticized him: "I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things that I want to do with me and my family and be happy with that. They can get a few days or a few months or whatever the case may be on being happy about not only myself, but the Miami Heat not accomplishing their goal. But they have to get back to the real world at some point.” 

His real-world perspective was not unique to just the post-finals press conference. Lebron has repeatedly shrugged off attempts to get him to pretend like specific games are epic battles for the fate of the world. For example, ESPN reported today that Lebron "downplayed the idea that he and his teammates would need to maintain some kind of "edge" to be best prepared for a pivotal Game 3 many felt would tilt the series." In short, Lebron actually probably has a healthy balance in his life between the game that he gets to play and get paid for, and his life outside of his occupation.

And we hate him for it. Which reminds me: I heard that Lebron James just finished writing his autobiography. He'll release it as soon as he comes up with a title.