Tuesday, May 11, 2010

LeBron's Changing Narrative

Full disclosure: I did not watch a second of tonight's NBA playoff contest in which the Boston Celtics defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers by a final margin of 120-88. I had some writing to do, we don't have cable in my apartment (apparently we're one of the few remaining holdouts in this country), and I really didn't feel like putting shoes back on to go outside to find a cable-enabled TV. But just because I didn't see any part of this game doesn't mean I can't write about it. That's what blogs are for.

I find that lately I've been equally interested in the narrative of sports as I am in the suspense and the action. And the narrative aspect of this particular game comes across plenty clear from the box score:

LeBron James: 42 minutes, 3-14 FG, 0-4 3FG, 9-12 FT, 15 Points, -22 +/-. As mentioned before, his team lost by 32 points in a fairly crucial playoff game.

Now, this series isn't over. Cleveland might very well win these next two games before proceeding to stomp their way to a championship. LeBron has fallen short in the playoffs before. And his team will probably fall short again. After all, everyone besides for Jordan has lost. Yet this loss feels different. This isn't part of the chosen-one narrative. This shouldn't be part of the story. In the past, a LeBron loss was due, narratively, to his poor teammates. And while there's still no second-banana who compares to a Pippen or a Pau, the question is whether this situation will improve. The supporting cast in Cleveland isn't getting any better. The Knicks, even with LeBron and a max-contract friend, will be missing at least three key rotation parts. What does this guy need to do to win a championship?

I find it interesting that NBA Off-Season's brainworks chalks up tonight's loss more to a lack of motivation than to a lack of talent or skill:

Do you think there’s any part of LeBron that’s rolling over?  Do you think there’s any part of LeBron that’s saying, “I don’t want a fight.”  Fighting and winning might mean Cleveland gets knocked off by the Magic (again), and maybe that makes Bron’s life more difficult?

Because, again, failure due to lack of skill just isn't part of the narrative for the most talented basketball player in the world. If the Cavs go on to lose this series, when LeBron wins a title--and I'm still just about certain that he will--we'll look at that victory as the one which removed the monkey from his back. Have we reached the point where these losses no longer fit in the emerging talent learns his lessons by going again the veteran team storyline? How has it come to this?

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