Lebron James Is Boring

19Sep14

I have never been a fan of Lebron James. I’ve always kind of found him boring, and I finally figured out why: he has no rival. He exists in a vacuum of his own talent. The only thing he ever needs to overcome (it would seem) is his own insecurity. And talent on its own isn’t compelling. 

Lately, I’ve been absorbing a lot of information related to the NBA. I read Bill Simmons enormous “The Book of Basketball,” which lead me to watch numerous NBA Essentials games (Game 6 of the 1998 finals, etc.) along with various other videos about the history of the league, including the ESPN 30 for 30 “Bad Boys.”

That last one in particular made me remember how excited I was when the Bulls finally — and I mean FINALLY — got past Detroit to reach the NBA Finals. I remember so vividly that when the Bulls lost Game 1 of the Finals against LA, that I thought, “Well, maybe we won’t win the championship. And that’s OK. I’m happy we finally beat the Pistons after three+ years of trying.” The Bulls’ appearance in the Finals felt earned because they got there by beating their rivals. One could almost argue that if the Pistons had never been as good as they were, and if Jordan and the Bulls had gotten to the Finals in, say, 1989, then the Bulls might not have gotten tough enough to win a championship, let alone six over the next eight years. The rivalry made the Bulls into The Bulls.

The story has been much the same since the Bird Celtics faced off against the Magic Lakers (and as “Bad Boys” pointed out, the Pistons’ rival was also the Celtics; so if you’re scoring from a Bulls’ perspective, the Pistons were the Bulls, and the Celtics were the Pistons, but they were also the Celtics because of the Lakers, who were probably always the Lakers, too).

Most of the great stories of the NBA center around rivalries. At least for me, anyway. And at least for the most memorable bits. Some of the biggest moments in basketball come from one guy sticking it to another guy, so that act of “sticking it” sticks even harder when it’s done against a rival. When it’s not — if it’s just some great play or win or whatever — it comes and it goes.

For instance, I totally forgot that Orlando was in the Finals a couple years ago. Actually, that’s not true. I meant to say: I just learned that Orlando played in the 2009 Finals. I didn’t watch a single game. They lost to the Lakers. I would wager nobody outside of Los Angeles or Orlando cared about this series in the slightest about this series. There was no story there. But the Lakers played the year prior in a series I *definitely* knew about because it was against the Celtics. And, really, even that was a trumped up rivalry. More of a grandfathered-in rivalry than an organic one. To hear old NBA players talk, they often hated their rivals, by which I mean the players on those rival teams (the Knicks of the 1990s hated Reggie Miller; Jordan hated the Pistons; Magic didn’t really hate Larry Bird, but that didn’t stop either of them from going at each other with everything they had). At the very least, even when the players didn’t hate each other, they did seem to hate losing to those players. Back to my childhood, I wasn’t just bummed that the Bulls lost in the Conference Finals two years in a row. I was bummed they lost the PISTONS two years in a row. My frustration had a face.

Which leads us to Lebron James. His adversary has no face. I’m not saying he’s not talented (he clearly is) or exciting (sure), but it’s a little like watching Joe Satriani play a guitar solo. Yeah, he’s great at it. So? There’s no challenge, no antagonist. The story of Lebron James has never been “Can he beat XYZ team to capture a championship?” It’s more been like, “When will he finally win one?” And then he did. Against some team. Everyone knew it was going to happen eventually, because he’s so skilled, so who cares when it happens? There is no high wire act for James. He has no rival*.

I plan on following the Bulls closely this year. They look like they have a good team and a good shot at the Finals. But with James’ return to Cleveland, I kind of hope the Bulls can become his “Pistons” in a way. A source of frustration, an adversary to get passed. If he just ends up winning, it will only be interesting for an instant. If he ends up making an enemy, then it’ll stick.

 

*By all rights, it should have been Cleveland, but that wouldn’t work. For a few years there, the city of Cleveland was pissed at Lebron for ditching them. But that didn’t create a rivalry, because the Cavs just sucked for a while after he left. If they had been great, and then lost Lebron and some strong Cavs leader had really taken it personally, and dedicated himself and the team to defeating James and the Heat, THEN we would have had a rivalry… oh, if only Lebron had left the Heat in a nasty way. Then he’d have Dwayne Wade to deal with. But they knew the deal when he came there. You can’t get personal with mercenaries.

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