A year ago I would have hated the title of this post and would have hated writing it. This is my act of reconciliation, a pseudo apologia.
I am a Michael Jordan loyalist. The media, despite all of its efforts, could never put a dent in Jordan's armor. They tried -- oh boy did they try -- and they are still trying.
Fumes came from my ears during LeBron's 'The Decision' two summers ago. Not because I am a Knicks or Cavs fan, but for the way it was done, for the fact that a televised event even happened.
Perhaps the media's difficulty in using the Charlotte Bobcats' dismal season to bring MJ down a notch led them to their latest haranguing of James. That decision -- to demote him yet again -- I contend, is uglier than LeBron's 'Decision', by far.
The intended message was clear. In Game 1 of the NBA Finals, several media companies' sports divisions alleged, LeBron went flat in the fourth quarter. Give LeBron a dollar and ask him for change, the saying has gone, and he'll give you back three quarters.
I used to hate having to admit this next part even more.
The guy had 23 points in the first three quarters, and he finished with 30. Simple math tells us he scored 7 points in the last 12 minutes of the game. This consistency -- averaging 7.6 points per quarter through the first three and then scoring 7.0 points in the fourth -- apparently isn't good enough for the round-the-clock sports networks and websites.
He choked in the fourth. It's all his fault. He should have drawn up the plays, decided on the defensive changes, rallied the few Heat fans in the building, taken the last shot, taken the first shot, dribbled left and not right and handed his teammates and self a towel and a water while also cleaning up the wet spots underneath the basket.
I used to subscribe to this logic, too.
Even uglier, the viewership and readership of these allegations and hypotheses are driven by a public's desire to see a Goliath fall. It's chicken and egg, yes, 'the public reads and watches what interests them, what is classified as demand' versus 'the media makes us think a certain way by what it shows, what it supplies.'
But at the bottom of all of this are people. Producers, writers, anchors, reporters. People. Not robots dictating what is said through some equation. People.
The people who make the content decisions are smart enough to know (we hope and assume) that LeBron's performance was consistent, impressive, and that it was negated by several other factors, including his teammates' poor play and the amazing play of Kevin Durant. We also hope they know that LeBron's 30 puts him in a realistic race to join the ranks of Elgin Baylor, Michael Jordan, Rick Barry and Shaq, the undisputed bosses of 30-point performances in the NBA Finals.
But maybe these media content decision makers -- the people who decide everyday how to project LeBron's performances -- don't know that. Maybe they really think 30 points spread out evenly over a game -- a physical statement that the Thunder cannot stop him -- is the product of a chump.
But I doubt it.
What I do know is that I was wrong, too, for hating on LeBron for deciding to go to Miami, and his overdone television event. After all, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett did the same thing in Boston. I love those guys. And I think they are generally well liked, and were never treated like LeBron was (not to mention Chris Bosh's immunity) when they migrated to Boston.
But it wasn't until I went on a tour of Smilow-Burroughs Boys and Girls Club in Bridgeport, CT -- a city I grew up next to and a city in dire need of help, where school systems are failing and where poverty is rampant -- that I started to forgive LeBron.
In an upstairs room of the center was a classroom filled with roughly 50 brand new computers. Seated in front of several of these were young, African-American and Hispanic boys and girls from Bridgeport, using the Internet, writing on Microsoft Word, staying away from the nearby streets that have swallowed up so many of their neighbors, friends and families.
"We had this room, and we intended it to be for computers," the tour guide told me, "but we didn't have the machines, all we had were the desks. But remember that TV thing LeBron James did?" she asked. "These computers came from that. That paid for all of this."
In the end, it's either a slow sports media time right now, where people are hungry for stories and willing to ignore numerical facts, or we, the public, seek out failure in people who are heroes. I guess it all depends on who's doing the deciding.
LeBron is a hero and he already is an NBA great. It's time we stop seeking his failure, and it's time we and the media make the right decision, no matter what we all think about his Decision.
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