Examining our Memory, Fear, and the Legacy of LeBron

In A Single Man, Colin Firth plays George, a gay college Professor who must sort his life out after his lover dies in an accident. It is a tragically beautiful movie, adapted from Christopher Isherwood’s book by the same title. One of the more striking scenes in the film comes near the beginning when George is speaking to his class about minorities. The setting takes place in America in the early 1960s around the time of Cuban Missile Crisis. He develops a short lecture, primarily to explicate some personal bottled up thoughts, on how the public views minorities, and how they become such in the first place. He says, “A minority is only thought of as one when it constitutes a threat to the majority.” Isherwood continues the dialogue in his own book  by asking, “what would this particular minority do if it suddenly became the majority overnight?”

There is a lot of controversy right now about the best NBA player ever. I am referring of course to the dispute over LeBron James and Michael Jordan. Right now, to keep the metaphor, James is the minority, starting to pose a threat to the MJ majority; the fear of a player surpassing the almighty Jordan. Of course if you just woke up yesterday you would have thought he was just another player collapsing under pressure, miles away from the Windy City Superstar. James scored just 8 points in Miami’s Game 4 loss, and then the hysteria broke loose. The blogs, websites, Twitter, Facebook, and then all of the ESPN analysts bashed him, questioned him, saying, “Jordan would never do that.” This is what we get for living in the instant gratification media world. But then I begin to wonder, what if MJ had to deal with this. As Scott Van Pelt said, LeBron is the only guy in the sports world right now whose legacy is updated like a thirteen year-old girl’s Facebook status. One day he’s great, the next he’s trash, and now his legacy will all depend on this next game. Really? The dude is 26! MJ was 28 when he got his first ring, but suddenly tonight’s Game 5 defines him?

This does beg the other question, and maybe it is the fear of the minority, but will we ever be willing to grant someone as better than Jordan, the Great One? Our memories are not entirely accurate, and they’re certainly not objective. We like to remember what we want to remember. Take this year’s free agent class, Lebron and his Decision, Miami’s big 3, and Amare and Melo going to the Knicks. Everyone was up in arms about the lack of parity in the league and contraction was the new trending topic. Yet, as Colin Cowherd frequently mentions on his show, the league in Jordan’s era was just as bad in terms of the range of good and bad. You had tons of teams like Vancouver back then who were garbage, but MJ had Pippen and Rodman and many other talents around him. Every year it seemed like it was the Bulls versus the Jazz or Lakers in the Finals. Their bench was great too as memories of Chicago’s Toni Kukoc draining threes against Utah’s Hornaseck fill my mind now. The league was a little unfair to say the least, and not a stark difference from the Clevelands and Sacramentos up against Miami and LA today. There is that old expression that seniors usually shout out when they reminisce; “It was nothing like the Good Ole days.” In (500) days of Summer, Joey Gordon-Levitt’s character Tom, sulking after his breakup with Summer, is taught a valuable lesson by his wise-beyond-her-years sister. She realizes every memory her brother had of Summer was the pinnacle of his fascination with her. His sister then tells him to remember the other times, the times when things went poorly that far outnumbered his moments of content. He sees the relationship a little clearer and a little more bi-partially. Maybe it wasn’t as great as it seemed. Maybe the good ole days weren’t always so good.

LeBron did put the spotlight on himself and he knew what he was getting into with his Decision. What he wasn’t ready for was to quickly jump into the conversation of a Jordan eclipser this quick into the league and still without a championship. But that is what he came to Miami for, rings, and lots of them. He carried a Cleveland team for eight years with nothing to show for it and wanted a chance to have options, to know even if he wasn’t perfect, someone else could be. I think part of our hate for LeBron is that he never had to work hard for something, he was born with incredible talent, something that doesn’t happen to just anyone. Michael Jordan is towards the opposite. He was cut from his JV high school team once, developed his skills playing college ball, made his way into the NBA, and then eventually became the greatest to ever play. James was the best player in his state at 15. He never really had to find an inner drive or something to overcome because he blew by everyone. People in general have a tough time with individuals like this. It is hard to embrace someone with unimaginable talent and really connect with them on a personal level. For the record, LeBron is human, he just has unbelievable, superhuman basketball skills.

For now at least, LeBron James is “a single man.” No one knows how someone like him can deal with the incessant chattering about “MJ this and MJ that” because there has never been someone like him. We are so worried about this “minority’s” overnight switch into becoming the best ever. My hope is that he does become our generation’s MJ, he may already be, and that the media’s dissection of his every dribble is done with the hope he passes number 23. Still, there has to be a better way of showing that hope.

Game 5 tonight…I have a feeling his legacy will not be on the line, regardless of how he plays.


3 responses to “Examining our Memory, Fear, and the Legacy of LeBron

  1. Awesome post, Jake! Love how you make the connections between reality, movies and books. You have a unique voice for a 19 year old kid. Keep writing and writing and writing….

  2. What about Kareem? OK, he’s gone off the deep-end since his fight with cancer, but the Master of the Sky-Hook and all-time leading scorer in the NBA deserves a mention. Plus he’s Muslim, so that gets him some extra points.\

    • True. But MJ’s the consensus number 1. Although he did star in a movie so he has acting experience which i like. Was Airplane better than Space Jam you think?

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