LeBron, the re-canonization….
I know, they never used to do such a thing as re-canonizations. But then, they didn’t used to do un-canonizations, either.
These days, you don’t have to perform miracles to be put on a pedestal, the world’s second-favorite trick, even if it just hauled you off your pedestal, which is, of course, the world’s favorite trick.
If one crummy NBA title was all LeBron James needed, what was the big deal?
He figured to bag one soon enough, as runaway choice as the game’s best player with the same media that reviled him as a faint-hearted mercenary voting him the MVP in three of the last four seasons.
After two years of “villainy,” here comes the love!
The world is at Bron’s feet after his big performances in Games 2-3 put Miami up, 2-1, and after his two monster buckets despite playing with severe leg cramps helped lead the Miami Heat to their Game 4 victory that moved the King within one game of his long-awaited coronation.
Forgiveness stories are everywhere, noting Bron has changed, wondering why we came to hate him in the first place?
What could go wrong now?
OK, so there were lots of doubts, even with Bron going for 26-9-12 and teetering back out there on his cramping quads to knock down the three that put the Heat ahead to stay.
Of course, if Miami had lost, Bron could have gone for 100-100-100 and been hit by lightning and they’d have put it on him, putting him back at square one as far as his resurrection went.
It’s not crazy, it’s the way it is now.
In real life, even if we anoint heroes and denounce villains daily, there’s really just one LeBron James, and after nine NBA seasons, you should have a pretty good idea who he is.
Your idea should also be pretty much what it was before Game 4, unless something truly momentously negative happens in Games 5. Or 6 or 7, if it gets that far.
Of course, every outcome is now presented as more than momentous, conveying some Eternal Truth about Bron and everyone else (the more glamorous, the better) in journalism’s survival-bent Age of the Lemmings.
Actually, with or without a ring and a coronation, Bron is royalty and has been for years, including the last two that he and his talents spent in disgrace in South Beach.
We conferred villainy on him, although some of us more than others.
Take Colin Cowherd, talk show host extraordinaire, if only on ESPN for Dummies Who Can’t Find the Mothership, otherwise known as ESPN2.
If the entire empire often looks like a massive talk show with occasional games, Cowherd is Everyhost, unloading on someone from the losing team. (Think: Russell Westbrook, 43 or no 43, in one of the great Finals performances before his two late mistakes, who will now go down as the impulsive youth who lost it for them).
Luckily, it’s not fatal because the day after bombing you back to the Stone Age, Colin may be praising you to the skies and skewering every argument he made the day before, as if someone else made it.
As he did with James last week.
Noted Cowherd before Game 3, lamenting the lack of really good villains to hate:
“One of the reasons Tiger and LeBron get so much hate is there’s very few villains. Iverson, TO, Barkley, Laimbeer, Sprewell, Rodman, Bonds, Tyson… they’re all gone!
“Every athlete has got a p.r. firm and p.r. firms are cleaning peoples’ images. That’s what they do. And as sports has gotten corporate, corporations don’t like villains. They like faith and trustworthy guys they can sell.”
Actually, the biggest reason Tiger and Bron get so much hate is all the talk show hosts, asking their audiences, “Who do you hate most, Tiger Woods, LeBron James or Joseph Stalin?”
If love makes the world go around, hate makes cash registers overheat.
Actually, the giant corporation which dominates sports that Cowherd works for does just fine, destroying images of people like James (remember “The Decision,” an ESPN production?), then turning around and reaping windfall ratings showing their games.
Still, I have to give it to Colin.
The day after Game 3, when Bron went for 29-14-3, Cowherd acknowledged frankly he’s in the business of “selling conflict.”
(Personal to CC: I didn’t actually hear it, but a friend swears you used those words. If you didn’t, let me know and I’ll make it up to you. Hey, I’ve got to make a living, too.)
Not that Colin Cowherd didn’t make Bron the ubervillain.
Colin doesn’t have that much power, to his regret. He and thousands more like him could only do it if that’s what y’all wanted to believe … as y’all did.
Leaving Cleveland was unpopular – even after seven seasons there, trying to the end to find a way to get another star so he could stay.
Going to a glamour market was worse.
If you haven’t noticed, fans hate glamour markets, the one thing they have in common.
Even fans in glamour markets hate other glamour markets. If there’s one thing Spike Lee and Jack Nicholson can agree on, it’s how much they hate the Heat – and the Bulls, the Celtics, et al.
Not that serving himself up to a world of critics like a roast pig with an apple in its mouth was a good idea for Bron.
Maybe it’s not so smart to make your former high school teammate your marketing guru, even if Maverick Carter has Bron making $53 million annually.
This just in: You, me or anyone short of the village idiot could have gotten Bron to $53 million -and most of us would have known enough to keep him off that !@#$#@! TV show.
Then there was the Heat’s welcoming ceremony, which you can’t begrudge the team after all those years in the wasteland (remember Pat Riley, winding up one of the great coaching careers in NBA history with a 15-67 record in 2007-08?)
Bron thought he was just playing his part, ticking off the titles they’d win (“Not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven”), failing to realize the cameras in the arena were broadcasting it globally and eternally – and none, of course, faster than ESPN’s.
Still, one unpopular free agent decision (see: Shaquille O’Neal, et al) and two full-of-oneself ceremonies don’t add up to villainy.
Or, if they do, the Hall of Fame will have to be renamed the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Villains.
And no, turkeying up in Game 4 wouldn’t mean Bron still chokes, any more than haters – er, critics – would concede that coming up big in Games 2-3, and in 6-7 of the East Finals against Boston, and last spring’s East Finals against Chicago, and all the other games it took to make him a three-time MVP since 2008, make him Mr. Clutch.
As for what it will do to his legacy? Of all the idiotic questions people go around asking, that one takes the cake.
Bron is 27. Let him have the career, or at least most of it before we start one of our stupid debates about it.
Not that it’s personal. After OKC’s loss to Dallas in the West Finals a year ago, ESPN’s Doris Burke asked 22-year-old Kevin Durant about the impact on his legacy.
Durant has turned his legacy around since. Or at least, he had until this series, when he’ll be asked the same question if the Thunder loses.
I’m not kidding. Someone will really ask it.
At 27, Kobe Bryant was the game’s most reviled player, as much by peers like Ray Allen, who fingered him for the breakup of the Shaq-Kobe Lakers.
Bryant had three rings—but Shaq received all the credit for winning those.
So, when the Lakes won their 2009 title, it was as if Kobe went from no titles to four, before making it five in 2010.
Now, as Cowherd noted on his Desperately Seeking Villains show, Kobe’s “only half a villain. He’s on stand-by.”
These days, it doesn’t get any better than that.
Mark Heisler is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops, LakersNation and the Old Gray Lady. His power rankings appear every Wednesday during the regular season, and his columns and video reports appear regularly here. Follow him on Twitter.