Wednesday, July 21, 2010

WSJ: LeBron the new normal - Mike 'The Man' passé

Jason Gay for the Wall Street Journal:
July 21, 2010
Why LeBron Chose To Be Unlike Mike
Michael Jordan had The Look. Then there was The Shot. Now there's The Dis.
Haven't you heard? His Airness is dismayed by LeBron James's contentious decision to take his talons—wait, did he say talons, or talents?—to South Beach. The man who bequeathed the planet "Space Jam" considers cohabitating with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to be tacky, unbecoming, nouveau, un-Mike-like.
"There's no way, with hindsight, I would have ever called up Larry, called up Magic, and said, 'Hey, look, let's get together and play on one team,' " Mr. Jordan said the other day. "In all honesty, I was trying to beat those guys."
Now Mr. Jordan's packaging talents aren't exactly impeccable. He would shun Larry and Magic—but he was more than happy to meander around in slate blue with Christian Laettner and Jahidi White on the Washington Wizards? Who could forget that Melancholy Mystery Tour?
And, sure, it's easy to cast Mr. Jordan as a Cranky Old Man. We all know the six-time NBA champion can be petty. Did you catch his Hall of Fame induction speech last year? Entertaining, but about as classy as Sarah Silverman at a Comedy Central Roast. We'd never seen anyone shoot venom from 30 feet. Surely there is part of Mr. Jordan that looked upon Mr. James in his #23 Cavaliers jersey and thought, "I'd like to warp those ankles like Craig Ehlo's."
But Mr. Jordan's slap did help magnify a curious point in the whole, overbaked LeBron dramedy: the diminishing desire of King James to be an actual King.

When Mr. James wrapped up his game of Yahtzee on ESPN with Jim Gray, the immediate focus was on his choice—the winner and many losers. Cleveland sobbed. Chicago moaned. New Jersey laughed since it's really Brooklyn's problem, anyway. New Yorkers shrugged, turned back to "What Not to Wear" and wondered if it was still possible to order yam fries from that vegetarian place.
Lost amid the uproar was the life statement Mr. James was making. The Man didn't need to want The Man. An Alpha was going Beta. A repeat MVP was packing up his Vuitton knapsack and heading south to play John Oates to Mr. Wade's Daryl Hall.
Charles Barkley zeroed in on this retreat the other day. "Mike and I are in 100% agreement on this," Mr. Barkley told the Arizona Republic. "If you're the two-time defending MVP, you don't leave anywhere. They come to you."
In sports, it's always safest to be Lee Marvin. The strong, silent type, who soldiers on through injuries and stays loyal, even if it means unhappiness and suffering.
But outside of sports, the world is changing. A faltering economy has caused many people to reassess their careers and priorities, to wonder how much of the rat race is actually worth it. Former corporate warriors jettisoned from the office are taking radical U-turns and chasing forgotten, creative dreams. Accumulation is passe. Quality of life is in.
It's a blasphemous thought—and it won't give Cleveland any comfort—but maybe LeBron James didn't want to Be Like Mike. And maybe it's kind of normal.