When you woke up one morning from uneasy dreams, you found yourself changed in your bed into LeBron James. You are America’s best and most beloved athlete. You are so famous the President says he’s you: "I'm LeBron, baby. I can play on this level. I got some game." The press is literally calling this is the Summer Of You. You are 25 years old, and you are on the market. It’s good to be King. You report on the set for your first Hollywood movie in a couple weeks.
But alas, all is not right in the Kingdom. You just got bounced from the playoffs early (again) by an aging, banged-up Celtics squad. With a few passive jumpshots, your crown lost some luster. This is the year you fell off the Michael Jordan trajectory. MVP titles. Olympic gold medals. None of that matters. At the end of the day, it’s all about the rings. MJ had six. Kobe has four. You have none.
LeBron James woke up one morning changed into not the next Michael Jordan, but the next Kevin Garnett. A freakish, high school-straight-to-pros prodigy who let his prime years go to waste for an also-ran team in the Midwest. Kevin Garnett warned LeBron about the dangers of being too loyal last week. KG said he would have left Minnesota for Boston years earlier knowing what he knows now.
But LeBron’s a loyal guy. He has the Akron area code 313 inked to his arm. He throws his annual MVP acceptance ceremonies in his Ohio high school gym. For him to leave Cleveland will always be a chink in his armor. He couldn’t win one with the hand he was dealt. Still, he’s given 6 ringless years of his career to Cleveland and lies even deeper in Jordan’s shadow. The Cavs can’t even get out of the East. And then there’s that $30 million clause in the Nike contract that kicks in if he plays in New York or LA.
LeBron James and Tiger Woods share the same birthday (December 30) and ethnicity. That is all. Nine years and worlds separate them. One was raised by a military strict dad and loving mom, went to Stanford, and often plays in a sweater. The other? A heavily-tattooed manchild from a single mom and the streets of Akron, Ohio. Guess which one turned into sex-addicted Lothario who cheated on his Swedish bikini model wife and two children with umpteen mistresses from Vegas strippers to the teenage girl next door?
Meanwhile, LeBron James has an immaculate public image. He kicked a water-bottle once and didn’t shake hands with the Magic. And I’m being nitpicky here. With TMZ and Twitter now, this is amazing. James is engaged to his high school sweet-heart. His mom Gloria deserves … LeBronian praise.
LeBron doesn’t have the raw intensity of Michael Jordan. This is a good thing. When all is said and done, BronBron won’t win more rings than Michael. But he’ll be much happier and popular. “Talent is liquefied trouble”, as filmmaker Sydney Pollack liked to say. It fueled Jordan to 6 rings, yes, but he also fought his own teammates in practice and became a compulsive gambler. He muddled through a messy divorce and was still bitterly calling out his haters during his Hall of Fame acceptance speech last year. Those six rings are the only fine-line between Jordan’s brilliance and madness.
The NBA was just angrier back then. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird wouldn’t even speak to each other during their storied 1980s rivalry. Nowadays, there’s LeBron biking around with Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade in Beijing.
Like LeBron, Us Generational Y’ers are more global and not as mad as our predecessors. Youtube and Facebook tend to keep us happy. And LeBron James is the perfect specimen for Youtube. There are 112,000 LeBron James videos on Youtube. (And this is the best one: LeBron James Answer to Kobe Bryant by Lil Wayne) He drops the Akron Hammer Tomahawk jams mid-game, but he’ll get down for impromptu dance-offs with Shaq pre-game too.
So it’s only appropriate that Generation Y’s Mozart has a lion-dragon tattoo inked to his chest and is Eddie Murphy funny. LeBron shares Gen Y’s sleepy Facebook political activism, too. He’s not especially outspoken about anything, but he did donate money to Obama’s 2008 campaign. He took Jordan’s queue about not being political. He’ll give the most milquetoast soundbytes on current events. LeBron James reps Nikes, not Darfur.
Thank God for the World Cup because besides that SportsCenter will bombard us all summer with “Will Brett come back?” and “Will LeBron stay?” LeBron can look to baseball for some pointers. Alex Rodriguez shows LeBron exactly what not to do. A-Roid took steroids for three years, cheated on his wife with a Toronto stripper, and is just generally a despicable human being. He’s merely a better Jose Canseco, a.k.a a juiced up slugger who dated Madonna. A-Roid chased the money out of town and did win a ring. But he couldn’t win a title by himself. He’ll always be the Ben Affleck to Derek Jeter’s Matt Damon—a punchline:
Then there’s Joe Mauer. It is impossible not to pull for Joe Mauer. He speaks like the guys from the “Fargo” movie, unwinds Sundays by mowing his lawn at his log cabin, and is only the greatest catcher since Johnny Bench. Joe Mauer spurned the Yankees and Red Sox to take a sizable hometown discount and stay with the Twins. It’s been hailed as a sign that small market teams can still keep their superstars. Joe Mauer single-handedly saved Minneapolis tourism for the next 8 years.
Imagine you are LeBron James. You have four choices. Pick one:
A) LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS: LeBron going to the Clippers would be like Megan Fox marrying Donnie Wahlberg. Right house, definitely wrong brother.
B) CHICAGO BULLS: Even President Obama is pitching his city of Chicago. And LeBron has never played with a point guard like Derek Rose. But playing in Jordan’s House is not conducive to leaving Jordan’s shadow.
C) STAY IN CLEVELAND: Home is where the heart is. And the Cavs are still a championship caliber team. To GM Dan Ferry’s credit, he did everything right except for two big man trades that didn’t happen with Los Phoenix Suns. In 2009, Ferry couldn’t pry away Shaq to be the Kyptonite to the Dwight Howard Superman. In 2010, Ferry wouldn’t put up the extra rookie for Amare Stoudamire. Ferry opted for the Wizards’ Antwan Jamison who wilted versus Boston (scoring 9 and 5 points the last two playoff games).
D) NEW YORK: You will always be from Akron, but there is nothing like being King of New York. Ask your best friend Jay-Z. Then have a little chat with your buddy Dwyane Wade about coming too. What can you buy with $30 million a year max contract you can’t buy with $20 million? Besides, you and Mr. Wade would recoup it with interest when you bring NYC four straight NBA titles.
Also on Prose Before Hos: Being Lebron James