Tuesday night, when the Miami Heat held off the Chicago Bulls in overtime to take a 3 games to 1 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals, I was pleased with the result.
No one else in my Los Angeles household was.
And few people outside of Miami were, especially die-hard Lakers fans like myself.
In fact, I don’t know any other Lakers fan who is rooting for the Miami Heat to do anything but fail.
Which raises the question: What the hell is wrong with me?
The answer is that, to paraphrase Muhammad Ali, I ain’t got no quarrel with LeBron James and them Miami Heat. Nope. Sure don’t. Actually, I like their best player so much that when my Lakers were eliminated from the playoffs two weeks ago, they became my preferred choice to win the whole thing.
Was the way that LeBron went about announcing his free agency “decision” in poor taste?
Surely, but I was never on board with the national outrage concerning that. I was taken aback initially, but I got over it rather quickly. The level of arrogance present in James for such an event to take place I can’t defend, but his intent wasn’t malicious; he merely made a mistake, an error in judgement. A great error in judgement, yes, but I think we’re all guilty of those.
Was the July rally/press conference, in which the Heat’s newly formed Big Three behaved like they had already won the eight championships LeBron famously promised at the gathering, very off-putting?
Absolutely, but I was able to get over that, too. Why? To tell you the truth, I don’t have a good excuse for that one. I think I’m just odd like that. But still.
But mostly, I just like LeBron. Always have. Ever since he first started bubbling. In high school. In SLAM. Where I used to read him in the Punks section, where he held down the Diary obligations his sophomore and junior years. When he became a full-fledged mainstream sports sensation as a senior I was right there, as a nearly obsessed high school freshman. Collected every piece of writing on him I could find, taped his national TV debut against Oak Hill on ESPN2, his next against Mater Dei at Pauley Pavillion, the 52 he put on Trevor Ariza and Westchester at the Primetime Shootout in Trenton, NJ., in his first game post Jersey-gate suspension, his MVP performance at that year’s All-American Game (still have all of those artifacts, by the way, excepting the ESPN the Magazine “NEXT” issue he covered, which I lost along the way; ended up printing out the cover story from offline). Continued to obsess over him upon his entry into the league and have remained a huge fan in his eight years as a pro.
I want to see LeBron James succeed.
Because of my personal fondness of him, first and foremost, but what’s also influencing me here is my sincere love of the game. To see a talented player put it all together – it warms the heart of any purist. LeBron is the most gifted player in the history of the sport. He is a physical freak of nature whose all-around dominance rivals that of any player who’s ever played. As such, I find his recent and newfound ability to close out games to be quite satisfying. He won’t fully realize his potential until he develops a consistent jumper and post-game, but he’s the best player in the game even with those flaws. He’s not perfect, but he’s so physically gifted and unique that he doesn’t need to be (at least not at this stage in his career).
But his failures in the clutch this season – he needed to turn that around, it was imperative, if not for the sake of this Heat team (they still have Dwyane Wade) then for the sake of his legacy.
So when he finished off the Bulls in Game 4, just as he had the Celtics in Games 3 and 4 of the Heat’s previous round series, to me it felt like a man who had fully arrived, the game’s best player player correcting his one flaw that he had to fix. And I was delighted to experience it, in a similar manner to the way in which I was happy to see notorious knucklehead Zach Randolph finally become all that he could be in the preceding month of basketball, only on a lesser scale of significance.
Because LeBron is playing for history, and one of he reasons I watch sports is to witness history – to witness moments of greatness. That’s the other reason for my sentiment, I suppose. One of my great disappointments as a sports fan was seeing the New York Giants upset the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, ruining, of course, what would have been a perfect season. Those Patriots were a marvel of a pro sports team – so good, so dominant, so freaking perfect.
For LeBron, the stakes are similarly high – he’s a marvel of a basketball player, someone with the capacity to become the greatest ever. As a fan, I’d consider it a gift to see that potential of his become actualized.
His first championship, and the ones he wins after it, are more important than any except Kobe’s sixth.
Tonight, the Heat will look to close out the Bulls in Game 5. I hope they do it. If they do, they will move on to face the Dallas Mavericks (crowned Western Conference champions last night) in the NBA Finals. In the event of that series taking place, I hope the Heat emerge victorious again.
Now, you know why.
(photo credit: ofjuce.blogspot.com)
Anthony Wilson is a part-time contributor at Stacheketball and the founder of the boxing site the Neon Graveyard. Follow him on Twitter at @Antwonomous.