Sunday, October 3, 2010

On LeBron, Race and Celebrity

I know, I know, I’m white, so I’m not supposed to talk about race. I’m not supposed to chime in on the LeBron James’ race factor question. But it’s been irking me, so I’m going to wade into the waters and hope to go I don’t come out sounding like a racist. Isn’t that why most white people avoid talking about race? We’re scared that our opinion on the subject might be deemed racist when we disagree? Screw it. I’m taking my blog post to South Beach.

First off, before I skewer LeBron, I want to thank the interviewer, Soledad O'Brien, for the dumbest question possible.

It was, quite simply, “Do you think there's a role that race plays in this?”

This is quite possibly the easiest alley-opp that LeBron’s been thrown. It was a perfect toss, right above the rim and to the right, just hanging there, waiting for him to rise up and throw it down. And instead of LeBron attacking this lob and throwing it down violently, shaking the rim so badly that we thought the goal might break, he simply tipped it in. Was race a factor, he was asked?

LeBron replies, “It's always, you know, a race factor.”

This is a dumb question and a dumb answer. And it doesn’t warrant the attention it’s been getting (yes, I realize the irony in bemoaning the attention while giving it attention).

Growing up in a America, the great melting pot, means that race, religion, sex, appearance, all that stuff, is a factor. In pretty much any situation, if you are minority, the reason you are a minority is going to be a factor in your life. I’m sure women will tell you that sex is a factor. I’m sure that Muslims will tell you that religion is factor. For black athletes, I’m sure they’ll tell you race is a factor, whether big or small, pretty much every day. So it’s a dumb question. The answer to the “is race a factor” is going to be yes 100% of the time.

So can I fault LeBron for what I said? Of course I can!

LeBron answered that race was a factor for the criticism he’s received. The implication of this is that he was criticized for “The Decision” and his offseason because he was black, not because he did it the wrong way. That’s what really irks me.

His entire summer was an exercise in inflating his already enormous ego. He samples all the free agent destinations, making each team gravel for his “talents” even though there’s not a chance in hell he’s going to Clipperland, the Knicks or any other sub-par team. He’s making everyone beg for him even though they don’t stand a chance. You want to move on from Cleveland, fine, so be it, but quit with the charade already. That’s how I felt back in June and it wasn’t because you’re black LeBron, it’s because you’re the King, although you don’t have your crown.

And that’s the real heart of the issue here LeBron. It’s not race. I’m not piling on you cause you’re black. I’m not a jilted Cleveland fan who’s bitter that you left me. I’m just a regular old white NBA fan (a dying breed, I know), who is sick and tired of your posturing and self-aggrandizing.

From day 1, you’ve been anointed by the media as the next coming. You’re supposed to be the future of the NBA, the next Jordan or Magic, the guy that dominates the league, wins title after titles and makes us re-evaluate the greatest player ever debate. You didn’t seem to have a problem with the white media building up your hype machine before you earned anything. But a few years later, when the hype hasn’t materialized into titles and you handle your free agent summer in pathetic fashion, race sure comes into play now, huh?

I suppose I should back off LeBron, because honestly, he doesn’t know any better. He’s been appearing on Sports Illustrated covers since he was a high school junior. Hell, if my face was plastered on a magazine cover with the words “The Chosen One” next to it when I was 17 years old, my reality and perspective would be skewed as well. I’d probably be wearing gold-plated platform shoes and have my own army of oompa-loompas carry me on their backs wherever I went.

And this is our fear with people that get fame at a young age. We’re scared the fame will warp their perspective and they’ll go off the deep end, losing touch with their fan base (you know, us normal people that have to work a regular 9-5 job, take out car loans, and who gather around the television to worship at the alter of celebrity, and for men, the sports stars). We’re scared young celebrities will eventually disconnect with us and when it happens, the backlash ensues. And if LeBron thinks the public and white media turned on him because of race, well, he’s wrong. Go ask white guys outside of Minnesota how they feel about Brett Favre. Go find me a Tom Cruise fan these days. Hell, I hear New England Pats fans are bitching and moaning about Tom Brady’s hair and Audi. Race is a factor, are you kidding me? (so I suppose if Tom Brady gets booed, he can say that hair played a factor.)

The bottom line is this LeBron. You mishandled the summer. Most people don’t care that you left Cleveland. But they do care how you did it. Most people don’t care that you went to Miami, but they care that you had to take out a 1-hour TV Special to announce that you are “taking your talents to South Beach.” And sports fans are a fickle bunch as well. They’ll turn on you in a heartbeat but welcome you back as soon as you lead your team to victory (see Vick, Michael). And you’ve had 3 months to reflect on the backlash and make a pretty simple statement. You could’ve just said, “I wish the city of Cleveland well and Akron will always be my home. I want to be the greatest basketball player on the planet and do to so, I want to play with the best. The Lakers have a hell-of-a-squad with Kobe Bryant surrounded by multiple All-Stars and the Boston Celtics have 4 Hall of Famers. It’s a battle every night in the NBA and I want to go to war with my friends, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. If Cleveland could’ve offered my that opportunity, I would’ve stayed. But things don’t always works out that way and it’s time to move on.”

What would’ve been so hard about that? Oh yeah, having a pulse on the perspective of us normal people. That’s the one thing LeBron doesn’t have. Oh yeah, that and NBA titles. He’s still got a chance at one of those.


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