July 21, 2010

Die and burn in hell, LeBron: Our unhealthy obsession with sports

Let’s get something straight at the outset — I’m a sports nut. I’m not some pansy-ass guy who thinks we’d all be better off without the grind of athletic competition. In fact, I don’t trust men who don’t like sports. Something is strange about them. That said, something has gone terribly wrong with our relationships with sports and athletes.

Recently, basketball star LeBron James decided to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and sign with the Miami Heat. Undoubtedly, the hoopla surrounding where James would play next year was insane. The guy actually took it so far as to have an hour-long special to make his announcement. As cheesy as it was, I watched … and you probably did, too. As anticipated, all hell broke loose once James chose to
leave Cleveland.

Television footage showed fans burning James’ jerseys, crying and, well … generally losing their freaking minds. Clevelanders quickly morphed from “witnesses” to James being the “chosen one” to painting him as the quintessence of evil. Given the chance, I think one of these fools might have tried to shoot James dead in the streets, just as Colombian soccer player Andres Escobar was killed in 1994 after scoring an own goal in that year’s World Cup. Sick and sad.

Dan Gilbert, the Cavs’ owner, even got in on the act by posting a letter on the web calling James’ departure for Miami a “cowardly betrayal” and his ESPN “decision” special “narcissistic” and “self-promoting.” Gilbert’s letter was so scathing that the National Basketball Association fined him $100,000 (which fans offered to pay; Gilbert declined). Jesse Jackson jumped in and opined that Gilbert was approaching James like a “runaway slave.” Ah,
that Jesse.

At the end of the day, was James’ approach to the situation “narcissistic” and “self-promoting”? In some ways, yes, but what else is new? Was Gilbert out of line? Yes again. Is the fact that Cleveland fans are approaching James like he just stole their bikes, burned their mothers’ favorite wigs, and slept with their wives crazy? Hell yes!

James was able to pull off his ESPN special because we now live in a reality show culture driven by sickening voyeurism and celebrity obsession. Substance has left the building. Even in people’s personal lives, it’s all about the illusion of success, happiness and depth. Very little is real. Trapped in these empty, false lives of their own construction, people try to find something, anything reaffirming to hold onto.

For many Cleveland fans, LeBron James’ job was to make them whole. Let’s face it — none of them (Gilbert included) would have said a word about his failures if he had chosen to remain with the Cavaliers. He didn’t just leave, he broke their hearts, shattered their dreams because they have so very few of their own. That’s what many people have become in today’s society — vacuous, painfully mediocre beings living vicariously through others.

Yes, LeBron James is a bit self-absorbed. When questioned about Cleveland, he mostly expounded on how he helped the team and city (which is true) rather than how the team, city and fans (no matter how misguided) helped and supported him. His approach was a bit classless, but as he said — he has the right to be happy. Cleveland drafted James seven years ago, and now he has something he has never enjoyed as a professional: the freedom to go wherever he chooses. Freedom is good! Beyond that, the Cavaliers would have been no more loyal to him than he was to them if his athletic skills had diminished. So, it cuts both ways.

In the grand scheme of things, who cares? Where LeBron hoops just isn’t that important. What this is really about is a misplaced priority system. We tolerate professional athletes making hundreds of millions of dollars while teachers are lucky to make $40-$50K. Which is more important? Hint: Athlete isn’t the answer. Other discrepancies abound in this muck populated by people consumed with entertainment and entertainers (which is all sports and athletes are when everything is stripped away). We really need to get some perspective.

So, yeah — I’m a sports nut, but not quite as nutty as some folks.

Until next time — MAINTAIN!