Perhaps in the smoke and mirrors and laser light shows filled with loud music of 2011 sports, LeBron James should be introduced with some Billy Joel music the next time he goes onto the basketball court.
The song "My Life" seems apropos but if you think LeBron's post game rift was out of line, think again. High salaried athletes of the 21st century in America live in gated communicates and don't have much to do with fans on a daily basis. It is no longer the 1950s — a time when members of the Brooklyn Dodgers lived in the Brooklyn community, members of the New York Giants baseball team lived in Dobbs Ferry, New York and were a part of that community.
Phil Rizzuto and Yogi Berra are no longer selling suits in a Newark clothing store in the off season to supplement their New York Yankees income.
Sports fans and sports media employees expect a lot out of their athletic heroes.
At one time LeBron James was a hero but he has become the equivalent of a wrestling heel, a bad guy after leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise and announcing his intentions during a made for cable TV show on ESPN. Forgotten in the criticism of the show which was dubbed "The Decision" was that LeBron James made some money for charity. Athletes are supposed to be role models and the excuse is always because kids look up to sports heroes. LeBron has been clean, no drugs, no jail time yet he is a villain while scores of athletes are arrested on an annual basis for various crimes.
Plaxico Burress and Michael Vick seem to be coming back into sports as conquering heroes after doing jail time. LeBron James doesn't seem to have humility or has yet to be humbled by the sports media so he is a bad, bad guy now. Athletes are supposed to be humble. Entertainers on the other hand are applauded for being wild people. The Lindsay Lohans, Britney Spears of the world are great copy. The sporting media expects athletes lead the way by example because the kids look up to them.
Babe Ruth was hardly a role model but the Babe was out there signing autographs for the kids back in the 1920s and 1930s. But Babe was also a businessman and in 1930 made more money than President Herbert Hoover. Babe’s response drew chuckles when asked about making more money than the President of the United States.
“I know, but I had a better year than Hoover,” he said.
LeBron James problem seems to be his lack of a quick wit and humor. His statement was innocuous. LeBron James is not refusing to go into military service as a conscientious objector and not following Muhammad Ali’s 1967 lead. He wasn’t on the podium in Mexico City with a black glove raised in the air like John Carlos and Tommie Smith did in 1968 protesting poverty in America.
There was a no political statement here. It was just a pro wrestling type rant.
James should have been signing the final words from the 1978 song — I don't care what you say anymore, this is my life. Go ahead with your own life, leave me alone.
"All the people that were rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today. I'm going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things that I want to do with me and my family and be happy with that. So they can get a few days or a few months or whatever the case may be on being happy about not only myself, but the Miami Heat not accomplishing their goal. But they got to get back to the real world at some point," James said after the game.
James is getting excoriated for his statement.
James is saying publicly what athletes have thought and talked about privately for years. Athletes are not normal people as just everyday performers. LeBron James is in a different stratosphere from the average NBA player. Athletes are coddled, put on pedestals by fans — many of them adults who are in their 40s, 50s and 60s and wear the name of their favorite athlete on their back. They are pursued by autograph hounds and other jock sniffers and there are groupies who chase them. Their athletic exploits are recorded and chronicled for the ages.
Athletes are supposed to be happy just playing a child's game and at one time, great players like Honey Russell back before the days of the National Basketball League and the Basketball Association of America in the 1930s played for nothing. Even a great player like George Yardley played for nothing with the Los Angeles Jets of the American Basketball League (an organization that featured a Cleveland franchise owned by George M. Steinbrenner III). Yardley took the opportunity to play because he only participated in home games and select road games where his business would have taken him anyway. But as the late George Young pointed out in the 1980s while running the New York Giants in selecting player personnel and coaches that if a player says he will play for nothing, he is a liar.
It is a business and LeBron James is merely a businessman who let out a secret that is well known in his community, sports. You play a game and then get on with your life. Jim Bouton in his ground breaking baseball book Ball Four wrote that in 1970.
Sports is nothing more than a business even though fans are asked and give unconditional love for the team. But fans have to put up with an awful lot in exchange for a team. Madison Square Garden displaced the true "fans" decades ago when the building owners tore out the blue seats and replaced them with luxury boxes. The blue collar worker has been evicted from the best seats in that and other buildings.