Saturday, July 13, 2013

3 comments "Slate" Wants to Know Why LeBron James is So Serious

"Slate" magazine online likes to take on the serious and important sports stories. They aren't afraid to take these controversial topics head-on. Like what kind of sports parent am I, a guide to NBA players' tattoos, and now they are taking on why athletes, specifically they are talking about LeBron James because mentioning LeBron James is much better for pageviews than talking about a less popular athlete, don't smile and look so unhappy? Thankfully "Slate" is around to tackle these hard-hitting issues so we can talk about them with our children before they ask the tough questions like, "Why isn't Kevin Durant smiling?" and you have to explain this awkward subject to them.

But first, I read an article that has gotten some negative feedback around the Interwebs. It's about Johnny Manziel and the author criticizes Manziel for whining on Twitter about having to be Johnny Manziel. Specifically Manziel Tweeted,

Don't ever forget that I love A&M with all of my heart, but please please walk a day in my shoes

I was going to write and jump on this author as well, except I realized I think he has a point. Now I do understand Johnny Manziel is a young guy and if there was Twitter when I was college God only knows what kind of whining I would have done, but the basic point of the article is this:

Lounging in floor seats at an NBA game. Throwing out the first pitch at an MLB game. Going to the NBA Finals. Fanning cash he won at a casino. Going to Mexico on vacation. 

He tweeted photos of him sitting courtside. He tweeted the wad of cash. He tweeted about hanging out with Hip-Hop stars. He – not anyone else – complained about living in a fishbowl after inviting everyone in. 

The article really isn't about Manziel not having permission to make mistakes or be a kid. It's about Manziel attempting to gain sympathy from the public for being Johnny Manziel when he has created the persona and the issues he faces himself. I see what the author is trying to say. The author compares Manziel to A.J. McCarron, Marcus Lattimore, and Curt Phillips, guys who either suffered major setbacks while playing football or have gotten in the spotlight but not attempted to bask in it. No one is saying Manziel can't be a college student, but he has created all of this mayhem that surrounds him by showing the gambling money he has won on Twitter, sitting courtside at NBA games, and generally making an effort to be a celebrity. That's fine if Manziel doesn't like how it has turned out for him, and I feel sympathy he has gotten the fame he wants but doesn't like it, but I won't provide sympathy to have to walk a day in his shoes in order to understand him.

So while I understand the criticism of the author's criticism of Manziel, I think those criticizing the author are missing the point. Manziel can be a college student and make mistakes, that's allowed. What's not allowed is to put himself in the spotlight and then attempt to gain sympathy for being recognized and treated like the celebrity he is. Manziel isn't the only quarterback to ever have gained a ton of publicity and won the Heisman Trophy. Other quarterbacks and college athletes found a way to attend class on campus and manage to avoid taking pictures of cash they had won. Manziel has pursued fame beyond the football field and has gained that fame. I'm not going to sympathize with him that he can't always handle the fame he pursued with such glee. I am planning on writing a post about an article related to Manziel's parking fine here soon (don't act like you aren't excited).

Anyway, back to the very important matter of why LeBron James doesn't smile enough. Again, this column is about all athletes, but only talks about James in the title because it is easier to gain attention and pageviews that way.

LeBron James had to be happy as the buzzer sounded to end Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Yet the world’s best basketball player was scowling when his feet hit the ground, and he continued scowling as he wandered around the court. His teammates appeared equally peeved by the outrageous good fortune he’d brought them.

The Heat were probably angry it took a last second shot to defeat the Pacers in Game 1 of the series. The Heat could be angry they gave up 102 points at home. In fact, here is what LeBron said after the game:

"We're excited about the win," James said. "But we have to get better going into Game 2."

LeBron knew the Heat had to play better in Game 2 and not rely on a last second shot to win the game for them. He says he is excited about the win, but he is concerned about the Heat's performance going forward, which it turns out he had reason to be concerned.

Study the replays of James’ layup and the ensuing seconds and you’ll find only one guy wearing both an NBA uniform and a smile: Pacers center Roy Hibbert, who was buried on the losers’ bench.

Those who watched the game or watched more than a YouTube clip of the game know Roy Hibbert wasn't smiling because he was happy. He he was smiling out of frustration because he thought Frank Vogel should have left him in the game so he could have blocked the layup LeBron hit to win the game. Hibbert isn't always buried on the bench, but his smile masks his frustration with not being in the game.

James reprised the hot and bothered act during Game 2 of the NBA Finals, when he tipped off a 35-second display of athletic greatestness by stopping a Tiago Splitter dunk attempt dead, superhero style, while they were both above the rim.

LeBron should have immediately cracked a smile after blocking this shot and begun cracking jokes with the Heat fans so they know for sure just how happy he is that he blocked this shot. I can't see how James would have garnered any criticism if he had done this.

With the ball still in play after the block and the rest of his team already downcourt, James stayed beneath San Antonio’s backboard, glaring at the grandstands as if he’d just heard somebody up there razzing his mom. He joined his mates in time to assist on a three-pointer from Ray Allen, then capped the freakish extravaganza by forcing a turnover and charging in for a breakaway slam.

And of course as opposed to continuing to play basketball and stay focused on what was going on during the game, LeBron should have taken the time to smile and do a little happy jig after blocking Splitter's shot, thereby ensuring he wouldn't have assisted on the Ray Allen three-pointer nor forced the turnover.

As play stopped, James meandered about the floor sorta like Jim Valvano did just after his North Carolina State Wolfpack won the 1983 NCAA Tournament on Lorenzo Charles’ drop-in bucket. Back in the day, Valvano was looking to celebrate his good fortune by hugging somebody; here, James looked furious enough to ground and pound whoever crossed his path.

I don't know, James looked pretty excited to be on the court and was extremely pumped up about how the Heat were playing. Jim Valvano could afford to find someone to hug because the game was over, but the game wasn't over when LeBron meandered about the floor, at least the game was not officially over even if the Heat were winning handily.

LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, and even Pacers up-and-comer Paul George treat every great play as if it’s a rebuke to a crowd of unseen doubters.

I'm surprised the author doesn't try to go down the whole "LeBron is feeding into the angry black man stereotype" route. It feels like a natural progression from the conversation the author is trying to start in this column.

It’s a sad reality of big-time sports: Nobody smiles when he’s happy.

It's a sad reality that those who don't normally watch sports haven't realized: It doesn't fucking matter if a player looks happy when he competes in sports or not.

Now the author will list examples of athletes who have smiled when they were competing and the author will fail to realize most of these athletes were smiling because they had just won a title or achieved something great. Basically, the sporting event was over, so they could smile at that point. The author even states later in this column that LeBron smiles when he wins a title, just like the players in the other examples the author will use, but the author expects LeBron to crack a wide smile everytime he does something great on the court no matter whether the play has stopped or not. It's ridiculous.

As only a member of the get-off-my-lawn generation would, I went on a YouTube binge after watching LeBron’s walk-off scowlfest just to confirm that there really was a time when great athletes cracked a smile. And there was! I found: Carlton Fisk windmilling his arms as he coaxed a batted ball fair to give the Boston Red Sox Game 5 of the 1975 World Series.

This homerun ended the game so Fisk felt like he could celebrate he just hit the game-winning home run. Nearly every baseball player who hits a walk-off home run smiles and celebrates after doing so. LeBron didn't win a game by blocking Splitter, so he didn't smile, and he was displeased with how the Heat played against the Pacers so his reaction to the win was more muted...though he did say he was happy to have won.

And the U.S. hockey team throwing gloves in the air and hopping on ice after beating the unbeatable Soviet Union squad in the 1980 Olympics

They had just won the gold medal in hockey, they had time and reason to celebrate. The U.S. hockey team wasn't throwing their gloves in the air and hopping on the ice after simply scoring a goal against the Soviet Union were they? I think not. LeBron just doesn't naturally get all excited on the court. Watch the celebration after the Heat won their latest title. Dwayne Wade is skipping around like a little boy, while LeBron is hugging his teammates and (being classy as matter of fact) while congratulating the San Antonio Spurs on a well-played series. I'm not a big LeBron James fan, but the way he congratulated the Spurs after winning the title causes me to gain more respect for him. Later, he celebrated, took pictures with kids, and smiled. LeBron wins titles, LeBron celebrates. I'm trying to remember how many times Michael Jordan or Larry Bird smiled on the court and I don't remember them being a smiling ray of sunshine.

The list goes on: Magic Johnson beaming

AFTER winning a title. In the pregame interview he smiled once, but still seemed serious about the game being played. He didn't smile continuously and act happy until the game was won.

and Ozzie Smith flipping and Joe Carter galloping, and … yeah, it’s an old, old list.

Joe Carter had just won the World Series on a walk-off home run, and again, he wasn't galloping when he hit a leadoff home run in the fourth inning, which is what LeBron's block of Splitter is more comparable to.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened, but it’s undeniable that bliss has become non grata on the playing fields.

In professional sports, the best way to get a baseball upside your head or get fouled incredibly hard on the next possession is to start smiling and over-celebrating a good play you have made. Surely you understand and aren't serious about this.

For me, forward Michael Graham became the godfather of modern mean mugging while staring down everybody in his path during the 1983–1984 season. That was a championship year for the Hoyas.

Now everybody glares when good things happen.
(And no, I don't know why the formatting changed here. I tried to fix it and couldn't)

Damn you Michael Graham for ruining everything for everyone. You have ruined the author's perception and bizarre pedophilic (wasn't a word, but now it is) need to have grown men act like children while competing in professional sports.

Lately, a preteen baseball player known as Lil Papi has become an Internet star on account of videos in which he acts mad beyond his years after hitting what for a kid his age qualify as tape-measure homers.

He's not mad, he's showboating. If you look at the entire video the author linked the kid was clearly very happy after touching home plate when he ran to the dugout. But again, don't pay attention to the whole clip, but simply pay attention to the author's misconception the child was angry about hitting a home run.

Even Tim Tebow promotes a joy-is-soft ethos when in uniform. His name’s synonymous with making a joyful noise. Yet when he scored his first TD as a pro in 2010, his celebration was less heavenly than Beelzebubbly

Are you fucking serious? The author is either completely blind or praying that no one clicks that link. Tebow immediately flexes his muscles after scoring the touchdown, then jumps up and celebrates with teammates, and then runs joyfully (I use the word since the author likes that word) back to the bench.

When Lisa Leslie completed the first-ever WNBA dunk in 2002, she smiled wide, threw her arms over her head, and pranced to center court and into the arms of her Los Angeles Sparks teammates. Compare that to Brittney Griner’s insolence after her first two WNBA slams—still only the fifth and sixth dunks in the history of a league that is now in its 17th season.

For God's sake, watch the video. Griner had to get back on defense. She didn't have time to prance around like she had just cured cancer. The author (whose name is Dave McKenna if that matters) reminds me of Gregg Easterbrook in a few ways. He's simplistic in his sports observations. He also posts links that don't support his argument and he acts like he can't easily be proven wrong. Griner did not have time to start celebrating because the game was still being played.

For LeBron, expressionlessness is a way to broadcast that he cares about the team above all else. In naming him its 2012 Sportsman of the Year, Sports Illustrated attributed James’ first championship season at least in part to his having “muted his on-court celebrations” and “cut the jokes in film sessions.”

There is background to LeBron not celebrating and being more serious on the court. Remember back when he used to joke around with his Cavs teammates and pretend to take group pictures before each game? He was criticized for not being serious enough on the court, so he gets more serious and now he gets criticized by some for being too serious. Obviously he can't win, but there is background as to why LeBron is being more serious on the court.

When he made that shot to win Game 1 of the Pacers series, James was asked in the post-game press conference why he didn’t celebrate. “I made a layup,” he said. “I’ve been doing that since I was 8 years old.”

Remember when Larry Bird used to celebrate making a layup? You don't?

Given the championship-or-else bar that he’s set for himself, James only gives himself permission to smile under two circumstances: when he wins a title

Sort of like the 1980 U.S. Hockey team and Joe Carter did?

Earlier this year, a 50-year-old named Michael Drysch won $75,000 during one of those bread-and-circusish sponsored events that all NBA teams now inflict on the fans during timeouts.

So even when the NBA or LeBron tries to show some joy that the fans can see, Dave McKenna will have none of it. There's only joy displayed when he says there can be joy displayed!

James was so overcome with glee that he abandoned the Heat bench to tackle Drysch and roll around on the floor with the fan at center court.

And LeBron was able to be overcome with joy because there wasn't a game being played at that point. See the correlation between when LeBron celebrates and when he doesn't? When a title is won or the game isn't being played, LeBron shows more joy, but when the game is still being play he mutes his joy in favor of continuing to do his job.

In an interview after the game, NBA TV commentators told James they were struck by the “genuine joy” he showed when Drysch’s shot went through the hoop. Everybody who saw it was.

But "athletes" (meaning: LeBron James and LeBron James only) are too serious and we shall ignore all evidence to the contrary.

LeBron and the Heat don’t need Drysch. But, win or lose, they’d be a whole lot more fun to watch if LeBron celebrated his own skillful feats with as much bliss as he did that fan’s lucky shot.

Sort like this? 

So, c’mon, LeBron. Turn that frown upside down. If you win another title, act like you haven’t been there before.

LeBron did smile after winning a title. In fact, the author states that LeBron smiled after the Heat won the 2012 NBA Title so I'm not sure why he thinks LeBron wouldn't have smiled after winning the title this past season. Thanks for having the guts to tackle the tough, pertinent and controversial sports topics "Slate" magazine. We as sports fans owe you a debt of gratitude.


Anonymous said...

Nitpicking, but the US didn't win gold after beating the USSR.

Isaac said...

Usually, 'walk a day in my shoes' is said to try and get sympathy. I feel like in this case, most people saw that and thought: no problem, where do I sign up?

Bengoodfella said...

Anon, not nitpicking that's a factual error.

Isaac, no shit, right? He's a college kid and I know there are a lot of college kids who would switch places with him.