Friday, June 6, 2014

4 comments Jay Mariotti Keeps Moving the Goalposts to Further the Same Tired LeBron James Narrative

LeBron James has two NBA Championship rings. You wouldn't know from the column that Jay Mariotti has written though. I'm sure many remember the boring, tired narrative propagated by many in the media from two years ago that if LeBron James didn't win a title then:

1. He won't ever be Michael Jordan.

2. He won't be the best player in NBA history.

3. The gathering of the Big 3 in Miami was a failure and they should all kill themselves.

4. This proves he's a choker who can't win the big game.

5. All of the above and more.

Unfortunately for the idiots who wrote columns like this about a 27-year old LeBron James it turns out he has won back-to-back NBA Championships...but only because Ray Allen bailed him out of course. Michael Jordan never had help from anyone like John Paxson when he won an NBA title. Never. So what to do now? LeBron has two NBA titles. How to criticize LeBron and make it seem like he won't ever be what "we" wanted him to be? By moving the goalposts every single time he accomplishes something of course. He and the Heat won the NBA title last year? Well this year it means MORE that they win the NBA title, so LeBron has to win the NBA title again this year or his two previous titles mean absolutely nothing. That's the Mariotti-esque point of view that Jay Mariotti has. THIS YEAR is the most important NBA Finals of LeBron's career. Just like next year will be the most important NBA Finals of his career.

In the most meaningful ways, the human ways, LeBron James has more than passed the flaw test. Since that week in 2002, when Sports Illustrated propped him on its cover as “The Chosen One,’’ not once has he failed himself or his legacy in the searing public eye. 

But you know, it all goes away if he doesn't win the NBA title this year. Immediacy is king. LeBron is nothing if he can't win an NBA title every single season. All his past accomplishments are null and void if he goes 2-3 in the NBA Finals.

I like how Jay starts off a column where he states LeBron is flawed by stating that LeBron really isn't flawed. Of course a column about how LeBron isn't flawed won't get Jay the attention he so desperately requires to become relevant again, so he has to write that LeBron is flawed in some way.

Never in a dozen years has he been scandalized, bimboized or TMZized. If LeBron’s image is fake, he has guarded his secrets well enough that Edward Snowden couldn’t expose them.

So keep that in mind when I say James, as the preeminent American athlete of the moment, has stumbled more than once professionally and dearly needs to win a third straight NBA championship to remove some lingering tarnish.

Keep this in mind as Jay writes this column so that you can be aware Jay (a) knows this column is a piece of crap and he doesn't believe a word he writes, (b) Jay knows he is wrong and doesn't give a shit because he wants attention, (c) is going to completely pretend this column doesn't exist in two years.

And you know what happened a year later — after James had made his daunting “not two, not three, not four, not five, not six …’’ declaration — when he disappeared in the clutch and generally flat-lined in an abysmal loss to Dallas in the Finals. Even if we give James a pass for his previous washout against the Spurs in the 2007 Finals — are we absolutely certain the Cavaliers ever laced up sneakers for that series? — it means he has failed more than once in history-defining arenas.

Oh, so there were more "history-defining arenas" for LeBron James during the NBA Finals. It almost seems like the "history-defining arenas" are intentionally chosen to be during the NBA Finals that LeBron has lost and not during those he has won. He took a very undermanned Cavs team to the Finals in 2007 and learned lessons from the 2011 Finals that have resulted in the Heat winning back-to-back NBA Finals. 

LeBron is more Peyton Manning than Michael Jordan, OK?

I don't know what that means since LeBron has won as many NBA Finals series as he has lost, but I do know LeBron has two NBA titles at the age of 29 years old, Peyton Manning has won a single Super Bowl and Michael Jordan had three NBA titles at the age of 29. Most of the reason LeBron is more Manning than Jordan is because he is 29 years old and hasn't had a chance to win as many titles as Jordan won.

Therefore, he has more at stake than Tim Duncan and the Spurs in what should be a memorable seven-game series.

"Who has more at stake in this series? It has to be someone! There is a right answer to this unanswerable question!"

Ah yes, another lazy, tired narrative that ESPN loves to debate on their many day time sports argument shows. For a guy who claims to not like ESPN, Jay sure does think like many of the talking heads there. 

If San Antonio wins a fifth title since 1999, sure, it further validates Gregg Popovich’s methodology as championship-sustainable into a third decade, which should be an impossibility amid the opt-outs, tax restrictions and dizzying business structure of the 21st century. But whether the Spurs win or fall short doesn’t impact their place in basketball lore.

So to recap:

The team who lost to the Heat in the NBA Finals last year, has their title window closing very rapidly because they are built around three 30+ stars, and has won four titles in the last 14 years have nothing to prove. The team who beat the Spurs last year in the NBA Finals, still has a very wide title window and has won the last two NBA titles (including one over the Spurs) is the team whose failure will impact their place in basketball lore?

Popovich, Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and a recently cultivated cast of snap-on parts — international in scope — really have nothing to prove except revenge for an uncharacteristically botched Finals opportunity last June against the Heat. Another loss will make them ache, but we won’t think less of them.

Well...first off, don't "we" me. Let's look at what "we" think of the Spurs based on their NBA Finals experience.

1999: They beat the #8 seed Knicks in a strike-shortened season.
2003: They beat the #2 seed Nets.
2005: They beat the #2 seed and defending champion Pistons.
2007: They beat a pathetically undermatched (I meant "overmatched" as mentioned in the comments) Cavs teams.
2013: Lost to the Miami Heat.

So, and this is just my opinion, it has been almost 10 years since the Spurs have met a quality NBA Finals Eastern Conference opponent and beaten that opponent to win the NBA title. I'm not taking the Spurs title away from them, but while I found the 2007 Cavs team exciting they weren't exactly a strong team. So the Spurs do seem to have something to prove. They need to prove they can still compete against and defeat a great Eastern Conference team in the NBA Finals. Because it's been a while since they have done that.

If James loses? That will be three Finals losses, and while his supporters will find fault with his unreliable supporting cast, the all-time greats find ways of overcoming such weaknesses — particularly when the Spurs have their own issues with age and injuries. 

That's the thing though. If the Heat lose, it may not reflect on James at all. I know, it's shocking this could be possible, but perhaps if James loses another NBA Finals it just means the Spurs outplayed the Heat and deserved to win the NBA title. Why does there have to be a narrative that follows and points to a separate narrative outside of the Heat simply losing? Why does another Finals loss for LeBron HAVE to mean something?

If James is the Michael Jordan of his era and the Heat are the Jordan Bulls of their era, as Indiana coach Frank Vogel blathered in trying to justify another failure by his knuckleheads in the Eastern Conference finals, then they will find a way to win another title as they did last year.

Okay, sure. If this comparison has to be made, then a direct comparison to Jordan's Bulls would be applicable because the Heat won't win three titles in a row. But otherwise, these NBA Finals are not the fulcrum for LeBron's legacy. Stop moving the goalposts on him. It used to be that his legacy meant nothing if he didn't win an NBA title, so he won a title. Then it was, "Well he has to win back-to-back titles or his legacy is shit," so he won another title. Now it's, "He has to be like Michael Jordan and win three straight titles or his legacy is shit." It's silly. Just enjoy him for his accomplishments and stop acting like every NBA Finals is the very end-all be-all for James' legacy.

His legacy will pivot on what happens these next two weeks.

This is written every single time James' team appears in the NBA Finals. It's boring and tired.

The three-peat would set him apart. On Finals eve, James isn’t shying from the Jordan comparisons, but deep down, he knows such thoughts will end without another South Beach partner. You can’t say “not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven …’’ and stop at two.

Is Jay Mariotti under the impression LeBron James is retiring after the season is over? If not, then LeBron still may not be stopping at two titles. There is a next year, another season, another chance for the 2015 NBA Finals to be THE FINALS where James' cements his legacy until the next season's NBA Finals.

I wish this type of stuff translated to other professions.

"This column is the column which defines Jay Mariotti's legacy. It's his Super Bowl column. If he wants to be considered one of the greats, he will nail this Super Bowl column. If he doesn't nail it, then he's never going to be a great writer."

"I have to turn in this TPS report and it be the best thing I ever written. If this TPS report isn't the best report I have ever turned in, my career will mean nothing." 

James said. “Me and (Dwyane Wade) grew up watching the great Chicago Bulls team and the great Michael Jordan and the rest of those guys. To be able to play the game that we love at a high level for one another, for our teammates, it’s the ultimate. When you hear the comparisons, you respect it. You’re humbled by it. You just feel like while you’re in the moment hopefully, while you’re playing the game, that you can make an impact enough to where you move on and people will start comparing you to ones that’s in the game at the present time.”

What this means to Jay Mariotti:

"I'm being compared to Michael Jordan, so I have to do everything Michael Jordan did except do it better than he did and if I don't do that then I'm a complete failure and my career will be nothing but a shameful 'what could have been' when I look back on it."

Two titles don’t distinguish a team in history, despite this from Wade: “Whenever it’s all said and done, the legacy of this team, it’s going to be a great team. It’s going to go down in history as an unbelievable team not only in South Florida but in NBA history.” Winning three straight titles qualifies as greatness. Going 2 for 4 does not.

I was under the impression this column was about LeBron James' legacy, not the legacy of the Miami Heat team as a whole. Funny how Jay just mixes those two together for the hell of it. The legacy of the Heat team doesn't necessarily define the legacy of LeBron James as an individual player.

We’ve never thought of Duncan, the most private superstar of sport’s self-indulgent era, as someone who spends time on personal legacies. But he did hint at how much he has ached since last year’s Finals with his shocking, refreshing proclamation that the Spurs will win. “It’s unbelievable to regain that focus after that devastating loss that we had last year. But we’re back here. We’re excited about it. We’ve got four more to win. We’ll do it this time. We’re happy it’s the Heat again. We’ve got that bad taste in our mouths still,’’ he said, on live television no less.

I think I have figured out Jay Mariotti's problem. He is illiterate, or at the very least, remarkably stupid. I read this quote 3-4 times and at no point was it Tim Duncan spending time on his personal legacy. The entire quote is about the legacy of the Spurs as a team and how they want to beat the Heat this year, which they were not able to do last year. It in no way is Duncan commenting on his personal legacy.

James did care. “They don’t like us, they don’t. I can sense it from Timmy’s comments over the last couple of days,” he said. “They wanted this, they wanted us and we’ll be ready for the challenge.”

With a four-day lead up to the Finals, you knew someone would run those comments past Popovich. “Personally? People can say whatever they want. I like everybody,’’ he said, his annoyed shtick in full bloom. “You’re really gonna ask me that? So somebody will say, `I don’t like him.’ And then they’ll go, `So and so said they don’t like you.’ `Well, I don’t like you, either.’

Okay, great. What does this have to do with James' legacy again? Absolutely nothing? Great.

The reason James cares about Duncan’s comments is that he needs to be at his supreme best as a leader and a performer, from the first minute of Game 1 to the final buzzer of Game 7.

This is unlike Tim Duncan? Why didn't Duncan need to be at his best last year in the NBA Finals from the first minute of Game 1 to the final buzzer of Game 7? His legacy is magically cemented already, even though he didn't beat "Mr. Shaky Legacy" LeBron James and the Heat in last year's NBA Finals?

At times, he has mysteriously faded in big moments, subjecting himself to criticism for not wanting the last shot on occasion. He can’t afford fadeouts like his no-show in Game 5 against the Pacers, when he found instant foul trouble and had his worst-ever postseason game.

Even when James succeeds his failures are brought up for all of the world to contemplate and submit their own hot sports takes. LeBron has won two straight NBA titles but that's never going to be enough. He is going to have to win more titles than Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant or his legacy will be shameful and incomplete. These writers have to keep raising the bar and their expectations in order to justify their writing about LeBron NEEDING to win another title, and not just another title, but the NBA title this year.

We must see the best of LeBron James for two weeks, no respites or dinner breaks allowed.

And if the Heat win, but LeBron has one bad game, then he has to prove he can play well in every NBA Finals game or else is legacy is incomplete. You would think LeBron was on the losing side of this NBA Finals rematch from last year the way Jay Mariotti is talking about him.

The Spurs want it.

But you know, they won't be defined by whether they can beat the Heat or not. That would be silly for Jay to say a team that has established itself as a consistently great team would need to win an NBA title to justify their presence as a great team. Jay would never do that. The Spurs have made six NBA Finals appearances since 1999. The Heat have made four NBA Finals appearances in the last four years. Obviously the Heat (and by extension apparently, LeBron James) are the team whose legacy should be questioned.

LeBron needs it.

Says every lazy sportswriter who writes this same type of re-treaded column every year the NBA Finals roll around with a LeBron-led team represented in those NBA Finals. Every single time LeBron appears in the NBA Finals, his legacy will be defined by those very NBA Finals...until the next year's NBA Finals when THAT NBA Finals are really what defines LeBron's legacy.

Jay Mariotti's sportswriting legacy is already defined and complete. He's not very good at writing and desperately wants as much attention as possible.


HH said...

They beat a pathetically undermatched Cavs team.

You mean overmatched.

Bengoodfella said...

HH, yeah that was wrong. I fixed it in the post. I have to say, I don't even know what "pathetically undermatched" would mean.

Anonymous said...

Ben, be sure to check out Simmons' latest column from last week about game 6 of last year's Finals, or as I like call it "Game 6: The Bill Simmons Story." It has more I's and me's than a narcissist meeting. It's like when your buddy's dating this girl, and she's all about herself, and then she starts telling a story about how her friend got picked up at the bar (and she got free drinks because OF COURSE she was sleeping with the bartender), and she frames the story as though it's all about her perspective on her friend getting picked up, and she tries to describe how impressive it is for her friend to get picked up because she can't get picked up in the same's exactly like that.

Bengoodfella said...

Anon, I just scanned it and didn't really read it. I'm should probably do that if you think it's not very good. I am going to at least count how many I's and me's there is in there.

I can't believe I missed the column. It's like when you are at a bar and you have been talking to this hot girl for most of the night when your friend has told you another girl was eyeing you also. So you spend so much time talking to that one hot girl that you miss there is another really attractive girl who actually wants to go home with you waiting for you to approach her. My missing Bill's column is just like that.