Monday, July 02, 2012

In Pursuit of the N(B)Arrative

So let's play hypotheticals.

Let's take a superstar in his sport, a guy who's good enough to be mentioned in the same breath with the all-time greats.
Have him put a team on his back, despite a supporting cast weaker than the below-the-line players in a SyFy Original, and carry it to the playoffs again and again.
Let him, when he becomes a free agent, use the interest in his choice of destination to raise millions of dollars for charity.
Have him take less money to go someplace where he can win, in part to ensure that there's enough cash in the kitty to pay the talent around him.
Make sure he stays clear of drug scandals, bar fights, steroids accusations, incidents in strip clubs, driving his SUV into someone's living room while watching porn, and all of the other fun tidbits we've come to expect from our star athletes.
When his teammates get hurt in crunch time, have him pick up his team once again and carry it with a historically great playoff performance.

You'd think this guy would be lionized. Instead, he's LeBron, and we're all supposed to hate him for walking away from a dingbat owner and a franchise that wasn't going to be in position to win it all for years, if ever.

Of course, James' real crime wasn't bolting for south Florida. The same idiots yammering about how awful James' Decision was are the guys licking their chops over the far-future day when they imagine Bryce Harper in Yankee pinstripes. The real problem was that athletes aren't supposed to control their own narratives. They're supposed to give hometown discounts and stay, or let themselves be courted to go someplace in search of a championship, or let sportswriters beat up on them for taking money to do what they do. And with The Decision, James took control of his own narrative. He decided on the goal (championships), figured out the best way to get there (talented teammates), and made the plan happen, cutting the sportswriters and nabobs and myth makers out of the loop.

Naturally, he got buried. They draped it in outrage on behalf of Cleveland, but really, every AM radio host who chewed on James' gristle was upset over the fact that athletes aren't supposed to think that way, plan that way, do that way. How the hell are we supposed to project our fantasies on these own guys if they're going to act intelligently in their own self-interest?

But now LeBron's won a championship, and by the unwritten rules of the game, that makes him worthy. And if he's worthy, he can't the villain any more, according to the byzantine, Eddie Izzard-like constructions of sports narrative morality. Never mind that there are a lot more Earl Curetons and Marc Iavaronis walking around with rings than Karl Malones and John Stocktons; it's the arbitrary divider, the climax of the ordained narrative, and reaching it washes away your past sins. LeBron's going to be a hero now. They'll craft the story that he learned humility last year, that he accepted responsibility this year, that he did what they all wanted him to.

He'll know better. But he'll let them pretend, because it will make his life easier.

And down in Orlando, they'll find a new villain, a kid who had the temerity to be indecisive about whether or not he wanted to stay in his current job. The rumblings are already starting.

Dwight Howard, you're next.
Post a Comment
There was an error in this gadget