LeBron James will never be a god.
In this new golden era of technological connectivity, in which everything is recorded, analyzed, scrutinized, and archived, superstardom has been forced to change its face. Once upon a time, celebrities of all kinds were nothing more than perfect faces plastered on magazine covers or enormous, daunting images on silver screens. They were untouchable, unknowable, and that was their allure: enigmatic beings who somehow were what we all strove to be.
No longer is that the case. Now, we are so connected with celebrities that we feel we are part of their lives, and that, as such, they owe us things. We see their thoughts on places like Twitter, candid photos on Instagram, and videos of their lives on YouTube and Facebook.
They owe us these inside looks, we feel.
What’s more is that we demand perfection. If something is amiss in any way, shape or form, we will notice it and we will criticize it. We will remind them of it and we will remind each other of it, and we will never let it die.
Such is the life for LeBron James, and has been since he entered the NBA in 2003 as an 18-year-old teenager. As he’s grown, social media and technology in general has blossomed, and together these two ingredients have produced something inevitable and new: the first NBA superstar to be excruciatingly dissected game by game, moment by moment for the majority of his career.
We were there to overanalyze his admittedly bizarre final game during his first incarnation with the Cavs, in which his team lost to a well-oiled Boston club in 2010; we hammered him for sitting down on live television to announce The Decision the following summer; we mocked and gasped and scratched our heads during his Finals meltdown against Dallas in 2011; and, most recently, we shook Twitter to its proverbial core with richter scale-level takes about his greatness following a single bad outing against the Celtics in Game 3 of the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals.
Those are just a few choice examples.
And yet, throughout it all—and what a testament it is—LeBron’s basketball genius has finally grabbed us by our throats and pulled us into the unstable waters of the “Who is the GOAT?” debate to stack him up against the most revered basketball player of all-time—Michael Jordan.
Air Jordan didn’t have his career squished onto a microscope slide to be examined and picked apart. He was never subject to the same blistering over-analyzation that LeBron is. Imagine the excitement that would boil on the Internet today if Jordan did this or this while we were watching with keyboards at our fingertips. Imagine also the reactions to Jordan ditching the game of basketball to pursue a stint in baseball, or to his known gambling habits, or to his “Republicans buy shoes, too” comment.
We would have been in awe with the former, and crucified him for the latter. Neither would be forgotten.
As it stands, MJ’s legacy survives largely unsullied. Partly due to the fact that his career was not under the same strains that LeBron’s is, but also simply because of time (by now, if you’re under the age of 30, it’s likely you never saw Jordan play). Time heals all wounds they say, and what would you rather remember about the greatest basketball player ever—his mistakes or his spectacular highlight reels?
In an essay entitled, “The Historical Text as Literary Artifact,” theorist Hayden White discusses how a series of chronological events (History Proper) recorded as a body of writing (History as Narrative) shapes our understanding of those historical events. Historical narratives, he says, are “verbal fictions, the contents of which are as much invented as found.” He goes on to note that these verbal fictions are packaged together in order to make you, the listener or reader or viewer, feel a certain way about the event(s).
This is what we’ve done with Michael Jordan. We’ve taken the history of his best and brightest and packaged it together in a series of verbal and written hyperboles, weaving a singular, fluid tapestry that exists in order to make people feel a certain way about him.
This tapestry has become gospel for so many that when you ask them why Jordan’s the greatest player of all-time, they’ll merely shrug and say, “He just is,” or the slightly more knowledgeable but still irritating, “He’s got six rings.”
He’s just the greatest. Has six rings. Add it to the tapestry.
In a 1996 New York Times article entitled, “Like a Superhero, Jordan Is There to Save the Bulls if Ever They Should Slip,” journalist Ira Berkow writes this about the Bulls’ superstar: “Jordan often sees issues clearly […] he can be Superman, or at least Captain Marvel.”
Jordan is a superhero. Add it to the tapestry.
In Michael Jordan: The Life, Roland Lazenby’s fantastic and definitive biography of His Airness, there’s a chapter called “The God of Basketball.” In it, Lazenby explains how during a 1992 trip to Barcelona—just before the Olympics—Jordan played in a game with a bunch of Spanish professionals in which he utterly dominated such that it led “fans and media alike to declare that the ‘god of the basketball’ had descended into their presence.”
We made Michael Jordan into a god.
These are but the tip of the iceberg, but what we’ve woven is, of course, untrue. Michael was not and is not a god. Does that mean he’s not the greatest basketball player to have ever played? No, it doesn’t—he very well might be. And one can also not blame the journalists and writers who have written in such a way. They’re storytellers with a job to do. It’s sports. It’s fun. But that doesn’t mean that they haven’t helped fabricate the Jordan myth.
Jordan had many shortcomings throughout his career. It took him seven seasons to win an NBA championship—the same amount of time it took LeBron—and prior to that there were many who were skeptical of calling him the best they’d ever seen. He was plagued early on in the playoffs by Milwaukee, Boston, and then the Bad Boy Pistons, who sent him packing three postseasons in a row and forced him into some of his worst-ever playoff performances. One such time was Game 5 of the 1989 postseason, in which MJ went 5–15 from the field in 43 minutes of action and sent the Bulls spiralling into a tizzy, losing the next two games to Detroit and effectively ending their run.
Even after Jordan broke through and had become a well-established champion, he wasn’t impervious to bad games. In Game 4 of the 1997 Eastern Conference Finals against Miami, for example, Jordan shot 9–35 from the floor over the course of 45 minutes. Needless to say, the Bulls didn’t win that one.
But if you go to YouTube and search for “bad Michael Jordan games,” you’ll only wind up with a few videos showcasing some of MJ’s failures—the rest will be the highlights we’ve all come to know so well. Search for LeBron’s bad games, however, and you can imagine how that plays out.
We know Jordan had bad games, we know he had faults, we know he had the Wizards years, so why do we choose to toss them aside for the betterment of the tapestry? We do it because it’s more functional—it makes all of the brilliance we saw on the court easier to understand if the rest simply is forgotten. Even in the overarching narrative of the NBA—that the 1980s revived basketball and then Jordan took it to the next, highest level—relies on the unblemished version of the tapestry.
For many, Michael Jordan will always be a god—everything is simpler if we accept him to be—unassailable in any basketball conversation. But as the ancient mythologies warn us, even gods are liable to fall given time and a proper obstacle—and perhaps that’s just what this recent LeBron-Michael debate is.
Maybe, just maybe, the greatness of LeBron James will be what pushes us to finally take Jordan off the pedestal and inspect him, for the first time in a long time, for what he really is: a mortal man who may be the greatest basketball player who’s ever lived.
And you know what? That’s not such a bad reality to wake up to.
Ride The Wave
Back in October the sky was the limit. LeBron had decided to move to LA and join the Lakers. Things were good then.
Back in October the sky was the limit. LeBron had decided to move to LA and join the Lakers, drawing in a decent support team and a lot of talk that the West was looking incredibly dominant next to a “weaker” East. Things were good then.
Five months later and things couldn’t be farther from that idylistic picture. The East thrived without the King and GMs put together some of the most noteworthy teams in a while. And the Lakers? The Lakers currently sit in the 11th spot of the Western Conference with very little hope of making it to the playoffs. They’re a team that is constantly attacked for their lack of chemistry, skill, and effort. For the first time in a long time, LA became synonymous with “hopeless”.
This wasn’t the future we saw for the King.
On the heels of a night filled with one of his greatest achievements ever, the Lakers as a team walked away with a loss to the Denver Nuggets. A night that began on a high note went out on one that was equivalent to sour candy. Furthermore, a frustrated team left an arena, hopped on social media, and found a bevy of congrats for their star player, while enduring the storm that came with another Lakers loss.
It seems that James’ stardom has reached a tipping point, one that makes him a GM one moment, the King of the league the next, and finally the biggest point of contention within the locker room. The most notable thing is that it is clearly wearing him down. Chris Martin let us know that “nobody one said it was easy”, but you’ve got to ask yourself, does it have to be so hard?
The answer is unfortunately, yes. It’s always going to be this way, and there is no fighting the current, but there is beauty in riding the wave. Embracing that moment when the wave comes crashing down on you is important, because it’s always going to happen, but your attitude will always be remembered. LeBron rides high, and keeps things in the positive light for the media, but he’s got to realize that they are writing his story, and he doesn’t have to play into their’s. Ride the wave, and take the loss in stride with all the great that has come with it, but take the loss because your part of a team that is.
The wave has crashed down, but the current will bring another.
Year 15 | A Mini Documentary
Year 15 of a legacy…
Something Out of Nothing
It’s March 2016, and I’m driving with Alan Shane Lewis to Montreal to meet with Marc Griffin and Phil Boileau. We’re meeting to speak about this exciting new idea I pitched to them. We were tired of spinning the wheels on our own individual internet shows, and I told them that it was time we stopped waiting for a network and became the network.
We spoke that weekend about creating a community of content creators that all loved ball and came together to make unique content with unique voices – voices we felt were never heard in the mainstream. This community was the base of Press and we’d continue to push forward from that spot. We spoke about some amazing show ideas, article ideas, social media plan. It was truly an exciting time, and still one of the best weekends of my life.
Two years later and that group is a lot smaller, and that idea is Press Basketball.
It caught fire at the beginning and we had people joining our bright shiny new plaything left, right, and center. It was exciting, but now I kind of realize that a lot of it was just that we were that “bright shiny new thing”.
We ended up with a lot of Press Basketball “members” but when I stepped back and looked at what was happening… it wasn’t what I’d imagined. The fire burned out. The idea was gone. We had just become another thing trying to stay alive, waiting for some deus ex machina to show up with money and make everything okay.
I’ve gone through most of my life making something out of nothing. It’s never easy, but when it happens it’s always worth it… ALWAYS. Press made me feel alive at a point. It was literally all I could think about, and while it still is on my mind, it doesn’t make me feel alive. This hurts more than I can ever explain.
Changes are coming my friends. We’re not laying down and dying, and if we do it’s not going to be like this.
The core of Press will be setting fire to a lot over the next few weeks and I personally can’t wait for this to start. From the ashes something new will rise (I watched a lot of XMEN growing up).
Stay tuned, because it’s not over.
Ride The Wave
Year 15 | A Mini Documentary
An Ode to the 2007-2008 Warriors
USA VS EVERYBODY | The Break | Episode 17
Trading Places | The Break | Episode 18
Christmas Day Showdowns | The Break | Episode 10
Western Conference Preview | The Break | Episode 1
Eastern Conference Preview | The Break | Episode 2
NBA & More Mailbag with Josh Howe — TWT 102
Memphis Grizzlies Season Preview with Keith Parish — TWT 101
Ride The Wave
Back in October the sky was the limit. LeBron had decided to move to LA and join the Lakers. Things...
Year 15 | A Mini Documentary
Year 15 of a legacy...
Something Out of Nothing
It’s March 2016, and I’m driving with Alan Shane Lewis to Montreal to meet with Marc Griffin and Phil Boileau....
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