OK, transparency dictates that I reveal upfront that I (together with everyone among my nearest kinfolk) am a rabid Miami Heat basketball fan. I was a season ticket holder during the Shaq-Wade years, and I had the privilege of attending several games during the epic 2006 road to the championship.
Having said that, it will surprise no one that I am in sports fan nirvana right now, basking in the glow of the championship the Heat just won over Oklahoma City last night, carried on the Atlas-like shoulders of LeBron James.
And it's the personal stories that make me just as happy as the victory on the court-and most of all, it's the redemption and vindication of LeBron James, as he finally (I thought) got several 900-pound gorillas off his back all at once, as his superhuman athletic performance on the court was matched by the maturity, class, honesty and sincerity shown by LeBron in his postgame comments. This included his acknowledgment that last season he played angry and strayed away from the fundamentals, playing like he had to prove everybody wrong; that he had let his teammates and fans down. I was thrilled to hear his unambiguous and wonderful admission about his reaction to his own inexplicably inferior (by his standards) play in the Finals against Dallas, i.e., that he was humbled, and didn't do it
in the right way. And he also made it clear that if he had it to over, he would not turn "the Decision" into "the Circus".
As I watched LeBron say these words, and many more during the past few weeks, my admiration for LeBron the basketball superstar was eclipsed by my admiration for LeBron the maturing young man who (after all) is still only 27 years old, practically the same age as 2 of my sons!
I was, simply, proud of him for growing up, admitting his errors (which, after all, were never anything remotely close in intensity to the REAL and often ugly misdeeds of so many other sports figures--all LeBron had been guilty of was being very narcissistic and having very poor judgment in public self-presentation) and being brave enough to show his repentance to the world.
But in the midst of all this joy, there was also alloy, as Jane Austen might have put it. What caught my eye and ear today, as I surfed ESPN and sports webpages, and disturbed me a lot, and made me want to write about here in my blog, was the report of polls (apparently taken AFTER last night's Heat victory over OKC) which indicated that about 70% of nationwide respondents did NOT feel happy for LeBron James now that he had finally won.
For just a second, I could not believe my eyes and ears. After all, the sports commentators were ALL unanimous in their praise for LeBron's personal behavior during this championship run, and especially last night and today in the intense media glare. He had fessed up very authentically and directly, and so I thought, hey, all but the most dieheard haters would have, at least, to give the devil his due, and acknowledge that LeBron had admitted his faults, and had done a pretty good job of beginning a new path and trying to not repeat them. They might not like the prospect of his winning more championships, but at least he would not be Jack the Ripper in their eyes.
But I quickly confirmed that ESPN was not leading me astray, when I read articles like the following:
And THAT's what leads me to my punch line, which is that i felt more than a slight shiver as I realized that I had seen this picture before---I immediately recalled the one genuinely ugly aspect of the public reaction to LeBron's leaving Cleveland for Miami two years ago--the disgusting public responses by the (white) owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert, with his (to my mind blatant, albeit cluelessly unself-aware) racist take on LeBron's departure--it really did seem like Gilbert was not merely upset at LeBron's making his departure from Cleveland something of a media circus, but that Gilbert really saw LeBron as a very highly paid "slave", who had the audacity to leave the "plantation" of the owner who had taken SUCH good care of him....
And THAT led me to connect the dots still further from the hostile public reaction to LeBron's leaving Cleveland, and even still, apparently today, the unforgiving persistence in that hostility among most fans, to the endlessly persistent hostility toward perhaps the only black man in America with an even HIGHER public visibility than LeBron at this moment--Barack Obama. I was unpleasantly reminded of the vile racist vitriol that has followed him every step of the way during his rise to, and then service in, the Presidency. Again, it's more than just political disagreement, there is (as Richard Pryor so tellingly told it like it was) that EXTRA layer, which is white racism, especially toward black men.
I wish it wasn't so, but that 70% LeBron Hatred strikes me as having a disturbingly similar origin as the persistent Obama Hatred. In both cases, these are "uppity" black men who achieve extraordinary fame and success in the wider society--at a time when so many Americans--black, white and all others--are suffering economically. And they are both also given zero tolerance for even the hint of wrongdoing, whether real, trivial or totally fabricated.
In short, I believe that if it had been Kevin Love (arguably the best WHITE American basketball player in the NBA right now) who had bolted from the Minnesota Timberwolves and said he was "taking his talents to South Beach", and had then won his first ring last night, and had said all the things LeBron said, that 70% would never have been higher than 30% in the first place, and would be in the single digits today.
So I conclude by saying....
Cheers (to LeBron and to Obama),
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter
P.S.: Now if Roger Federer can only win Wimbledon and thereby become #1 in the world again.......
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