Lebron James: The No-Fun Superstar
In case you missed it last night, LeBron James had an almost laughably dominant game against the Celtics, scoring 45 points by making 19 of his 26 shoots. The first half was almost boring to watch: “Oh, LeBron has the ball in the post again? Oh, there he goes, shooting it over Pietrus or Pierce or whoever’s guarding him—it doesn’t matter, there’s another basket. Swish.” James made 12 of his first 13 shots and had 30 points by halftime, and in the second half he scored a back-breaking bucket pretty much every time Boston looked like it was going to go on a run and actually make it a game. It was, in other words, pretty much everything LeBron’s public—I don’t think he has “fans” anymore—demanded of him: He completely took over a must-win game, put the team on his shoulders, refused to give into the pressure... insert the cliché of your choice here. And it was about as exciting as watching the best accountant in the world tear through an inbox.
ESPN’s Daily Dime called LeBron "methodical" in a headline, and that’s the word for his performance. Even after he hit I don’t know how many shots in a row, even after he made a ridiculous put-back dunk, his face stayed almost completely neutral. He didn’t yell, he didn’t high-five, he didn’t do a flying chest bump with Wade. He didn’t even look angry, the way athletes occasionally do that, “I’m so fucking good, it pisses me off!” face that I love to see. He looked like a guy performing a difficult job under a lot of pressure, or like an FBI agent repeatedly telling a man to put a gun down. As unfair as it is, just when LeBron did something that supposedly “silenced his critics,” he reminded us of all the stuff we don’t like about him in the first place.
His on-court interview with Doris Burke after the game was as rote and boring as you can get, and it wasn’t Burke’s fault; her questions were good. LeBron was just unwilling or unable to say anything that wasn’t in the Official Professional Athlete’s Guide to Giving Boring, Unquotable, Uncontroversial Interviews. And the cliché-fest continued at the postgame press conference. “I just wanted to try to lead my team;” “As long as I was on the court I wanted to make plays;” “I don’t know [if it was my best postseason performance]. I haven’t watched the film or anything like that.” C’mon, dude! You just single-fucking-handedly won an elimination game on the road against the team responsible for the most humiliating postseason failure of your career two years ago. I know, take-one-game-at-a-time-we’ve-still-got-to-close-this-series-out-etc, but maybe people would like you more—or understand you more—if they understood that you had feelings.
Countless columnists and anonymous forum posters have been slamming LeBron for years, and even more since he took his talents to South Beach (there’s even a book devoted to an Esquire writer’s hatred of LeBron), so maybe you can’t blame him for wanting to keep his head down and make it impossible for anyone to write anything more interesting than, “Good Job, LeBron. Good Effort.” But there’s more to being a superstar and international icon than just filling up a box score, and winning games. Winning championships doesn’t even make you loved or liked.
Michael Jordan (to invoke the name that LeBron’s always been linked to) evolved from the best advertising pitchman of all time to a massive brand himself not because he won six championships, but because he swaggered and mugged his way through winning six championships. He was cool, and that image wasn’t wholly manufactured by Nike either. Remember the shrug?. Or to pick another example that isn’t Jordan, remember Reggie Miller’s choke gesture? Maybe you hated Miller, maybe you hated Jordan, but you hated them for being assholes, you hated them for being something. LeBron, is hated because of his single-minded determination to be as boring as possible. At least when he was doing an MC Hammer impersonation on the ESPYs back in 2007 you could despise him for his arrogance. I can’t imagine LeBron’s any more humble today, but he refuses to let that arrogance show. He’s not even dressing well (maybe he could get some tips from Wade?).
This isn’t one of those “LeBron James needs to do X things so people will finally like him” pieces, because I could give a shit what LeBron does, and I’m sure LeBron could give a shit what I say. But it’s worth noting that back in the day, everyone wanted to be like Mike. Who wants to be like LeBron? Even when he’s dominating a game when it matters most—even when he’s actually being like Mike—he never seems to be enjoying it.