It would be totally reasonable for LeBron James to be bored. At the age of 30, he's already compiled enough minutes and accolades to make his career one of the best in the history of the game. When you've been to the mountaintop as often as LeBron, a Monday night game in Detroit feels like, well, a Monday night game in Detroit. What are the first two months of the season to a man who has played in the past five NBA Finals?
The newest emblem of James's anomie, of his detachment from the already outlying and totally ridiculous lifestyle of a normal NBA player, is right on his face. LeBron took "Movember" to especially ludicrous territory this season, styling his mustache in various anachronistic fashions—first Danny Glover, then spats-wearing bartender at a craft cocktail bar. The owner of four MVP trophies, two championships, and extremely good footing in nearly every major career statistic with the better part of a decade left to play, James now looks set to explore various aesthetic phases. He's basically David Bowie since 1980, but with more upper-body strength and no substance-abuse issues.
Yes, it's only a matter of time before LeBron slides deeper into the realm of weirdness. Soon he'll begin his Industrial identity, wearing weird tight leather to the arena with obscure little symbols etched into his hair—ones that look like the corporate logos from an alternate universe where everything is even more sinister. Of course, we can also expect James's beard to reach Harden-like proportions when he embraces Stoner Metal, his baggy flannel the host of some extremely dank odors in the Cavs' locker room. And please, do not get LeBron started on pickling.
James's new curlicue facial hair, much like his experiments playing with and without his signature headband last season, is a window into the soul of the most publicized American athlete since Michael Jordan. Unlike Jordan, James has grown up before us in the tight focus and unblinking eye of social media; the amount of privacy His Airness enjoyed has never been remotely feasible for James. Without the option of behaving like his predecessor—a gambling, drinking, unrepentant motherfucker behind the airtight corporate sheen of McDonald's, Nike, and NBA greatness—James has always seemed somehow more human than Jordan. Despite being the very best in the world at what he does, there has long been a palpable doubt and recognizably inconsistent and imperfect humanity to the way LeBron presents himself as a person and, inevitably, as a brand.
There is thus, in this mustache, a bit of Aww, something like pathos inspired by this latest tweak to personal image. In the midst of the Golden State Warriors' historic 20-0 start to the season, James is less the center of attention for the basketball-viewing masses than he's been at any time since the beginning of his career. In what Steph Curry and Co. are doing, James has a rare glimpse at a level of excellence and timelessness that he may not be able to match. For the first time in his NBA life, LeBron is being thoroughly outdone by his contemporaries, and while it's definitely not Kobe-Bryant-dumpster-fire-sad to see James grapple with new signs of his mortality, it is undoubtedly a curious time in the King's career.
Schadenfreude directed at James has been its own thriving industry for most of this century, and his new mustache, for as long as it persists, should create more than enough rage-fuel for these particular belching smokestacks. Look at that stupid fading idiot trying to be cool, the very intelligent sports-watching public will conclude in so many misspelled words in comments sections. There is nothing to contemplate here; there is only the silly mustache on the face of the hateable man, the new thing to point and laugh at.
The hope for NBA fans who like competition is that someone, anyone can challenge the Warriors this season. The San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder stand as the most realistic eventual threats to Golden State's dominion over the West. LeBron and his Cleveland Cavaliers are their only real competitor on the other side of the Mississippi River, and the man with the funny mustache knows this. He has been trying to rile up his teammates lately. He wants his team to be fiercer in general, and certainly in time for their Christmas Day date with Golden State, when Steph and Co. may very well still be undefeated.
While it's been said that dads were the original hipsters, James is becoming the NBA's leading roster patriarch as his aesthetic tilts ever more toward Bushwick. Seemingly in reaction to the blazing ball of NBA-realigning fire that is this year's Warriors, LeBron's reprimands to his team have only increased. LeBron called a players-only meeting after a recent loss to the Toronto Raptors, chastising the Cavs' consistency despite their then 11-4 record, compiled without any appearances from two injured starters, Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert.
His play and his on-court temperament have also picked up considerably. James has been a storm of parquet conviction, shouting at teammates for being mildly out of place and moving with more violence than any December game could possibly require. Just look at this ridiculous pass he made, for which the description "laser-like" seems somehow too subtle:
It's reasonable for fans to wonder whether James should be playing so hard so early when his back has been aching in a shockingly human way ever since his return to Cleveland. For the rest of us, his ongoing mustachioed warpath makes for an incredibly compelling holiday collision course with the historically brilliant Warriors. LeBron's game face is a little fuzzier and a touch goofier than we're used to, but it's right where it needs to be.