Hail LeBron, the NBA's true drama king
Dec 22, 2011 at 12:00a ET
The league that demanded our attention in June with an incredibly compelling six-game Finals series is now trying to recapture the momentum it lost thanks to a pointless lockout by pretending Paul-to-the-Clippers is as polarizing and fascinating as LeBron’s “The Decision.”
ESPN is itching to air video of Lakers fans burning Stern’s Brooks Brothers sports coats in the street. Any day now, Jerry Buss is going to fire off an angry letter to Stern that will provoke Jesse Jackson to make an asinine analogy comparing Buss’ suffering to slavery or the Holocaust.
TNT and “Law and Order” no longer have the market cornered on drama. The NBA now glorifies drama to excess.
I’m not buying it. It feels contrived.
“The Decision,” the Big Three, the pain in Cleveland, the 2010-11 regular season and the Mavericks’ eventual undressing of King James all felt extremely organic and real. I absorbed every drop of last season and couldn’t wait for this year’s sequel. The lockout and the delayed opening to this season sabotaged the NBA’s momentum.
This manufactured national outrage about Paul and Stern and the impending duel between the "Lake Show" and "Lob City" for Los Angeles relevance do not equate to “The Decision II.”
At best, this is "The Godfather Part III."
That is not a diss of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Shake and Blake are a formidable, must-see pairing. They’re Al Pacino and Diane Keaton, who turned in fine individual acting performances in GFIII.
But LeBron James is Marlon Brando. And when last we saw Don Corleone, Dirk “Virgil Sollozzo” Nowitzki’s crew had just sprayed King James with a round of three-point daggers that left his reputation in shambles and raised serious questions about his decision to expand his basketball operations to South Beach.
King James is still the NBA’s best storyline. James vs. Nowitzki is the sequel we were promised.
The damn lockout threw off everyone’s focus. It’s like we’re starting from scratch. And now everyone associated with the NBA just wants to camp out in Lob Angeles, soak in CP3 and The Poster Child and chronicle Kobe’s pouting about his German knee surgery failing to restore the six inches of lift he’s lost and Stern’s refusal — so far — to replenish the Lakers’ roster with fresh superstars.
Hey, I love LA. I live in LA. As a boy in Indiana, I grew up a devout Magic Johnson fan and rooting for the Lakers. I get the purple-and-gold infatuation. But this overboard, LA-centric narrative just feels wrong and misguided. It’s driven as much by the media’s disgust with Stern as it is a love affair with the new-look Clippers and the demise of the Lakers.
Stern has replaced LeBron as the league’s top villain. That won’t work. I’m not here to defend Stern. I’ve already written than he and NBA ownership bungled the lockout by choosing a quick cash grab over fixing the system that governs basketball.
Stern is a major sidebar story. He’s just not the story. LeBron is.
James is the main reason to watch the NBA on Christmas and moving forward. I won’t be tuning in to hear Stern interviewed at halftime or courtside. I want to see James’ tweaked post-up moves, the return of his fun-loving, nice-guy demeanor and how he and Dwyane Wade coexist as leaders.
James is basketball’s Tim Tebow. James polarizes and fascinates. His mechanics are flawed. His pregame chalk toss to the rafters is a non-religious, hey-look-at-me version of Tebowing.
For now, until they actually win something, Shake and Blake are potentially an exciting version of Stockton and Malone. The Mailman and Stockton were always a second or third act to Jordan, Hakeem, Shaq and Kobe, Duncan and Robinson.
As for Stern? He must figure out how to get out of the media spotlight so the true ratings-drivers — the actual players — can repair the damage done by the lockout. This might require the commissioner to retire a couple of years before he planned.
Stern’s Christmas NBA marathon should be his final big marketing ploy.