If the greatest basketball player on the planet gets dunked on in a meaningless summer pickup game, does anyone care?
Not unless Nike stormtroopers, possibly under orders from said greatest player, try to make sure no one ever sees it.
A couple of weeks ago at the LeBron James Skills Academy in Akron, Ohio, a typically loose basketball camp game gave way to the dunk heard ’round the gym but not seen ’round the world (until Wednesday).
Jordan Crawford, a 6-foot-4 sophomore guard who sat out last year at Xavier after transferring from Indiana, drove by his man from the right wing, got into the lane, gathered and flushed a thunderous two-hander on a late-arriving LeBron.
There were deserved “oohs” and “aahs,” but — as we would learn — the humiliation didn’t approach Vince Carter’s Olympic teabagging of Frederic Weis or even Kevin Johnson’s legendary playoff cram on Hakeem Olajuwon.
But according to witnesses, James himself ordered the confiscation of the tapes. Apparently what’s true for political malfeasance also applies to sports star face-saving: The cover-up is worse than the “crime.”
When word leaked of a mere court jester giving the King such a facial that it merited a scrubbing of the public record the conjecture began.
It must have been a Carter vs. Weis redux, a Lipton.
Maybe it was worse than the Lipton. The Nestea plunge? The Diet Squirt? The mind reeled.
Now that the Zapruder film of dunks (the Jam-ruder film?) has been released we realize that the true (and very real) humiliation of LeBron was self-inflicted.
Yes, LeBron was the last line of defense and would be the guy in the poster if they made Jordan Crawford posters, but there’s hardly any shame in being dunked on when A) you were not the guy who got beat off the dribble B) you didn’t rotate over until the dunker had already gathered and C) you happened to be going about half speed because, oh yeah, you were playing in a game at the LeBron James Skills Academy.
But there is great shame in not being able to take being dunked on like a man.
Through sheer petulance — of which LeBron apparently has an unlimited capacity (see: ungracious playoff loser) — James was able to turn a fun, electric basketball moment, the kind LeBron himself has provided so many times, into yet another I-am-an-image-obsessed-corporate-shill sports bummer.
According to Ryan Miller, one of two videographers to have his tape confiscated, LeBron spoke to a Nike representative who then told Miller his videotaping of the game was a violation of Nike policy that prohibits filming of after-hours games.
“There’s nothing I can think of besides LeBron just not wanting it online,” Miller told CBSSports.com. “It’s a good story to tell people, I guess. But then again, I’m kind of pissed. I lost my tape.”
It seems to be a matter of dispute as to whether the game was, in fact, an after-hours game or if this video ban is, in fact, a Nike policy. One thing is certain: had the contents of the videotape glorified the Nike icon, the company would have done everything in its considerable power to disseminate the images around the globe.
But because LeBron looked, well, mortal, the evidence had to be eliminated. Perhaps Phil Knight should have deployed his mind-wipers to clean the memories of those who saw it, lest one provide a sketch artist a detailed account that could lead to an animated version of the dunk on YouTube.
This was not Josh Howard holding forth on the national anthem. That’s a tape you want to destroy. This was a play that happens all the time in basketball. (In fact, Courtney Lee dunked on LeBron in a much more meaningful game a couple of months ago.)
This was nothing. Until LeBron and/or Nike wanted to make sure it would stay nothing. Then it became something. And that something was the latest self-inflicted embarrassment in a bad couple of months for LBJ’s image.
First he blew off the Orlando Magic, bolting without a handshake after losing that hard-fought playoff series. Then he blew off the media. Then he not only refused to apologize for not shaking hands, he defended his behavior, announcing, “I’m a winner. It’s not being a poor sport or anything like that. If somebody beats you up, you’re not going to congratulate them.”
That’s all true, except for the part about being a winner. (Not yet anyway.) And the part about it not being poor sportsmanship to not shake hands with your opponent. (It’s the definition of poor sport.) And the part about not congratulating someone who beats you up. (Boxers do it all the time out of respect for each other, the sport, etc.)
But none of his post-playoff-defeat pettiness was as petty as someone’s desire to deprive Crawford of his YouTube moment.
Imagine if instead of unleashing the Nike hounds, LeBron had posed for pictures (and video) with Crawford after the game, signed the ball, wished him well at Xavier and hoped to see him one day in the NBA so he could get his revenge.
It would have been pure class, which, I suppose is why it never occurred to LeBron. It also would have been a half-day story.
Sports are filled with lesser lights getting shots at the big guys. Between arm surgery and Cooperstown, John Smoltz made several rehab starts in the minors this year. When a kid took him deep he didn’t tell security to confiscate all video of the home run. (Which would have been a surefire way to guarantee that everyone saw it.)
Legendary boxing trainer Freddie Roach actually gives sparring partners $1,000 if they can knock down Manny Pacquiao. (Jimmy Ellis and Michael Moorer were both sparring partners before becoming heavyweight champs.)
Every undrafted free agent in an NFL training camp is looking to blow someone up, make an impression and earn a job.
It’s an indispensable part of sports, the up-and-comer decking, de-cleating or dunking on the legend. Only LeBron isn’t down with it. He’s going to take his ball and his confiscated videotapes and go home.
Shaquille O’Neal has declared his mission in Cleveland is simply to “win a ring, for the King.” Given LeBron’s behavior the last two months, perhaps it should be a teething ring.