LeBron James’ real or imagined shortcomings have nothing to do with the fact that he was raised by a single mother, argues Jim Jividen.
In Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Championship, the San Antonio Spurs had a 5 point lead with 28 seconds left; according to the projection systems, that gave them nearly a 98% chance to win the NBA Title.
In Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Championship, down two with a minute left, Tim Duncan missed consecutive short shots and the Spurs lost that game as well and the NBA Title.
I know why.
There are only two explanations.
- The Spurs had male role models growing up.
- The Spurs are foreigners.
I know how that sounds at first blush, but I’ve heard the opposite claims made, so by implication, one of these must be the correct reason why someone so talented as Tim Duncan failed to win the NBA Title.
Here was Fox Sports columnist Jason Whitlock in May 2012:
On a nightly basis, you know exactly what to expect and what you’re going to get from Gregg Popovich’s squad. The Spurs trust their system of unselfish ball and man movement. It’s as if they’re on autopilot and the only possible variable is individual effort within the system. Popovich’s in-your-face coaching style stabilizes the effort.
I am not dumping on James and Wade. I like and respect them. I’m rooting for them to win the championship this season. I think they are good people. In fact, they’re my two favorite athletes at the moment.
I just happen to believe their difficult upbringings make it hard for them to trust and submit to the will of authority figures. We know James was raised by a teenage mother who had some problems. We know Wade’s mom had problems with drugs and Wade credits an older sister for his upbringing.
It’s my belief Wade and James have childhood emotional scars that impact their ability to consistently operate in a team environment. Most of us have childhood emotional scars. Some scars — any kind of parental abandonment — are just deeper than others.
Here’s ESPN the Magazine from this very week, July 2013 (behind the firewall):
The way the Spurs see it, though, the biggest divide isn’t structural but cultural. Something has happened to basketball in the country that invented it, as well documented as it is irrevocable, driven by money and fame and a generation of players who’ve learned from watching sharks succeed by imposing their will upon the game rather than by allowing it to come to them…Most of the overseas players have not only more experience playing basketball but more experience playing an unselfish style.
I enjoy Whitlock, but his piece is a special kind of dopey; subsequent to it the Heat have won back to back titles, but even if that hadn’t happened – even if LeBron James missed every important shot both in the 2012 and 2013 finals and Skip Bayless danced on center court — Whitlock would still be nuts. James and Dwyane Wade are incredibly successful; they’re wealthy, they’re established, they’re proficient in careers that explicitly require the ability to work on a team managed by an authority figure. Maybe the guy who never leaves the playground has some emotional scar that hold him back; multi-millionaires who, even if they both sat on the bench, would be among the most talented men in an industry that requires the very skill which Whitlock questions aren’t revealing emotional scars when they miss a layup, even one that matters. Bill Clinton was raised by a single mother and Bill Clinton behaved inappropriately with an intern – is either the most pertinent element of an evaluation of his level of accomplishment or that he was a two-term US President? Of the billions of people on the planet, how many are as good at anything (while under second-by-second scrutiny) as LeBron James is at basketball? It just can’t be true that if he throws up a 6-22 one night that’s because he didn’t have a dad to teach him to drive.
One could also argue that we need less submission to the will of authority figures, but that’s a different discussion.
The ESPN piece just continued a popular line of thought that American basketball players are selfish, unlike the team players trained anywhere else; it doesn’t break any ground, and the racial implications in a post-Paula Deen world should make you a little squeamish (an aside, of course: Paula Deen gets fired, her gig wasn’t based on knife skills, it was based on the public identifying her as a somewhat bawdy southern grandmother who wanted you to eat more butter – and now it’s that plus racial epithets; a career based entirely on likability is fragile and we have an institutional memory of Southern racism that should be hard to put aside, I mean, unless you’re the Supreme Court, then apparently we’re all good now, nothing to see here) but the timing – focusing on the cool, calm, collected Spurs right after one of the great collapses in NBA history was fun.
Play the counterfactual with me: if it was LeBron James missing that layup and not Tim Duncan, it wouldn’t just have been a referendum on how we should view him historically, it would have been a discussion about his character (and maybe that of all men raised by single mothers). If the Heat had totally fallen apart in Game 6 and not the Spurs, it wouldn’t have just impacted their legacy, it would have led to a discussion about the state of American basketball. If LeBron James had failed in exactly the same way that Tim Duncan failed at the end of Game 7, you know we would have spent the next 11 months talking about James’s psychic shortcomings. LeBron failure adds far more to our collective sports mythology than does LeBron success.
But that didn’t happen – so we move on. Amanda Bynes has to be doing something crazy someplace.
It will happen though again, though – it will happen more than it won’t. Some new Lance Armstrong will be deified, a new Barry Bonds will be vilified, a new Tim Tebow will be proof of a higher (only Jesus, please) power.
And a new LeBron James, or probably still this one, will fail, fail in a big spot – and someone will write that it’s because he didn’t have a dad. Heck, that piece might even appear on this site.