We don’t need to spend too much time recounting the gleeful and patronizing reactions to LeBron’s cramps on Thursday night, but it felt so bizarre to see the vitriol and schadenfreude directed at someone who’s still gunning for a three-peat. Shots rang in from various angles. Jonathan Martin essentially called LeBron soft, and Michelle Beadle (however jokingly) implied he needed menstrual relief.
In his Miami Herald column, Dan Le Batard discusses the unyielding volume of noise LeBron and his Miami teammates have had to endure over the past four years, as well as the peculiarity that LeBron is unrelentingly compared to Michael Jordan:
It’s hard to say if it was a full-fledged “Twitter mob” (a phenomenon covered by Ty Duffy earlier this week) because my timeline was curated in a way that about 80-90% of it was attacking the attackers, but Le Batard’s unfiltered mentions probably skew in the other direction. I watched the game in a relatively crowded bar, and was shocked at the extent to which it rose as one to cheer when LeBron had to leave the game and shout that he was a pussy; I presume that Le Batard is exposed to a constant torrent of likeminded people’s thoughts and concerns.
To no avail, I spent a couple hours yesterday combing Lexis, Google News, and the SI Vault trying to find something along the lines of “There’s No MJ In Team; He’ll Never Be Bird Or Magic. COLUMN:” from 1984-1991. I’m sure scathing takes were out there somewhere in print, and prevalent in America’s sports bars and barbershops, but there wasn’t airspace to fill on several 24-hour sports stations or countless blogs. If a resentful fan wanted to reach the newspaper’s sports section, he’d have to mail a letter. I’m sure lots of people did that, but it took a hell of a lot more effort than firing off a tweet.
What I did find, though, was pointed criticism lobbed at Jordan after he had already won two titles and was gunning for his third. The night before Game 2 of the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals, MJ was supposedly spotted at an Atlantic City casino at 2:30 AM (Jordan did not deny the two-hour field trip from New York, but said he was only there until 11; the game wasn’t until the next night, but there was shootaround in the morning). The Bulls lost, and Jordan was scolded for his dedication by Dave Anderson in the New York Times (bold’s mine):
It’s worth noting that Jordan was not universally pilloried in the media for his personal decision. Puritanical criticism was shouted down by Michael Wilbon in the Washington Post and Mike Lupica in the New York Daily News. “What’s the difference between (having sex) all night or going to Atlantic City. Some players stay in their rooms and (have sex) all night. What’s the difference?” asked his eventual NBA Finals opponent Charles Barkley.
There are also obvious differences between LeBron and Jordan’s circumstances — this was the latest in a series of troubling gambling incidents for MJ — but they’re both rooted in the detachment wherein athletes are viewed more as mythological creatures than fallible human beings. For 2014 LeBron and 1993 Jordan, what more could people possibly wish for on the court their previous few years? Whatever their purported “duty” to the public, it was more than fulfilled. (And, yes, Jordan also once left an NBA Finals game with cramps.)
Deserved scorn or not, it’s a good thing for LeBron and Jordan that the NBA allows the chance to avenge losses in seven-game series. If the dates we’re talking about happened to fall in, say, the NFL playoffs or the NCAA Tournament they’d be irrevocably etched in stone. The NBA playoffs marginalize the luck of off nights, injuries, and bad refs as well as any sport in the world. (I’m aware that the 2002 Kings would disagree on the latter point.)
Though LeBron will never escape the idea that he’s chasing the ghost of Jordan, he and his teammates have a formidable enough challenge with these Spurs, who are chasing history in their own right. It was far from a forgone conclusion that Miami would have won that game if LeBron hadn’t gone out, and they were Vegas underdogs entering the series. However this all plays out, we’re lucky we get to watch two of the best teams in recent memory — and definitely the NBA’s two best this season — duel it out for what will hopefully be six or seven games.
[Lead Image via Basketball Jones; Other photos via AP and USA Today Sports Images]