I normally hate when players laugh after a loss.
One time when I was in prep school, my team lost by 30 points to a team we were actually better than. We played as badly as possible; we threw turnovers almost every possession, missed layup after layup, and let this one sophomore with a Tony Allen-like jumper and Eddie House speed score about 20 points. I’ve never been more embarrassed to be part of a team, and I sat in the locker room stewing. Steam was coming out of my ears and I was ready to punch a hole in the wall. I’m not at all a violent person, but at that moment in time I almost understood how people commit murder.
As rage piled up inside of me, my friend made the mistake of cracking a joke in the locker room. I looked at him with venom in my eyes, popped up from my seat and stood right in front of his face. I started swearing (“You think this shit is funny, huh?”) and pretty soon I had spit flying out of my mouth, and my finger was slamming his chest. (“You think it’s f—ing funny??”) Keep in mind, this was one of my good friends. We hung out all the time. Played on-on-one. Shot around. Almost five years after graduating prep school, he’s the only person from there I still talk to. But for that moment when he decided losing by 30 points was funny, I was *this close* to putting him in a body bag. (Yes, I was an asshole. But at least I was competitive.)
So you would think I’d be mad at Lebron James for laughing off last night’s loss. You’d think, at the very least, it would make me lose a little respect for him. But you know what? I get it.
After the summer Lebron had, a summer where he went from almost-universally celebrated star to loathed villain overnight, even losing must have been a relief. Sure, his team fell short against the Celtics yesterday and still has a long way to go before becoming a finished product. But he was finally back to playing basketball, back to being in the media spotlight for his talents rather than his Decision, back to scoring buckets and leading comebacks and reminding people, “I’m the two-time defending MVP.”
Lebron spent the summer listening to former players call him out. He spent the summer reading column after column blasting his virtues. He spent the summer dealing with hatred and disgust coming at him from every angle. And there was nothing he could do about it. Not until the games started. Not until Lebron could finally remind people why everyone tuned into his Decision, even those people who abhorred everything about it.
Nothing Lebron could do off the court could make us forget this summer’s rampant arrogance. The commercial that came out a couple days ago tried, but not even a brilliant marketing campaign can delete our memories. Maybe nothing Lebron does will ever allow him to regain the public’s love. But the only thing that might is winning.
Our culture is devoted to winners. That’s why we rationalized it when Michael Jordan punched a teammate in the face. That’s why we overlook Kobe’s faults. That’s why K.C. Jones, he of the 7.4 points and 4.3 assists per game, has a spot in the Hall of Fame. We love, and are fascinated by, winners.
Lebron understands that fascination, and that knowledge is why he was so relieved after last night’s loss. His team didn’t win, but now that games are here Lebron can finally begin to rebuild his legacy. He can finally settle down and do what he does best. Hell, I’d probably laugh too.