Dwyane Wade burst by Peja Stojakovic, skated past Jason Kidd and floated a pass into the ozone layer, the land humans aren’t supposed to fly without aircraft, before Lebron James accelerated to heights only birds are supposed to visit, flushed the basketball through the rim and ended Game 1 with a proper finale. It was everything Wade and Lebron were supposed to amount to, a pair finally oozing with synergy, and yesterday, in front of a Miami crowd undeserving of its dominant duo, the world continued to watch the difficulties posed when two of the world’s five best basketball players share the same backcourt.
My vision, 20/20 for most of my life, has faded slightly with every hour I spend squinting at my computer screen, so I observed James’s first NBA Finals win from my chair, relocated awkwardly close to the television set. Surprisingly, I found myself cheering his buckets when I should boo. I should boo because the Heat ousted the Celtics, if not because Lebron seems like a total dick.
“Fuck you, Jay,” spat my 13-year old brother Petey. I tested his tone for any hints of a joke, but his voice spilled over with vitriol stemming from The Decision. Lebron has become a common vacation spot for hate, and Petey did not want his older brother cheering the man who burned Cleveland’s heart on national television. Petey did not want me cheering the player who takes self-assuredness to abnormal levels, the man who once said his family gets spoiled by his play. With his voice inflection changing from anger to bewilderment, Petey asked, “How can you root for him?”
It’s not that I root for Lebron the person, a person who some (Adrian Wojnarowski, for one) would claim resembles Satan more than he resembles Michael Jordan. I see the fault in so many things Lebron has done and said. I view him as a young man who lacks the proper guidance and should exude far more humility. I watched the championship celebration that occurred months before the Heatles ever played a game, and if I had not turned on Lebron the person after The Decision, I turned on him then. There was no end to his cockiness, and even if that cockiness has proven warranted, it was off-putting and frankly elicited a strong desire to regurgitate my lunch.
But once the circus died down and the competition began, and especially now after Miami has forged itself into an opponent’s nightmare, Lebron remained the same basketball player, one who could dominate while attacking, probing, or creating for others. There is something carnal about Lebron’s game, a slight lack of refinement at once bothersome, scary, and becoming. Where Kobe Bryant utilizes perfect footwork refined by years spent figuratively living in a gym, Lebron uses his natural gifts to make perfect footwork unessential. Don’t misunderstand me—Lebron has honed his craft and expanded his game; his development of a post game speaks to his offseason work, as does his burgeoning jump shot, and his footwork is a long shout from bad. But when I watch Kobe play, I watch a machine that doesn’t make mistakes while executing his moves. When I watch Lebron play, I see an animal, a locomotive, an airplane, or simply a man far more gifted than his peers, a man who can claim the game’s throne without being perfect.
And he excels while maintaining his unselfishness. While it does not make Lebron easier to root for, he believes in his own legend as much as any autograph-seeking child does, and that ego goes a long way toward defining his play. Lebron James does not need any outside assurances that he is Miami’s preeminent force; he knows he is the alpha dog in Miami, just as he knows he would be the alpha dog on any basketball court in the world, regardless of his teammates or coaching staff or opponent. So when the world called him Scottie Pippen last summer and said he had become Dwyane Wade’s sidekick, that Miami would always be Wade’s city and Wade’s team, Lebron never flinched. Miami was his, and it was his the day he accepted Pat Riley’s invitation to play alongside Wade—really, it was Wade who would play alongside Lebron, because Lebron is the world’s best basketball player and any team he joined would become his own.
With time winding down in Game 1 and Dallas threatening to keep Lebron from his first Finals win, James’s unshakable inner confidence sweated through his pores. He did not try to conquer the Mavericks himself by attempting the impossible; his confidence did not lead him to take any shots at all. Rather, he dribbled upcourt and repeatedly passed the ball to Dwyane Wade. The truly confident man does not need to prove himself to anyone else; he knows his own powers and can choose the most productive route instead of the most glorious one. So Lebron handed the ball off to Wade time after time, noticing Wade’s mismatch against Jason Kidd, noticing Wade’s hot hand, noticing the time and score and choosing to defer rather than to dominate. Wade took Miami home, with Lebron playing the role of orchestrator rather than the prized finisher, with Lebron making the wise decision to let Robin end the night.
Lebron needs no validation of his skills, because he does and for a long time has considered himself the world’s best basketball player. When his first NBA Finals win came calling, Lebron’s vision remained unclouded by dreams of glory. His ego allowed his unselfishness to float to the surface, but not even a Texas-sized ego can hide Lebron’s fingers, which currently wear no rings. He wants to win a title, he needs to win a title, and in his quest to give his team its best chance to earn the Larry O’Brien Trophy, the world’s finest basketball player watched from the passenger’s seat in Game 1.
Lebron’s time to dominate this Finals series will come, and when it does I imagine he will seize it with every bit of confidence that allowed him to hand the reins to Wade last night. When he does, the basketball fan inside me will cheer, even if doing so seems sacrilegious, even if doing so will make my brother Petey say, “Fuck you.”