I think I finally figured out why I
haven’t jumped on the LeBron James bandwagon.

Mira Levitan

No, it’s not jealousy

OK … it might be a little jealousy.

But the main reason that I haven’t rushed out to buy that
horrendously overpriced James jersey, or why I could care less if
James’ Cleveland Cavaliers are on TV, is that James has
become bigger than the game.

And I hate that.

It’s one of the biggest reasons I never got behind Michael
Jordan, and why I can’t bring myself to root for the Shaq and
Kobe (and Karl Malone and Gary Payton) show in L.A.

Heck, it’s one of the reasons the NBA is at the bottom of
the list when it comes to the professional sports leagues that I
get interested in.

All last year, we sat and watched in astonishment at the things
James could do. The phenom playing against average-talent high
school kids looked like the scene from “Billy Madison”
where a fully grown Adam Sandler dominates a group of first graders
in dodgeball.

He was that much better.

So everyone sat on the edge of their seats waiting for James to
make the jump to the pros. And he hasn’t disappointed now
that he has hit the NBA —there’s little question that
this teenager has incredible amounts of talent, especially for
someone his age.

Every night on “SportsCenter”, there’s five
minutes of James’ highlights. He’s got endorsement
deals, league-leading jersey sales and sky’s-the-limit
potential. But what always seems to get left out is that he’s
also (GASP!) got teammates. For whatever reason, no one likes
watching good teams play anymore.

The Detroit Pistons got some of the lowest TV ratings in the
league last year because they don’t have any superstars. The
Anaheim Mighty Ducks-New Jersey Devils matchup in the Stanley Cup
Finals last season had NHL executives pulling their hair out
because no one wanted to see good, defensive hockey.

Why watch the Florida Marlins or Minnesota Twins play baseball
when you could flip the channel and watch Jason Giambi or Barry
Bonds hit the ball out of the Earth’s orbit?

Call me old-fashioned, but when it comes right down to it,
I’d much rather see a team pull out a difficult victory than
see James throw down 10 dunks in a Cavaliers’ loss.

That’s why so many people prefer college basketball
instead of the NBA. Those late-season games from conferences
you’ve never heard of like the SWAC or the Patriot League can
turn out to be some of the best contests of the year, because you
don’t have to worry that every extra second of TV time will
be spent showing one player, like NBC loved to do when the
Jordan-led Bulls were playing.

Like I mentioned earlier, the overwhelming media attention was
one of two reasons I never could get behind Jordan when he was
around (the second being that the Pistons should be
everyone’s favorite team). It didn’t matter how good of
a year Scottie Pippen was having or how many 3-pointers John Paxson
managed to hit — when the Bulls were on, all eyes were
focused squarely on Jordan.

Honestly, do you think that as many people watched the Bulls in
that brief span that Jordan played baseball as after he came
back?

Absolutely not.

But, I’m sure you’re thinking, why would we watch
when Jordan wasn’t there? He was exciting — he could
make shots from every spot on the court and defy gravity when he
dunked. And the Lakers are fun to watch because Shaq and Kobe are
so dominant. And James is a freak of nature.

Fine. I understand. You’re never going to hear me dispute
the talent of any of these athletes (except maybe Shaq). What these
athletes can do is absolutely beyond belief sometimes.

But the NBA is closing in on not really being a league anymore.
It’s getting to be James, Shaq, Kobe, and then everyone
else.

Sure, there are great players in college, but when it comes
right down to it, it’s North Carolina, Michigan or Duke.
People watch those games because they have a vested interest in who
comes out on top.

In the current NBA, just like when Jordan was around, the result
isn’t nearly as important as how LeBron did.

It’s probably not going to change. So, enjoy watching
LeBron dribble behind his back and throw down dunks.

If you don’t mind, I’ll just keep watching
basketball.

Chris Burke can be reached at
“mailto:chrisbur@umich.edu”>chrisbur@umich.edu.

 

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