Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Joy of Vanities

After putting away (some) childish things, young(ish) Desultory Eclecticism discovered a method for determining which past friends and acquaintances it had not spoken with in too long: meet with them, exchange pleasantries, and see if they suggest becoming a sportswriter--"your write well; you like sports..."  When riding in cars, Desultory Eclecticism still likes to turn on sports radio just to remember how seriously Gus the accountant takes the Bears' decision to hire offensive coordinator 1 over offensive coordinator 1A; however, "The Decision" has raised no career path regrets.  Instead, Lebron James-gate provides a fun macrocosm of a professional commentariate generating controversy by missing the point entirely as the talking-past-each-other rift in the cutesy neverland of sports media has shown itself to be every bit as large, irrational, and vehement as the divide between Fox News and Pravda (yes, it still exists).

It began after Lebron and Co. lost to the Celtics in Round Two of the Eastern Conference playoffs and ESPN's J.A. Adande suggested that Lebron take solace in the ultimate fulfillment of Kevin Garnett, a solid, perennial All Star who had to leave home in his old age to team up with another aging perennial All Star or two in order to win a championship.  An odd career arc for Jordan's still-only-25-year-old presumptive heir.

Another article discussed the importance of themed jewelry, noting that Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and their collective 14 championship rings occupy a different tee box from Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, and their empty fingers at all-time greats golf outings.  The article fails to mention that Gary Payton's legacy was not bolstered in any way by picking up a ring the Darko way on a bygone loaded Heat team, nor that the diamond-encrusted Lakers logo would have had to come off during Karl Malone's jersey retirement ceremony in Utah (you know, had The Champs not beaten the Lakers' experiment in 5).  Notably absent from the golf outings are the heavy handed Steve Kerr (5 rings) and Dennis Rodman (also 5).  

Today Scoop Jackson reminds us that other star athletes skipped town in their primes to join forces with more promising franchises.  Alex Rodriguez left Texas for New York, and after 6 seasons and the additions of Mark Texiera, C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, and $73,000,000 to the highest payroll in baseball history, was vindicated by hitting .286 for a team that finally didn't crumble in October.  Reigning MVP Moses Malone left Houston for the aging Dr. J's 'Sixers, and both got jewelry. Same when Clyde Drexler joined Hakeem Olajuwon in Houston.

That's really nice, and if Lebron James wants to have a nice time and keep historical company with Moses Malone, Dr. J, Clyde the glide, and Kevin Garnett, that's neat too.  But Lebron James was not supposed to be Clyde Drexler or Kevin Garnett, Moses Malone or Karl Malone.  Sitting in Ann Arbor watching The Champs beat game 3 out of the Spurs in 2005, a naive young empiricist queried why Wilt Chamberlain and his superior statistical accomplishments (if he'd only known) was not considered the greatest basketball player of all time; Desultory Eclecticism rudely ended any possibility for further discussion by stating flatly: "Michael Jordan played in 6 NBA Finals and won 6 NBA Finals MVPs."

Jackson reminds us that Michael Jordan was never in Lebron's position, thus no one can prove that he wouldn't have run off to Detroit or L.A. as a talented-but-trophyless 25 year-old.  You can't prove that Joshua--with an assist from Yahweh--didn't effect that "the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves on their enemies" either; some of the greatest scholars of their generations wasted entire careers searching for the "missing minutes"--after all, is not this written in the book of Jasher?  The space ship behind the comet was similarly difficult to disprove.  Yet everything we know about Michael Jordan suggests that we can evaluate the available evidence and reach a reasonably confident conclusion.

Yes, Michael had Scottie; Magic had Kareem and Big Game James; Bird had Parrish and McHale; Shaq had Kobe, then Kobe had Pau.  Teams win titles.  Greats need help.  But they're not supposed to need Dwayne Wade AND Chris Bosh level help.  Odds are Lebron Inc. gets at least two rings over the next 5 years.  Scoop Jackson can argue that you can't prove that he wouldn't have gotten them by staying in Cleveland, or by joining a strong-but-sensible supporting cast in Chicago, or by moving to the Garden.  The point is that we should have had a seat on the battlefield in Gibeon.  Instead, the most unbelievably freakishly talented basketball player in the history of this blue-green earth has opted to remove himself from the Michael-Russell All Time Greatest debate so that he can move into the frat house he missed out on when he skipped college to become a millionaire at age 18.  If you can't beat 'em, collude.

Who wins here? Kobe Bryant.  After wasting a few years of his prime sulking on mediocre teams (the baseball years?), Kobe had put himself in a position to at least enter the Jordan-Russell debate.  Pop psychology suggests that, had he been born with lesser physical gifts or into a time and place that did not present such a rewarding opportunity to sublimate his pathologies, Kobe Bryant would have either been locked away for the good of society or else led that society into a disastrous two-front war.  Instead, he has moved into the gym from which he will not emerge until October, sleeping in 15-minute intervals every two hours and eating all of his austere, hyper-nutritious meals out of the same simple wooden bowl.

If, after death, an idosyncratically cruel Nike pits Desultory Eclecticism against Scoop Jackson in a feat of judgmental strength, Desultory Eclecticism will concede the lesser man the first pick, ceding the latter's hypothetical team of death Lebron James.  Until Thursday, in this situation, Jordan would have been the unquestionable pick here; even after June 2011, he's still probably your ticket to the Elysian Fields, but at least you may have to think about it.