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Layups: How LeBron James Broke the Golden Rule of Sports

Posted by Neil Paine on June 14, 2011

37 Responses to “Layups: How LeBron James Broke the Golden Rule of Sports”

  1. Neil Paine Says:

    I will say I disagree in the sense that it's not necessary to root for a team or pretend that sports "matter" in order to be entertained by them. However, there are two philosophies that could possibly compel us to invest in basketball, and you could argue that LeBron "ruined" both of them:

    1. The primacy of the team as a unit that transcends the sum of its parts. Many times this season, the Heat did not play like the sum of their superstar parts. Not only that, but the way they were put together defied many people's assumptions of "fairness" in the way teams are constructed. Believers in team primacy can't deal with the players controlling their own destinies, with the importance of the player superseding the importance of the organization.

    2. The primacy of the individual player as mythic hero. The alternate approach is to exalt the importance of individual basketball brilliance within the framework of the team structure. Players' styles and skills make them standalone entities, but we construct the team concept to produce incentives and allow them to shine in dramatic situations. By not offering his peak production (for whatever reason) in the arbitrarily-designated World Championship round, LeBron violated the implicit understanding between fans and players -- we create the drama, they write the script.

    Unmasking the absurdity of both concepts, then explicitly telling us that real life was bigger than the NBA Finals (and a game that he can win even by losing) was perhaps LeBron's cruelest blow of all.

  2. Dwight Howard Says:

    People choose (or rather, grow up/are educated/brought up in a a culture of) different theoretical frameworks for the justification of "facts" and beliefs...

    Each of these frameworks have different equally unjustifiable foundational premises that they are built around

    What counts as justification in one framework may not count as justification in another

    See Kuhn - "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions"

  3. Dwight Howard Says:

    Personally, my own paradigms can't understand the "alpha dog" and "clutch" theories of player criticism/comparison

  4. huevonkiller Says:

    This is a great discussion, I feel players should say almost whatever they want though. Even if it is unsavory and I hate the guy.

    This was kind of like breaking the fourth wall during a movie.

  5. sean Says:

    I thought the guy's rant was funny. I know plenty of people were put off by what LeBron said about 'people having to go back to their lives'... I just didn't take it as an offense------maybe because I LIKE my life? Anyway, MY 1st thought when LeBron said that was a little bit like what the rant guy was saying: 'Hey, you don't want to disuade any people who spend money making your industry as lucrative as it is--------from being SO immersed in it'----------just from a business sense.

    It would be like: William Shatner-------no matter HOW creeped out he was by 'Trekkies'---------should NEVER intimate to those people that there is something wrong with their devout interest.

  6. Joe Schaller Says:

    Absolutely brilliant! Our sports heroes feed our need for illusion. The low profile silence and humility of John Stockton is far more preferable than the likes of Lebron, Mike Tyson, Terrell Owens and Charles Barkley who shatter my illusions and make me seek other illusions such as religion, drugs or worse yet- progressivism.

  7. Jay Says:

    I say this as a die-hard, loyal sports fan. Those of us devote such a large amount of emotional energy season after season to our favorite teams + players realize that it isn't rational. To become so emotionally attached to these entities is basically like a drug. I think we justify this because relatively speaking, it's a safe drug with little consequences. The natural highs involved with your team winning a close regular season game, a close playoff game, a playoff series, and ultimately a championship are indescribable. The depression that comes with those rough losses is tough to deal with, because we all know it doesn't really matter, yet can't control the way we feel.

    While Lebron didn't quite touch on this in his press conference, it always bothers me when a player will say "this is just basketball." Maybe it's because some players dedicate their life to the sport, that we have this steadfast belief that all players should act this way. All that being said, LeBron needs a damn PR group! He's done nothing but push him self farther and farther into the hole with these comments.

  8. slimline Says:


    No worries,Miami cannot be stopped next year,I smell the King comes back with a vengeance,and with Dwade and Bosh they avalanche their way to trophy,75-7 and 15-1.

  9. Lisa Clarkson Says:

    Neil, your comment #1 doesn't make sense. LeBron didn't ruin either of the two concepts that you are claiming he did. He might have damaged them if his team won the series, but he didn't. And in the meantime, the Dallas Mavericks most definitely exemplified both the primacy of a team being better than the sum of its parts and the mythic legacy of Dirk Nowitzki.

    LeBron may have unmasked the absurdity of those concepts when it comes to him as an individual (or the 2010-2011 Miami Heat), but he did nothing of the sort to the general precepts.

  10. AYC Says:

    Hey, we're all just finding ways to enjoyably kill time until we die. That's not irrational at all; you could just as easily apply his argument to sex with contraception, or reading for pleasure.

    PS I agree with Lisa (a woman on the BBR blog!?); the Mavs are a TEAM-team. They had depth, great role-players, and the best execution-- on offense and D-- of any team in this years playoffs

  11. Neil Paine Says:

    Well, you're correct that the damage to sports fans' psyches would have been far greater had Miami actually won... But the fact is, they didn't have to win to prove to us that the way teams are constructed isn't as fair and parity-minded as we fans want to believe. And for 2 years now, LeBron has destroyed our notion of how the best player in the world should perform in must-win games. Then, to top it all off, in his presser he further minimized the importance of the game by suggesting that his real-life success transcends his on-court failure.

  12. Anon Says:

    "While Lebron didn't quite touch on this in his press conference, it always bothers me when a player will say "this is just basketball.""

    And he's right. As much as we either make defend/criticize him in the Internet and in the media.

    LBJ plays a game for a living, is also good at it, makes millions, and his family is set financially. To us fans from the outside looking in he seems to like himself juuuuuuuust a little bit, but none of us actually truly know the man. He didn't play well in a series; his team also didn't win. He's in his prime of his career and his star teammates are also young. They'll keep playing for a championship and possibly win one, or even several titles as they said they would when they joined the Heat. Congrats to the Dallas Mavericks for their championship run. THE END.

    That's it, people. THAT'S the only narrative. The daily articles, LBJ psychoanalysis, venom, vitriol, backlash, Cavs #23 jersey burning, back-and-forth and back again debates between fans and critics, etc. are all extravagant exercises in superficiality.

  13. Leopold Says:

    LeBron is like that annoying guy who's kind of friendly to you but calls you 'amigo' and expects you to laugh whenever he says something and he thinks he's awesome and you're friends, but really you're like "leave me alone man"

  14. Tommy Says:

    #6 - mad racist.

  15. Ricardo Says:

    I have to wonder: if this is how LeBron James really feels, that basketball is no big deal in the grand scheme of things, then why refuse to congratulate the Orlando Magic back in 2009? Or is this his stance now after going through that fiasco?

    David Robinson said that the playoffs have a way of bringing out all your faults. LeBron, it seems, can't just lose: he has to make some sort of a statement. And, while I'm not sympathetic necessarily, I do understand his self-enteredness - his young life has been a parade of ass-kissers, and that sort of thing has got to distort a person's perspective, especially happening in his formative years as it did.

    Anon @#12: I think I'd rather decide for myself what the narrative is, thanks.

  16. Ricardo Says:

    * - "self-centeredness"

  17. marparker Says:

    I'm still peeved. What Wade + James gave the Heat during the finals is supposed to be enough to win a championship. If James disappeared then Bosh, Anthony, and Haslem were abducted.

    What Lebron gave the Heat is supposed to be a good enough effort if there is someone playing out of this world(Wade did so)?

    Back to the drawing board(betting window)

  18. Anon Says:

    The same reason the Boston Celtics didn't shake hands with the Heat after the 2nd round? They're athletes? LBJ didn't make that statement because he doesn't care about excelling at his profession (which he does), but he made it to refer to people who obsess over him or ANY athlete as if they are personally offended by their every act. You can say that HE shouldn't care about the people that care, but that doesn't take away from the truth in what he said (which was a response to a reporter's question).

    You can definitely choose your narrative Ricardo, no problem to me. I was just giving you the most sane one.

  19. Greyberger Says:

    It's good to hear David Robinson mentioned in this discussion. Now there's a guy who's 'winning' at life, and that'd be just as true if the Spurs didn't land Duncan and he doesn't end up with those two rings.

  20. Neil Paine Says:

    Btw, if this were 1995, the blogosphere would be killing David Robinson.

    By performing below his averages in the playoffs, LeBron put himself squarely in Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood, and now we're left once again to grapple with whether it was just bad luck & bad matchups in a small sample size, or if there is something repeatable that causes players like them to underachieve in big games.

    It would be so much easier if guys like LeBron and Robinson, owners of 2 of the most impressive non-Jordan statistical regular seasons ever, would just dominate the playoffs as well.

  21. P Middy Says:

    Well, with Bron, the problem was obvious. He stopped going to the rack. There were any number of possible reasons for this. But since he won't divulge, we're left to guess. Maybe one day he'll win a championship and feel its OK to let his guard down (this guard is, btw, the reason he's so terrible at dealing with the media and constantly has to backtrack and revise his statements) and tell his fans and basketball fans the things swirling in his head during his trial and tribulations with Cleveland and Miami. Maybe not.

    Maybe it's because Jordan broke me when I was still just a kid. But I learned a valuable lesson watching ALL my favorite players succumb to that asshole season after season - you can't get everything you want. Especially in sports. Stop demanding perfection, and enjoy what's in front of you.

  22. Anon Says:

    By WS/48 in their first eight seasons, with all due respect to David Robinson (one of my favorite players ever and a classy individual as well), LBJ plays alot closer to his regular season averages, with better playoff peak seasons.

  23. huevonkiller Says:

    Ah thanks Anon, you got it covered.

  24. AYC Says:

    Yeah, Lebron is better than DRob ever was in the postseason.But both of those guys have significant flaws that good defenses could exploit. In the halfcourt, LBJ stands around watching when the ball isn't in his hands. He needs to stay in motion and deign to use his size in the post. He also needs to stop settling for the long fadeaway 3.

    DRob was tall, but also skinny, and routinely got out-muscled by smaller players. The same could be said about Kareem, except he had better shooting touch and a polished repertoire of unstoppable low-post moves; DROb (like LBJ) didn't have that, relying on sheer size and explosiveness to score. He got to the line alot, but couldn't be counted on to make a field goal when his team really needed it; in that regard he was the opposite of Hakeem

  25. Mike Goodman Says:

    The LeBron/Robinson analogy is interesting. DRob, pre-Duncan, was a chronic playoff underachiever. Outside of Finals, LeBron is a chronic playoff overachiever. See the link by Anon, #22.

    On average a player's WS/48 in playoffs will be only about 80% of his regular seasons'.
    LeBron's ratio (.222/.227) is 98%. Robinson's thru '97 (.189/.260) was 73%.

    In the first year of Duncan/Robinson, the Spurs were ousted in the 2nd round. 4-1 by Utah.
    In their 2nd year together, the Spurs' dynasty began.

    The Admiral eventually got his career playoff/season WS rates up to 80% (.199/.250)

  26. Leopold Says:

    I wouldn't call winning 4 rings in between Laker repeats a dynasty

  27. Anon Says:

    "Yeah, Lebron is better than DRob ever was in the postseason.But both of those guys have significant flaws that good defenses could exploit."

    Well AYC, it's only perceived as a "flaw" when you don't win the title. For a player with such flaws, LBJ is among the top postseason players of his generation (or THE top player) by almost any metric you choose from.

    Improvements in his game are always welcome, but they're simply an means to an end - production. I would've loved for the Cavs to get another step up during LBJ's 2009 playoff run, when he basically did whatever he wanted to on the court.

  28. AYC Says:

    Anon, you like your straw-men, don't you? I didn't say anything about winning titles as the measure of a player. I think it's funny that you put the word flaw in quotes, as if all players aren't flawed. Even Saint Jordan was flawed.

    Also, individual production is a means, not an end; the end goal is/should be team success.

  29. huevonkiller Says:

    AYC, is Shaq even worse than Hakeem? He's pretty flawed offensively. Sometimes even defensively.

  30. Anon Says:

    "I didn't say anything about winning titles as the measure of a player."

    You didn't have to. It's natural reaction when a team loses to look for everything that contributed to the loss. In a win, those SAME "flaws/holes" are perceived as reasons why you win instead.

    It's the "magic of winning". And yes, team success is the ultimate goal; it also requires a team. I was merely sticking with what a player can bring by himself to help his team reach that goal.

  31. AYC Says:

    "In a win, those SAME "flaws/holes" are perceived as reasons why you win instead."


  32. Kyle Says:

    That Spurs dynasty was helped by one lock out year, having the dirtiest players in the league(and the officials swallowing their whistles or making horrible calls against Phoenix), and so much more. David Robinson was never clutch... not ever. Great player, but not clutch. Dirk has been clutch before, and he's failed before.

    Most great players fail in the playoffs eventually. Kobe got beaten by the Suns who didn't have Amar'e Stoudamire, and was horrible this season against the Mavs. Did he choke? Duncan was obliterated by Dirk last season in the playoffs, but his team won. LeBron is the reason the Heat destroyed the Bulls so really... maybe he froze up realizing they were going to lose. No one could stop Dirk in the 4th quarter, and when Bosh was going well either D-Wade or LeBron would jack up a horrible 3 or run over someone and cry that they didn't get the call.

    I understand why Wade would cry, cause in 06 he got every foul imaginary or not called for him but James has had the officials let teams player him differently in the Finals. The Spurs did it, the Celtics did it, and to an extent, the Mavs did it. People hate him more than Michael Vick... how is that balanced? Leopold is sort of right about him, at times you think he's not all bad, but he does something that's just off putting. Deal with it, if he were your good buddy he'd probably be very nice to you.

  33. Ricardo Says:

    Gee Kyle, go ahead and make more excuses for the Suns.

    Why is it, during that same period when the Suns were routinely tossed out the backdoor by the Spurs, were the Mavericks (2006) and Lakers (2008) able to eliminate the Spurs?

    What the hell is your logic based on? The Spurs, with their atrocious NBA Finals TV ratings, were FAVORED by the NBA? The Suns, who played a crowd-pleasing style led by one of the most likeable and relatable MVPs ever, were marked for playoff elimination by the NBA?

    The Spurs were helped out " so much more"? This sounds like you ran out of reasons but wanted to build the case against, hoping no one would call you on it. Well, I am doing just that: elaborate, please.

    And how did the lockout year favor the Spurs over other teams? (This ought to be good)

  34. huevonkiller Says:

    #32 He's "off putting" because people think he lost in 2010 on purpose, in other words people are irrational. Also Kobe is a big reason why LeBron is unpopular, his fans are very vocal and loyal.

  35. huevonkiller Says:


    I'll add Super MJ fans too. They love Jordan and are very quick to judge in a biased manner (Skip Bayless).

  36. Ken Says:

    #21 "Maybe it's because Jordan broke me when I was still just a kid. But I learned a valuable lesson watching ALL my favorite players succumb to that asshole season after season" I go back far enough to remember when that ashole wasn't winning a thing. No one can say that about Bird or Magic. And as to Shaq, he's a disappointment made of the times. If that guy had half of Moses' work ethic he'd own every record there is and 3 or 4 more titles. Kareem said long ago that this is just what would happen. Players wouldn't stay with one team long enough, be motivated enough, or play long enough to make serious runs at records and title numbers. Big money.

  37. Ken Says:

    There are some exceptions, like Kobe.