Dan LeBatard spoke with LeBron James recently over the 790 The Ticket airwaves, and was kind enough to ask LeBron something we've been wondering since the hours following Miami's first title with LeBron from last June. Why, after all the pressure he and others had placed upon him, didn't LeBron break down a bit following his first NBA title after nine NBA seasons?
I thought for sure you would start sobbing after winning the championship:
"I thought so, too. I said if I ever get an opportunity and I work toward winning a championship, I think I'm going to cry for sure. It's going to be like, wow. It was my goal and to finally accomplish that, but I think I was so happy, so proud of my team, so happy to be around all our fans, that the excitement was just too much. The excitement outweighed the tears and things like that."
I'm cool with that. After the strain of the lockout and slog of the NBA's regular and postseason, I was more concerned with writing a ton and smoking a celebratory cigar of my own following what personally was the most trying season of my professional career. Exultation often results in tears, but for some reason it didn't in this instance.
To find another thing to needle LeBron about — not that we're accusing LeBatard of doing this in the slightest — would be way off. And his most apt comparison in this regard isn't really a proper comparison at all.
LeBron James was cited as the NBA's Next Big Thing around the same age Michael Jordan's high school cut him from the varsity squad in order to make the junior varsity team stronger. He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a high school junior, and had a great deal of us yelling "TANK" at the Cleveland Cavaliers when they drafted DaJuan Wagner — a year before they'd earned enough lottery percentage points needed to draft LeBron. He took the defending conference champion Pistons to the brink in his third year and made the Finals in his fourth. By the time he promised Miami those seven or eight championships in the summer of 2010, he had won the league's MVP award twice.
By words, actions, ill-conceived (but potentially accurate) braggadocio, and the grace of whatever forces created this Basketball Monster, LeBron James was pre-ordained. Professional chefs don't usually sit down to a heaping plate of the five-star meal they already spent seven hours prepping and cooking, either.
The obvious crying corollary is Jordan, who famously broke down twice following the 1991 NBA Finals, and upon his return in 1996 and the Chicago Bulls' return victory. There are differences, here.
Jordan didn't have anywhere near the amateur buildup and hype that James enjoyed, and that's including Michael's time in North Carolina and his various Player of the Year awards, NCAA championships, and Sports Illustrated covers. He was taken third in the NBA draft, after all, and even six years after that some were still wondering whether a shooting guard (the least-impactful NBA position, even to this day) could lead a team to an NBA title.
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The expectations were not nearly as strong as James', for myriad reasons, and as late as 1990 Jordan could be found at the back of his team's bus (following an incredibly tough Game 7 blowout loss to the Pistons) telling anyone who would listen that he'd never win an NBA title.
That was frustration, to be sure and quickly to be dismissed before coming back to camp in the fall, but his team's 1991 title never seemed like a coronation; even with the relative ease of winning in five games (with two blowouts) over the Los Angeles Lakers.
James enjoyed a five-game win in 2012, too, and the deciding game was just about over by the opening minutes of the third quarter. On top of that, in the modern NBA, there's nothing to hide. Not with NBA Entertainment around.
In 1991, Jordan disappeared to a quiet section of the (even by then) ancient Los Angeles Forum locker room to share the trophy with his father and then-wife. Bob Costas, no giant himself, barely had room to sneak over with a microphone and cameraman to document Jordan as he wept.
In 1996, Jordan ran off the floor before NBC and even his good pal Ahmad Rashad could get to him, diving into a training room that is off limits pregame and should have been off limits postgame to NBC's cameras, weeping while a team attendant hesitantly put a towel on his back in order to console the returning champ. It was Jordan's first title since his father's 1993 murder, and he clinched it on Father's Day.
James, by comparison, won his title in the massive Miami home arena with a giant corporate name. Within minutes ABC had the podium set up at midcourt, and as soon as the second bottle of champagne is popped following the trophy presentation NBA players are herded off to the press conference dais and to photo opportunity stages utilized for NBA Entertainment and wire services. Everything has to be done in order for ABC to make the late local news and not offset "Nightline"/Jimmy Kimmel. Derivation from script is a no-no. There's no real time for anything to hit you. Unless Dexter Pittman just finished off his third bottle of Moet.
And sometimes the tears just don't come. I'll well up during the bridge of a Zombies song while driving, without meaning to; but it's different when you're expecting it. Or when you're into your second decade of seeing Michael Jordan bawling in front of the Lawrence O'Brien trophy.
Some people let loose in different ways. LeBron — the guy who averaged 28.6 points and a combined 17.6 rebounds/assists during the Finals — wanted it just as much. So the tears weren't there.
The trophy was.
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