Tonight, the NBA Finals begin. The San Antonio Spurs seek their 5th Championship under the historic reign of Greg Popovich and Tim Duncan. They face the defending champions, the Miami Heat, Led by reigning NBA MVP, LeBron James.
In 2007, James led the Cleveland Cavaliers against this a San Antonio team comprised of the same three leaders (Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli) and coach (Popovich). James said yesterday and interviews that he was humbled in that finals appearance. A feeling that he'll never forget.
It's a series I'll never forget it either. I've always been a basketball fan, as long as I can remember. Jordan, of course, was my first idol. Nike's commercial series was nothing if not effective in planting (in perhaps every child in the Western Hemisphere's mind) that they wanted to be "like Mike". God I did. I still do.
This past Monday night, as Honeybun and I watched LeBron and the Heat win their third consecutive Eastern Conference Finals, I told her that even now, I'd give up almost anything to have the physical abilities and size to play professional basketball. It's silly but it is my dream.
That dream started with Michael breaking free from gravity and defying his opponents to win again and again and again. It didn't take long to realize that a dream was all it would ever be, while there have been small players throughout the history of the league and desire and hard work can achieve a lot, the tallest anyone has ever been able to credibly described me as is "around 5 foot 9" and that was being generous.
I'd never play at the highest level (honestly, I never played at many of the lower levels), but I've always followed the sport and I always intend to. LeBron James came back into the league I was reborn anew as a fan. I literally made a T-shirt. During his first year in the playoffs the popular "Witness" T-shirts were ever-present in the city of Cleveland, and I'm sure in other major cities around the countr,y but in my neck of the woods there were none to be had. So I bought a black T-shirt, and I printed out an iron-on transfer and I made my own shirt. I was a fanboy there's no doubt about it.
I haven't made a shirt since then, but my love for LeBron has not faded. I understood when he made, "The Decision" but was worried that he'd never find the greatness that I once imagined he would achieve. I don't know exactly what it was that flipped the switch for LeBron, writers better than I have speculated on it already and someday I'm sure a great book will be written about it. But he's made it to the top of his powers and mental abilities seemingly earlier in his physical prime than almost any other player in NBA history. He does this all while having an unbelievable understanding of and appreciation for the history of the game. He respects and loves the NBA and basketball in general at least as much as any active player. It turns out LeBron's a fan just like us. Well, not just like us.
I'll stop my little love note to LeBron here with this:
That series against the Spurs during his Cleveland days was as much a heartbreak to me as the fans there in Cleveland. While I can't know exactly what it is to stand at the top of my profession and then be humbled on a public, international stage. But I do know what it is like to see a seemingly unbeatable hero bruised and broken.
When I was a kid I read comic books, and just as I was reaching adolescents DC Comics decided to kill Superman. Of course they brought him back, but that storyline changed something to me at least. The status quo could be broken, icons could fall, heroes could die.
When the Spurs beat LeBron up in 2007 was a little bit like reading that "Death of Superman" comic book. It took quite a while but just like in the comic books where Superman was reborn and finally got a rematch with Doomsday, LeBron has got a chance to exorcise some old demons and make sure that the heroes come out on top again. Maybe it's time to go get another iron-on.