The Case for Loving LeBron

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Allen Barra makes it here. Chris Orr argues against here.


Yglesias offers some politics:

What we're looking at, essentially, is the case of King James Versus The Cartel. The NBA's maximum salary rules prevent stellar players like James from earning a market wage. Consequently, LeBron was underpaid in Cleveland, is underpaid in Miami, and would have been underpaid in New York or Chicago. What's more, the NBA's draft rules prevent stellar prospects like the 2003 version of LeBron James from choosing which firm they want to work for. If the Lakers wanted to pay him to play basketball and he wanted to play basketball in Los Angeles in exchange for money, he wasn't allowed. Essentially the only market power a first-rate NBA player has is that (assuming he's off his rookie deal) he's allowed to choose which firm will underpay him. The construction of James (and to a lesser extent Chris Bosh) as a traitor to the people of Cleveland (and to a lesser extent Toronto) seeks to normatively stigmatize the exercise of even that freedom. A player should work, indefinitely, at a sub-market wage for whatever team happens to draft him? Why? 

Was "The Decision" kind of tasteless? Yes. But we all have our lapses and LeBron's lapse raised money for charity. Did the biggest social faux pas of your life raise money for charity? I'm guessing it didn't. Nobody needs to cry for rich NBA stars, but the idea that the even-richer people who own the teams have a moral right to their labor is nuts.

A couple of days ago there was a Fresh Air episode looking at the new documentary about Bobby Fischer. Apparently, at one point Henry Kissinger called Fischer and insisted he play Boris Spasky because it was a matter of "national security." That sounded ridiculous to me. But no more ridiculous than myriad of reasons I've heard people invoke on behalf of their favorite teams or against their hated rivals.

Is any of this ever really logical? Do you know why I became a Cowboys fan? First, because I was five and they had pretty uniforms. Second, because the Colts left a few years later and while everyone I knew became a Redskins fan, I decided I wanted to contrary. Is that really sensible? Do I really have a good reason for hating the Redskins more than, say, the Giants or Eagles? I hated the 49ers for "The Catch," but is it really true that they were responsible for the Cowboys the NFC championship games to the Eagles and the Redskins? Was Jim Bob Irsay actually wrong to pull the Colts out of Baltimore? 
Sports narratives strike me as a kind of modern mythology.  We see the players as the gladiators of our cities, as champions for our small nations, and thus, emblematic of something about us. Very little of this is literally true. I don't know that the Saints winning the Super Bowl helped New Orleans in any significantly demonstrable way. But some people there feel that it did, and that's probably worth something.

More than that, the mythology which fans invest in teams and players is not strictly of their own making. Owners and players peddle it to them, and encourage them on in their tribalism. It's not clear to me that the Pittsburgh Steelers are any more "working class" than the Miami Dolphins. But I understand the point. It's a story. It's a narrative. 

From that angle, it's pretty easy to see how The Decision would fit into a narrative. I don't think there are any objectively "true" reasons for hating Lebron James. But I'm not sure there are any objectively "true" reasons for rooting for any team. Fanaticism is an irrational business.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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