If James and Woods have taught us anything—beyond the fact that every once in a while, sports prodigies actually exceed their hype—it's that we don't know our celebrities. No matter how frequently they tweet; no matter how clever their personal brand-building advertising campaigns are; no matter how much we believe that the essential nature of who you are as a human being is somehow reflected in your ability to drop a ball into a hole or hoop. So on the question of which man needs a championship more—deep down, all the way inside, to fill that void permeating the dark, lonely nights of their souls—I'm going to pass.
Frankly, I have no idea. Maybe James just needs a hug. Maybe Woods never liked golf and actually wants to be a Navy SEAL. Who knows?
As far as which individual can do more to redeem his image and stature with the public by winning a championship? That's a question I can get behind. Because it's all about us, the little people on the other side of the television screen, the sports fans projecting just as much fantasy as we receive. And sorry, Hampton, but I have to side with Jake. Woods has more to (re)gain. Here's why: for golf fans, it was never about Woods the devoted husband, generous tipper, or competent driveway navigator. It was always about winning, catching Nicklaus, hitting a ball better than anyone else on the planet. Woods's only real crime against his constituency is that he stopped kicking ass and started looking distressingly mortal.
Forget the tabloid sex scandals—if Woods wins the U.S. Open, all of that will be forgiven. Huge. Quickly. Bye.
But James? He's stuck. Boxed in. Can't win for losing; can't win for winning. His sports sin was worse—in staging "The Decision," he pulled back the curtain and basically told sports fans the awful truth, the one thing they never, ever want to hear: your heroes don't need you. James toyed with Cleveland's desperate admiration like a curious cat with a flopping goldfish; he bolted to Miami because he felt like it, and didn't bother to pretend otherwise. Hampton has things exactly right. Rejection stings. A championship would earn James respect. But no number of titles—not one, not two, not three, not four, not five—can mend our broken hearts.