Self-inflicted or not, the backlash experienced by the Miami Heat is just as unprecedented as the lineup they assembled in South Beach.
Most of the jabs and open criticisms are being hurled at Lebron James.
As one ESPN story put it in the lead, “DeShawn Stevenson admitted that beating self-proclaimed king LeBron James made the Dallas Mavericks' championship even sweeter.”
Certainly, James has done little to temper the exultations of some observers, though he did dismiss recent comments by Scottie Pippen stating Lebron was better than Michael Jordan.
Lebron is in many respects a creation of the modern sports media. He was hailed as a king a decade ago, appearing on both ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated before his senior year of high school.
His games were plastered all over ESPN and regional pay-per-view in Ohio.
His teenage ego was stroked and massaged, then thrust into the spotlight as an 18-year-old kid.
Yes Lebron is cocky. Yes he seems to have no problem letting everyone know how important and talented he is. I can’t imagine where that came from.
He was a chiseled athlete right out of central casting. He’s charismatic, good-looking and has no problem joking around even earning acclaim for some television appearances.
Selected by the hometown team of Cleveland, he was the local boy making good for a moribund franchise in a city that hasn’t known joy in ages.
But then he left town, and that didn’t fit the narrative at all. Now Lebron has been recast as the villain, and the criticism grows louder and pressure increases.
As celebrity scholar Chris Rojek has stated, “the mass-media who build up celebrities are often unable to resist engineering their downfall”.
It’s too good a story. Awesome player #1 joins #2 and #3 to form a super team. The most unbeatable thing in the history of sport we’re told.
Sure the Heat players made no secret that they expect to win multiple championships, but what should they say when asked?
INTERVIEWER: “Lebron, how many titles will you win in Miami?”
JAMES: “I don’t know. I’m just happy to be here.”
INTERVIEWER: “Aren’t you confident in your new team’s abilities with you involved?”
JAMES: “Well sure, but I just don’t think me coming here is that big of a deal. I’m not the first person who’s taken a pay cut to get out of Cleveland.”
What makes the story sweeter is when the unstoppable force falls short of its goal. The jilted former lovers that are Cavalier fans can rejoice and everyone else takes pleasure in avoiding, for a season at least, a frighteningly powerful new NBA dynasty.
While a Heat loss means complete failure to many, I find it fairly impressive they came as close as they did to winning in one season. Just ask the New York Yankees how easy it is to blend a number of highly compensated stars together to win a championship. It’s almost impossible in one season. The most talent doesn’t always win.
Maybe the Heat needed to lose once in the NBA Finals before a slew of championship rings can be handed out. Maybe being so close will help form a tighter bond and make them unstoppable.
There’s no question Lebron James will be even more eager to silence his growing number of critics. The Heat should be better and that might be enough, but who knows.
You have to look no further than Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki to realize how tough it is to win championships even with good teams. He’s led the Mavericks to eleven consecutive playoffs and only now have they finally won the elusive ring.
The Heat will win a title at some point, maybe even several. It might come next year, but it could just as easily take three or four seasons.
The only thing that’s certain is that it will be difficult because of the nature of the task at hand, and because of the scrutiny of fans and media continuing to turn up the heat on Lebron James and Co.