I love sports. Obviously – I write for this blog. I doubt I need to prove myself, but to put it in perspective, here is my senior picture wearing my Miami Dolphins letterman jacket.
While I enjoy sports in a general sense, they have always been about ‘my team’. I struggle to follow sports in a passive way. I enjoy being completely involved with a team – knowing the per 36 stats for the last guy on the bench or arguing about the 6th string corner back. While it is impressive that superstar X spent 4 hours in the gym today, I spent at least that much time on a message board arguing about whether he should be focusing on squats or bench press. He’s a master of his craft, and I am of mine.
I really struggle to talk to people who follow sports in a passive sense. I have friends who just watch the super stars, or the teams that win. Others have a favorite team but can’t name more than 2-3 players on that team. Some just picked a random team that is out of market and cheer for them*. I fail to see the enjoyment of sports in this sense. Being involved in the team is what makes sports fun for me. I say ‘we’ about my teams, because what the fuck is the point of being a sports fan if you don’t feel like you are part of the team?
When LeBron made his Decision, it felt like a choice by a casual sports fan. He went to go play with his superstar buddies in a huge party city in front of some pretty mediocre fans for a franchise that isn’t exactly legendary.
It felt anti-climactic. He was supposed to care about his team, or his legacy. This felt more like the kid that grew up cheering for the Yankees, Cowboys and Bulls than it did the guy who can recite facts about NBA history like an encyclopedia.
And that made me take a step back. I always knew I gave way more fucks than players about all of the ‘team’ and ‘loyalty’ crap – but I never thought the players gave zero fucks.
Honestly? It changed the way I watched sports. I still love my teams, I still follow them at an almost obsessive level – but that intensity has given way to just a more general enjoyment of the games. I didn’t miss a Miami Dolphins game for over ten years – until I missed three last year. I’m not pouring over the standings and running scenarios for the Indians, I’m just enjoying a few innings here and there. The games still mean something to me, but they don’t ruin my day. I’m invested, but not in the same way I was before the Decision. I didn’t want to believe this was just a ‘job’ for athletes, but it is, and that is completely fine. The Decision made me realize how silly it was to take something so seriously, especially when the people who control the outcome do not.
That being said, these Finals were incredible. An absolute blast. And two years ago, I don’t know that I would have enjoyed them at this level. I can appreciate watching the sport being played at an incredibly high level, because I’m not nearly as worried about how the Heat came together, or how the Cavs are in shambles.
Ironically, LeBron seems to have gone in the opposite direction. He appears, for the first time, to be completely obsessed. He’s always been great, but he’s not smiling now. No more heat check 3’s and pull up jumpers on fast breaks. He’s methodical and aggressive and intense. He doesn’t need to fill up SportsCenter’s Top 10 – he just needs to win. Maybe the added pressure, the hate and the scrutiny, has forced LeBron to care in a way that is different than before. The Finals didn’t feel like a game for LeBron. They didn’t look like just a job, either. They looked like something he had an irrational need to accomplish.
So, yes, I’m over The Decision – but I’m not so sure that LeBron is. And that is probably the best thing for both of us.
* Yes, I am a Miami Dolphins fan in Cleveland, so this is hypocritical. In my defense, I had a family member play for the team many years ago, so growing up with their Topps card and a game-worn jersey with my last name on the back converted me at a young age.