You’ll have to excuse me if my column seems a bit disheveled and – believe it or not – tangential tonight, but my focus is being diverted to a spectacle so riveting that one might mistake it for something involving Shakira. Unfortunately, it’s not. Instead, a televised sporting event has burgled my attention – an event that otherwise would be remarkably nondescript, even boring to most, and yet has doubtlessly captivated anxious viewers across the nation.
Clearly, I speak of a Cleveland Cavaliers basketball game – the absolute pinnacle of excitement. And yet, something is different here. There’s a presence, looming on the hardwood, casting a perilous shadow over cowering opponents and feverish, sign-wielding fans in the Gund arena – perhaps the only arena in sports begging for a conspicuous corporate sponsorship and christening – and even in the plush Campus Times office, watching from the hot tub on our mammoth projection TV, I can feel the anticipation.
It’s LeBron time. I hope someone oiled the hype machine – it’s pounding away furiously, and something might explode.
They said he’s the next Jordan – no, something more than Jordan, something transcendental yet contemporary, a mix of youthful attraction and showstopping flair. Shoe companies are betting $90 million on it – Sprite and Upper Deck and a handful of other brands bring the total up to $118 million, and that’s before his contract. Sports Illustrated? They’re predicting a modest season average of 31.6 points per game – you know, typical rookie fare.
So did he buckle? Did his age seep through the facade, his nervousness, his inexperience, and did he collapse into NBA mediocrity in front of a mutinous Cleveland crowd?
Oh doctor, did he ever not.
48 minutes later, the stat book displays his line – 25 points, 9 assists, 6 boards, and 4 picks. It’s a collection of stats that most NBA players would struggle to assemble against Brighton High, and LeBron put them up in his first NBA game ever – against perennial contender Sacramento, nonetheless. The kid’s real. Really real.
And he’s 18. When I was 18, I was part-time pizza delivery guy, part-time Goldeneye extraordinaire, part-time high school slacker. Am I jealous? Maybe. The kid’s 18 and has $118 million in deals tucked into his belt. He drives a sick car – as comic writer Bill Scheft observed, LeBron’s mom gave him a Hummer for his birthday – has a few dollars to burn, and an entire city, perhaps an entire country, perhaps the entire world, watching his every move, hoping that he is the savior of pro basketball. Me? I figure at least six more months before I equal that level of fame, not that I have any bloody clue how to do it. It’s safe to say it won’t be basketball, seeing as how a number of factors, including height, weight, musculature, a complete absence of ability, an aversion to – ok, outright fright of – physical contact, a penchant for mid-day naps, and the “ups” of a legless Hippopotamus, all work against me.
But LeBron, he’s got all that and more, and he’s got it right now. Hell, he had it all – the cars, the contracts, the money, the hype – before he had even played in a NBA league game. Now that he does have a game under his belt, fabricated sources inform me, the NBA Hall of Fame Committee has already added him to the next ballot. The first teenager in Springfield? Anything’s possible for LeBron.
Like his shoes? Nike actually created them to not only represent LeBron, but to represent the details of his outside life. The design of his shoe was ‘inspired’ by the vehicle he drives, an H2, marking the first time that footwear and athletics rocked a threesome with the automobile industry, a trend we’re sure to see continue. For my money, I’m holding out for Eric Montross’s Kia Sephia kicks.
Way I see it, when you have this kind of pull – when you can be recognized in an occupation before you’ve even worked in it – well, captain, that’s something you need to ride as far as it’ll take you. LeBron’s basketball legacy was secure before he had even touched an NBA ball, and now that he’s proven his worth, it’s time to move on. Politics? They’ll swear him in without a vote. Marketing? The kid knows a thing or two about it. Medicine? LeBron could cure cancer before even stepping into the lab. When you don’t even need to participate in your chosen field to dominate it, the options become near limitless.
But if LeBron insists on riding this basketball phase out, the league would be wise to brace itself. I hope the record books are in pencil – the Cavs may blow, but they’re not the show here. Just put LeBron on the floor, and let everyone enjoy the drama. LeBron, in his precocity, the preemptive legend, is gonna revolutionize the game. The era of LeBron has just begun, and now he’s going to pack the seats, sell the jerseys, endorse the products, dominate the video games, further dominate the actual games, and ultimately, become an icon synonymous with worldwide basketball, if not sports altogether, that will be recognized for decades, centuries, even millenia to come.
Unless he gets injured.
Janowitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.