Why I Care So Much That #LeBron Is the Greatest

iThere I was about a fortnight ago, lazily sprawled upon my couch, watching the NBA Finals and witnessing greatness. 

It’s funny to witness greatness from your couch. I mean, a short hundred years ago you had to put clothes on and travel to some distant venue to witness an athletic triumph. Now I vege out on comfy cushions for two hours, even propping up my arm to maximize remote efficiency and minimize human effort, while LeBron soars like a pterodactyl to make the greatest block of all time, and I’m like “I’d clap, but my arms are asleep,” so instead I acknowledge the remarkable human feat with a barely audible grunt. So I witnessed greatness.

Not only was I pulling for greatness, I was pulling for LeBron. There it is, I said it! Drag me out into the public square and hack-a-Shaq me to death. Cry foul just like the whining superstar whom you can’t fathom how I could appreciate. Really, unless you’re a Clevelander, pulling for LeBron is taboo.

What’s not taboo (though it should be) is the litany of cliches about why LeBron isn’t great, or at least not one of the greatest. He’s not a closer like Mike. He shrinks in big moments. He gets all the calls. He’s built like a fortified steam engine, how could he not be great? I mean, if he were 6 feet and had little muscles he wouldn’t be so great. Right, because then he’d be me. 

So I try to be objective, but LeBron haters (and there are scores of them) generally won’t have any of it. It’s like he could score all 150 of his team’s points and someone would say he’s a ball hog. He’ll never win the minds of those people.

So when I hear the foolish arguments, I notice my pulse go up a tick and and my brain telling me to take deep breaths. I feel the anger brewing inside of me. If LeBron were here he would tomahawk slam a basketball down your esophagus. 

Equally, my conversational adversary is also getting worked up. Their voice raises and their cheeks redden. Then I say something incendiary like, “LeBron would eat Jordan’s lunch,” and watch the incensed volcanic eruption of incantations spewing from their mouths. “You’re effing nuts! Do you watch sports?! You’ll burn for this, Spigot. Burrrrrn!”

In the midst of these arguments, I wonder why we are so defensive about something that has absolutely zero bearing on our lives. LeBron is as present in my life as a North Pole elf. Yet I talk, read and think about him more than than I do my own family. Why?

Ron Gant raises his fist after he hit a three-run homer in the ninth inning to beat the San Diego Padres 4-1 Tuesday night at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Photo taken May 21, 1991. (Frank Niemeir / AJC staff)

Do you remember as a kid, you would proudly proclaim to the other kids who your idol was? My idol was Ron Gant. Who the hell is Ron Gant you ask? Well that’s a fine question.

Ron Gant was an outfielder for the Atlanta Braves. He was a good player, but not great. But something about the way he played left me enamored. I watched his every at bat. I collected every one of his baseball cards, outnumbering Cal Ripken, Jr. and Ken Griffey, Jr. cards combined. I wrote him letters and sent him pictures to autograph—which I never saw again—but you can bet your baseballs I gave Ron Gant the benefit of the doubt. He was just way too busy enjoying the awesomeness of being Ron Gant.

Now, I’m going to make an extremely rash assumption that Ron Gant was not your idol. But I’m going to make a less rash assumption that you had one. It could’ve been another athlete like Michael Jordan, a pop star like Michael Jackson, or a Commy politician like Mikhail Gorbachev (no?).

But as we aged, we stopped caring about who was the greatest shooter or guitar player. We stopped giving the benefit of the doubt to our idols who made poor choices. We stopped fawning over people and getting all neurotic when we actually saw them in person.

Or did we?

Perhaps our infatuation with stars is not as overt as it once was, but is it any less passionate? No, I’m not physically falling over and worshipping stars, but don’t I get all cranky and flustered on the inside when they’re struggling in a game, or flopping on stage, or being ripped by a media personality?

The truth is, we defend who we love. We defend our spouse, our kids, our best friends, and of course, John Stamos. If someone attacks them, we unleash the claws like Wolverine.

lebron-crownWait, wasn’t this post about LeBron? Yes. In fact, I love LeBron. Which sounds really stupid when I say it. I don’t know him at all. I’ve never seen him in person. He is just a big, great basketball player in my TV. But more than that, he is the greatest player of my generation. He is an athlete I strangely take pride in. Like he is some small part of my life. Like I cling to his legacy as if it were my own. Like way deep down, I just want to marvel at his greatness.

Or, do I just desire to marvel at someone great, period? What is this part of me that infatuates itself with other humans who are the same species as me? It seems weird. It seems misplaced.

I can only conclude that my desire to marvel at and ascribe greatness to someone is because I was created to do so. But when that someone, that idol, a being as temporal as myself, is elevated to the throne of my affection, is it any wonder I am left with such emptiness?

What if I was made to marvel at something greater? Indeed, if I was made at all, by more than a chaotic and fortuitous conglomeration of stardust, would I not esteem that Maker? Could it be that the amazingness of me, you, LeBron and every human are simply reflections of our more amazing Maker? And wouldn’t I desire to marvel at that Maker, to behold Him, to love Him?

Possibly. Yet I find myself much more easily captivated by greatness that is obvious, observable and tangible. Why toil to pursue something more abstract, uncertain and non-empirical? Quick-fix greatness witnessing is readily at my disposal.

I don’t even have to get off my couch.

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