"Not poppy, nor mandragora,
Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world
Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep
Which thou owed’st yesterday”
When Iago said these words he was referring to how the seed of jealousy that he had just planted in Othello’s mind would forever change and haunt the Moor – which, of course, it did to the extent that it ultimately destroyed him.
Now there’s nothing particularly Shakespearean about the precipitous tumble the self-titled “King” LeBron James experienced during the NBA Finals, but the events surrounding James this past year certainly contain sizable elements of classic drama.
LeBron’s “Decision” to leave Cleveland and join the Miami Heat has been the biggest sports story in the world since his announcement to do so last July. It has been scrutinized and analyzed to an unprecedented extent by every type of media and with every possible interpretation imaginable – ranging all the way from James as heroic slave who freed himself from the shackles of his plantation master to James as traitorous quitter who betrayed his hometown fans by tanking his final games with the Cavaliers.
Starting with his classless, universally panned announcement on ESPN to “take my talents to South Beach,” James has been under the microscope in a far different way than he had been since, at age 16, he was dubbed the Chosen One by Sports Illustrated and was lavished from then on with unfettered adulation like no other young player had ever seen.
The “Decision” changed all that, triggering a darker scrutiny from the beast that is the media. Suddenly the Golden Child no more, James was ridiculed when he and his new teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh participated in a garish circle jerk in which they sashayed their way around a fogged-up stage predicting “5,6,7,8, titles” while the assembled crowd squealed with synthetic delight.
The Heat struggled at the start of the season and James bore the brunt of the criticism. But they came into Cleveland in early December and walloped the Cavaliers as James preened in front of the Cavs bench. A few weeks later, he tweeted that karma was the reason his former team lost by 55 to the Lakers. The media lambasted him for piling on and he responded by saying somebody sent him the tweet and he simply had unknowingly relayed it. The media was not pleased by his explanation and again trashed him.
This back and forth went on the entire season with James being subjected to waves of criticism he had never before experienced. But the Heat finished strong and, with LeBron playing very well, rolled through the first three rounds of the playoffs.
And then it happened. The Finals were about to begin and James was riding high while being compared favorably to Michael Jordan. Then, astonishingly and out of nowhere, he chose to take a swipe at his former team, saying that he went to Miami, “because I wanted to be with guys that would never die down in the moment.”
It was a cheap, totally unnecessary and near-pathological comment to make at the time and what it did was expose a psychological fragility that, for some unfathomable reason, compelled him to bring up why he hadn’t ever won a championship. It also shed light on the damning fact that it was he who “died in the moment” with the Cavs against Boston. So when ex-teammate Boobie Gibson fired back at James, essentially calling him out for being a quitter in the previous year’s playoffs, the story exploded and James’ chicken-hearted performance was re-examined.
We all know what happened in the Finals as James turned in the worst Finals performance ever by a superstar-caliber player. Wade screamed at him on the court and the phantom King pouted, totally disappearing in the fourth quarters of several games and scoring only 18 final quarter points during the entire series, an average of three per game. The lone notable thing he did during the final week of what was undoubtedly the granddaddy of all choke-jobs in NBA history was team up with Wade to mock Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki’s illness, which the classy German properly labeled “childish and ignorant.”
In the aftermath of King James’ abdication and fall from grace, LeBron sat at the podium looking relieved that his ordeal was over and took a potshot at his critics by saying – with that impish grin that now hints more of delusion than charm – that they will have to wake up in the morning and go back to their problem-riddled lives. Later he tweeted that God had decreed that it just wasn’t his time to win an NBA title.
This is what I know: Things will never be the same again for LeBron James – “that sweet sleep which thou owed’st yesterday” is gone. The media is a monster that must be fed and now LeBron is at the top of its menu. His brittle psyche will remain in the haunted zone and even his heretofore world-class capacity for denial won’t be able to save him against the withering onslaught that’s coming. Everyone – his teammates, other NBA players, the world – saw what happened and it sure wasn’t pretty. He will never get over this no matter how hard he tries. The best he can do is attempt to bury it as deep as possible inside, which we all know just doesn’t work.
Over time, the pressure to redeem himself will be suffocating and it’s questionable as to whether or not he has the emotional juice to come near accomplishing any kind of real redemption. So far, based on his Finals’ disappearances, the prospect for vindication is not encouraging. It’s true that after awhile he may evolve into a sympathetic figure – his stronger-than-morphine self-pity somehow becoming darkly entertaining – and be transformed into someone that everyone’s kind of rooting for.
It could happen someday, I guess. But for the time being and in the near future, as far as this “King James” moniker being viewed as anything but a total fraud – well, let’s not get carried away.