Like many young boys coming of age in the ’40s and ’50s, my dad had an almost unhealthy affinity for Westerns and cowboy culture. Actually, “had” is the wrong word. “Shane” is still one of his favorite movies, and it’s not uncommon to drive up to my parent’s house and catch my dad in the middle of a “Gunsmoke” marathon.
And, also like many young boys infatuated with Westerns, my dad wanted to be a cowboy. Since there weren’t many 10 year old Black cowboys in the 1950s, he pretended as best as he could; rockingÂ tasselsÂ and holsters with plastic guns in them whenever and wherever he could. (I think he even wore them to school)
Yet, if you hear my dad tell it, these memories produce an uneasyÂ ambivalence. While he treasures the memories of walking up and down his block, pretending to be a cowboy, he feels a certain way about the fact that, by playing “Cowboys and Indians” — a game where the the kids in the neighborhood pretended to be cowboys chasing down and killing Indians — and by rooting against the Indians in many of the shows he watched, he was playing for the wrong team.
As a kid he didn’t realize this, but as he grew older and learned about some of the things that really happened in the Wild Wild West and to the American Indians, he grew horrified at the fact that American culture had villfied the Indians and that he happily took part in thatÂ vilification.
I imagine the people still reading are probably wondering how exactly I’m going to tie Lebron James into this story about my dad. A few may even already be upset at the thought that I’d dare compare Lebron’s plight to that of the American Indian. If you are one of these people, relax. I know it’s not that serious.
What is (slightly) serious though is the fact that, like my dad rooting against the Indians, I believe that those vehemently rooting for Lebron to fail will be on the wrong side of history. 20 years from now, I have no doubt that even the most fervent members of the anti-Lebron fan club will be thinking to themselves “Wait…why was I rooting so hard against him again?”
“Being on the wrong side” of history doesn’tÂ necessarilyÂ mean that these people are rooting against a person who will eventually become a champion. Whether the Heat beat the Thunder in the Finals or not has no bearing on my argument. My point is that in time, history will show that today’s prevailingÂ narrative — Lebron represents everything wrong with sports/celebrity culture — was false, and we were fools to believe it.
His situation has created a paradox where people are rooting against what they feel he “represents,” whileÂ simultaneouslyÂ rooting for others who exhibit the exact same qualities.Â For instance, I watched game seven of the Eastern Conference finals at a sports bar in New York City. Maybe 80% of the people in attendance wereÂ noticeablyÂ rooting for the Celtics. The Boston Celtics. A team that won a championship a year after three of the 20 best players in the league decided to play together there.
Let me repeat myself: These were the Boston Celtics.Â I was in New York F*cking City. If you’re familiar with sports at all, you know that New York and Boston have fierceÂ rivalriesÂ in every sport. They’re about as close to a contemporary version of the Hatfields and the McCoys as you’re going to get.
Yet, despite the decades of animus between these cities, the majority of the patrons in this bar were rooting for the Celtics just so that Lebron would lose. They could have given two shits about K.G. and Rondo and Ray and Doc. One of the bartenders was so anti-Lebron that if Paul Pierce sent him a text saying “Man, your daughter got some good p*ssy.”Â he probably would have replied back “Beat Lebron and you can f*ck my wife too!”
Now, saying that it’s wrong to root against Lebron doesn’t mean that you have to root for him. You do not have to be a fan of him or his game. And, if you are a fan of Kevin Durant (more on him a minute) and the Oklahoma Thunder, you (obviously) want Lebron and the Heat to lose because you want your team to win.Â The wrongness comes when a narrative makes you want a person to fail, regardless of who would benefit from that failure.
Also, fans of the “OKC represents everything right with sports” narrative, listen up. The funny thing about sports narratives is that they tend to be completely arbitrary and usually false. 10 years ago, Kobe Bryant was touted as the “Anti-Iverson,” the representation of what’s right with sports and how to play the right way….and you see what happened to him. After Kobe’s star fell, Lebron became the Anti-Kobe, the one who played the right way and respected the game the way it should be respected…and you see what happened to him. Today, Kevin Durant is the new golden boy, the Anti-Lebron, the one who does and says all the right things and doesn’t even have any visible tattoos.
I’m not suggesting (or hoping) that Durant will be found to be the antithesis of what the narrative currently says. But, like with the Cowboys and the Indians, maybe the distinction between who’s “good” and “bad” isn’t as clear as we want to believe.
—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)