James is the franchise player who told his hometown team it wasn’t good enough for him. Tired of being the sole provider in Cleveland, he bolted for the pack in Miami, safely guarded by other big dogs who could take up for him any night of a grueling season.
Look more closely and it begins to make sense.
See, LeBron doesn’t have “Alpha Male” tattooed on his torso. He has “Chosen 1” across his back and “Gifted Child” on his chest, his way of telling himself he was, and is, a special boy.
He constantly needs to remind himself of his stature, to the point of turning off teammates and would-be teammates.
For example, a player recently told me LeBron had contacted him about possibly joining forces in the offseason, though he was cryptic about where he actually might play. The text began: “Yo, this is King James.”
“I was like, ‘Give me a break. You’re going to call yourself that?’ ”the player said, on condition that his name not be used.
“Do you think Michael Jordan texts people by starting with, ‘Yo, this is His Airness.’ Come on, get over yourself.”
But that’s the beauty of ’Bron, too, in a way. He actually thought that would serve as some clarion call to a player of lesser talent who would be moved to take less money and had deigned to play with, yes, the great and omnipotent King James, ruler of all offseason NBA business.
Take off on him if you need to because he scowls or pouts too much to an official or tells America, “I’m taking my talents to South Beach” before his employer and fans back home in Ohio know. Fine. But I can’t judge him for any behavior that involves buying into the myth of being something greater than merely an extraordinary ballplayer.
Why do you think LeBron’s favorite teams are the Yankees and the Cowboys — why did he pull for Jordan and the Bulls as a youth and not the hard-luck Cavaliers 45 minutes from his apartment complex as a child?
Because, the thought here is, he wanted one sure thing to hold onto; he wanted to be aligned with perennial winners. He needed something to latch onto that he couldn’t get at home: Trust. Safety. Security.
The idea that LeBron James doesn’t have to do it all himself — hoist a mother and extended family out of abject poverty, make a franchise profitable while ensuring economic prosperity for a struggling Midwestern city, take a team to the Finals by himself — is probably the most comforting thing in the world.
It’s something that two-parent, supportive households like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant’s don’t quite understand. It’s why we’re all enraptured by one question as Game 6 — maybe LeBron’s last this season — looms.
What will the flawed star do? Can the gifted child shake his boyhood demons and rise above more LeBron Bash-a-thon the next 48 hours to take his rightful place at the top of his profession?
Or does all he can’t leave behind catch up with him on his home floor, something his most strident supporters cannot bear to watch?