I have never loved NBA basketball. This is probably because I have never really had a rooting interest in the NBA. I watch college basketball because I have a defined team, but I have never settled down to watch the NBA on a regular basis.
However, on Thursday night I watched every single second of the Celtics/Cavaliers game. About halfway through the game I really started to think about why I was doing this. One reason was obvious: There was no hockey on that night and I didn’t have anything to do. The Red Sox weren’t playing, there wasn’t a Bisons home game and I wanted to watch some sports.
But I wasn’t just watching the game, I was absolutely fascinated by what was going on. Why?
The simple answer is that it felt like everyone else was. The whole sports world sort of freaked out after Game Five when the Cavs didn’t show up and no one could exactly explain why. A lot of people, myself included, tuned in to Game Four simply because it was expected to be interesting. No one really thought the Celtics would give LeBron and company much trouble, so when the series was evened at two it was supposed to set up an entertaining swing game.
Then that disaster in Cleveland happened, and no one really knew what to do. LeBron wasn’t himself, and suddenly everyone remembered LeBron’s contract expires when Cleveland’s season ends. That could have been Thursday, and so the hype machine kicked into high gear.
It also helped that the media freaked the hell out, too. First there was the extreme criticism of LeBron, who has rarely let the basketball public down when it comes to performing on the court. For years he had carried a team with little supporting cast, and now that he had some players around him there were to be no excuses.
The best example of this negative reaction was an absolute evisceration from Adrian Wojnarowski, who did everything but stab James in the heart with a trident. I would finish the joke by saying he took LeBron’s mom out for a nice steak dinner, but apparently that’s Delonte West’s job.
On Wednesday all anyone wanted to talk about LeBron and what’s going to happen next. Things started out hard with Woj, and then things tempered off and things began to cool off. What most people reverted back to was something Bethlehem Shoals concluded: We’re going to learn something from this. Whatever happens next will not only be ridiculously interesting, but will actually alter the landscape of the sport for the next decade.
That’s what made Thursday’s Game Six so interesting: We knew that afterwards everything would be different. If LeBron responded and the Cavs forced a Game Seven we would gain some faith back in King James, and most of those thoughts from the day before would creep back into our subconscious. But if the Cavs really did lose, we knew we would be witness (TM?) to something that will be remembered for years to come.
And we were. James still didn’t look right, the Celtics didn’t back down and Cleveland was heartbroken once again. People argued back and forth whether LeBron did enough, but the fact of the matter is that the Cavs fell short and then decided to do something even worse: Give up.
Now I had no real rooting interest in the game, but I was enthralled the entire time. The hype got me, but what was interesting is that I was fully aware of that the entire time. If anything, I wanted to know why. How did I get swept up in all this so fast?
Hype creates drama, and drama fascinates us. If there is one thing LeBron James has truly mastered, it is hype. This is a man who gets national headlines when he wears a baseball cap, or changes the color of his shoes. James knows how to make people talk about him, and talk is money.
In this case, however, talk wasn’t his friend. A lot of people turned against him this week, and violently so. I don’t think we’ll ever really understand exactly what happened, but I think in a way LeBron violated the social contract of sorts that people have established with him. We expect him to constantly do amazing things, and he has for so long that when he fails to do so it is an absolute shock.
Now that the shock has work off, what have we learned? For one, we learned that hype is an incredible thing. It made a lot of people watch a basketball just for the sake of the hype that surrounded it, and it left many more feeling very different about one person they will never meet. The conversation will die down and we will get back to basketball, but the way we view LeBron will change again once July 1 comes.
If you thought the hype for this was bad, wait until the basketball stops.