Game 7 of the NBA Finals is tonight — the deciding game of the NBA championship. Many of you already knew this. Some of you probably didn’t. Or didn’t care to. The latter group interests me the most.
While famous for its basketball, Tobacco Road is also renowned for what is often considered the antithesis of such. Chapel Hill, the Research Triangle, the universities — it’s a constituency that’s educated, affluent, intellectual. Apart from having the highest concentration of NCAA basketball titles in the United States, the greater Triangle area showcases the highest concentration of PhDs as well.
These two facts seem to be at odds, and often are. This isn’t to imply that intellectualism and sports fandom are mutually exclusive. That would be absurd. Highly. But the stigma is still there, and the educated are supposedly ever cognizant of what sports really are: a game. Or more specifically, just a game. Pointless. Something not to be taken seriously, not to get worked up over, and — like Game 7 maybe — something to be ignored.
Even as a sports fan, one must sympathize with this — as it couldn’t be more true. Sports fans have had Marx’s famous phrase thrown their way many times for a reason.
But this is too simplistic. Watching basketball isn’t really about watching basketball. If it were, fans would pour into local YMCA stands to watch pickup games.
—instead of pouring into arenas to watch LeBron. In case you were unaware, LeBron James is playing the best basketball that any human being has since a UNC graduate walked off the court in 1998. Though, merely describing LeBron as the “best” is like merely saying Einstein was the “smartest.” It doesn’t seem to give due justice.
Why does this matter? What if you’re not into basketball?
Example: I’m not a big fan of musicals — they’re just not my thing. But I would happily attend a musical at Durham’s DPAC, and I did this past Broadway season, twice. Why? Because the Durham Performing Arts Center is world class. Show after show, they have the best.
It doesn’t matter that musicals aren’t my thing. It’s about watching the world’s greatest do whatever it is they do better than everyone else. Cooking, acting, painting, singing, fishing — the craft is unimportant. Experiencing someone who is the master of their craft, the best, is what people pay to see.
Naturally, comparing greatness in the game of basketball to that of art might seem out of place. But the point here is, with LeBron, basketball is art.
When LeBron James is on the court, he’s Picasso with a brush. He’s De Niro in front of a camera, Seinfeld with a mic, Hemingway with a pen.
He’s the best — to put it lightly. He’s the world’s best scorer, best defender, best passer, best dunker. He gets rebounds like big guys and shoots three-pointers like little guys. He jumps the highest. He runs the fastest. He’s the strongest. No one has ever been this good at everything. Not even Jordan. He is a basketball Renaissance man.
“Renaissance” wasn’t used there on accident. When LeBron is on the court, he IS an artist. He’s operating in a 3D world of basketball that most don’t know exists. He sees things no one else sees. He makes plays no one even believes can be made. He creates passing angles that no one knows are there until LeBron shows them to us.
It’s breathtaking to watch sometimes, how in tune this man is with his body and his craft. I’m jealous.
The question posed is obvious. Do we have to love the craft to appreciate that greatness? Do we necessarily need to understand it? Could we, every now and then, just sit back and enjoy it — knowing we’re watching something special?
Since winning his first title last season James has been playing his sport at a level that only a few human beings have ever encountered. And that is what interests me this evening; not the basketball per se. Of course as a fan, I would already be watching. But what I’m hoping for tonight is the simple delight of watching someone who is the best at whatever it is they do.
Even if it’s just a stupid game.
feature image by jpangan3 via flickr