“Championships are championships”

I suppose I can’t start by saying that championships are not championships. That doesn’t make any sense. But when LeBron James was asked if winning a title in Miami with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh at his side would be any less fulfilling than winning one in Cleveland and responded with “Championships are championships,” well, that was, to me, the most disappointing thing he’d done in 2010.*

*And let’s be honest: Bron Bron has done a lot of disappointing things in 2010.

LeBron’s response–his LeBronse!–displayed an alarming lack of awareness. One of the things I praised about LeBron just yesterday was how he seemed to understand his position in the sports world and that he could market a one-hour special and draw huge ratings. But by saying “Championships are championships,” LeBron ignored the circumstances that surround winning them and their concomitant ramifications on his legacy.

Championships are not made equal. Not even close. Not for players, not for coaches, and especially not for fans. Was the Yankees’ 1999 championship really as fulfilling as their one in 1996 (the first one as an underdog), 1998 (114-win season), or 2000 (worst team…won Subway Series)? Was Duke’s title this year not way more satisfying than the 2001 version for someone like Mike Krzyzewski, just to stick it to everyone who said he couldn’t coach in this era? Didn’t the Red Sox winning in 2004 feel a little bit better than it did in 2007? Wouldn’t it have been strangely unfulfilling for Bostonians if they won without beating the Yankees?

Does Gary Payton equate winning a title in 2006 with the Heat with what it would have been like to win one with Seattle over Jordan in 1996? Would the ’94 championship have meant as much to Ewing as one in ’93, if he had to go through Jordan?

Wouldn’t a title mean so much more in Cleveland, which hasn’t seen a champion since 1964, than Miami, where the Heat won four years ago and where nobody really cares about sports anyway? And doesn’t adding in the context that Cleveland is LeBron’s home and that he would have to do it himself amplify the potential meaning?

Not, apparently, for LeBron, who we should remember never grew up as a fan of any of Cleveland’s teams. His “Championships are championships” reflection reveals a player who has begun to doubt his own abilities, someone who has grown desperate to win just one. At this point, LeBron will take a championship, any championship. He has become, strangely, Dwyane Wade’s sidekick, and as interesting and entertaining as Heat games will now become, they are nowhere near as compelling as they could have been had Wade and LeBron remained separated–two great rivals going against one another.

LeBron will win a championship, and possibly more than one. But after last night, he will never win the most meaningful one he could have. And he doesn’t even understand what he’s lost.

6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Brian Paterson on July 9, 2010 at 1:48 PM

    Nice blog, Tim. I feel if the Heat beat the Lakers in the NBA finals next year it would be quite fulfilling for The King. Look at the matchups: Lebron and Kobe, Dwade and Pao, Bosh and Bynum/Odom, plus LA has those key bench players in D Fish and Artest — You could easily make the argument that LA is superior.


  2. Posted by John S on July 9, 2010 at 2:20 PM

    While in general I do agree that “championships are not made equal,” and that each championship has its own specific set of emotions attached to it, I think, from James’ perspective, the claim makes sense. As I wrote, I think the main thing James was thinking about is his legacy, and a lot of time discussing legacies is spent counting titles. Just look at how many people made the “Kobe is one shy of Jordan” argument, even though it would be ridiculous to equate the 2000-02 run with either of Jordan’s threepeats. Similarly, look at Kevin Garnett. Certainly winning in Boston, with the help of Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, was not as satisfying as winning in Minnesota would have been. But in terms of legacy, it was enough; it removed the Can’t Win A Championship tag from Garnett’s memory. The truth is, once you attain a certain level of Greatness (and I think LeBron already has), most of your legacy has to do with how many times you won, and not necessarily the manner in which you won.


    • Posted by Tim on July 10, 2010 at 12:48 AM

      I agree with your reading of what LeBron did; he just wanted to start winning titles, like Garnett, or Payton on the Heat, or Malone on the Lakers. In doing so, he joins that secondary class of players in historical conversation. Look at Garnett; once considered a candidate to be the best power forward ever, he has become a borderline Top 25 player of all-time whose major flaw–could NOT get you a clutch basket when you needed one–was only solidified by how he eventually won his title. Even after he won his title, putting Garnett even in the same conversation as Tim Duncan is patently absurd, and most would still slip him behind the title-less Malone and Barkley.

      Now, you can say it was worth it for Garnett; I mean, he wasn’t even getting the T-Wolves to the playoffs. LeBron, on the other hand, has been to the Finals once and twice had the NBA’s best record. He wasn’t that far away from winning in Cleveland, and if Garnett had passed one checkpoint of Greatness, LeBron appeared to be shooting for something beyond even that. We now know he is not.


  3. […] weeks ago, when Tim defended it before it happened, John S defended it after it happened, and Tim took issue with one thing LeBron said. (The GQ issue, on the whole, is very good by the […]


  4. […] curiously choose Miami”). John S defended The Decision even after it took place while Tim expressed disappointment in LeBron’s view of championships. John wondered why everyone claimed James was being selfish and then told some of his most […]


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