If LeBron Did Not Exist, Wieden+Kennedy Would Invent Him

In the ongoing list of things the internet does reasonably well — including but obviously not limited to song lyrics, footage of early punk rock shows, the shared experience of watching playoff baseball via an "open thread" on a sports blog and computer help* — here's one more: Coordinating chants at Cleveland Cavaliers games. To be fair, there was a clear and present matter at hand for Cavaliers fans — expressing their displeasure at LeBron James for leaving the team through free agency in a flashy narcissistic way — but the coordinated effort got a lot of press:

We ask for all of you who have been a part of this movement to continue to push in these final 24 hours. It wouldn't be possible without you, and won't succeed unless we make sure the "fourth quarter" of our efforts is as strong as the first three. Get the word out, send the sheet to co workers and friends, print out extras if you're going downtown, hand them out at bars, do whatever you have to. Get Cleveland chanting!

The sheet (.pdf) had instructions for what to chant when, e.g., in the second half of the first quarter "Whenever LeBron has the ball or is at the free throw line the chant is: Ak-Ron Hates-You (Clap, Clap, ClapClapClap)." It went on from there, and was to have culminated with a penultimate "De-Lon-Te" chant early in the fourth quarter, until the Heat stretched out its lead to thirty and LeBron was pulled from the game.

I had to look up the Delonte story because I missed it. Here's what that particular chant was about:

The 'Delonte' chant will be in reference to the reported affair that occurred last season between James' mother Gloria, and his teammate Delonte West. West is now a member of the Boston Celtics, but shortly after the end of the playoffs last season, in which West's and James' Cavaliers were eliminated by Boston, speculation ran rampant that James learned of West's affair with his mother during the playoffs and it caused his distracted and seemingly disinterested play.

No matter, the Cavs_Chants Twitter feed directed the Delonte chant to be moved up.

Meanwhile, everything else seemed to work as planned:

Despite being an otherwise meaningless early season game, Thursday night's 118-90 Miami Heat victory was the most anticipated regular-season game in the history of pro basketball. As the national media kept reporting all week, Cavs fans had been waiting more than four months to vent their spleens. And vent they did.

When James first took the court in his No. 6 Miami Heat jersey 17 minutes before the opening tip, he was greeted with a cosmic jeer, soon followed by a raucous chant of "a—hole, a—hole."

Midway through the first quarter, his ears were pummeled by a thundering chant of "Akron hates you, Akron hates you."

Buzz Bissinger recently wrote a book with LeBron James, and wrote an op-ed in The New York Times back in May about how he thought LeBron should handle his pending free agency. His opening paragraph seems like typical Bissinger — we read his A Prayer For The City for book club, about Ed Rendell's first term as mayor of Philadelphia and his tone is sometimes self-effacing to the point of obsequiousness (Bissinger's depiction of Chief of Staff David Cohen in the book is kind of the definition of "beat sweetener"). His LeBron op-ed follows that format:

When I first met LeBron James in 2008, I was in awe. He was 23 at the time and I was 53, yet it seemed as if the ages were reversed. He had been a basketball legend for years. As we embarked on a book project together, he had an affable poise that contrasted with my own babbling efforts to build rapport. I ascribed to him a worldly wisdom.

Then of course he goes on to sound every part the 53 year-old — hollow advice to leave and never look back, et cetera, et cetera and then something about "personal growth." Somehow he decided that James should have gone to the Knicks, which in retrospect looks absurd.

James followed Bissinger's advice to leave and do soul searching or whatever Bissinger's writerly heart wanted James the nonfiction star to do like not at all, which makes the Bissingerian plot line seem that much more hollow:

LeBron James's relationship to his community is profound: he built a palatial house in the Akron area and just finished his seventh season with the Cavaliers. But I believe those roots have become golden shackles. He is too loved, and therefore too coddled and too easily forgiven.

His play in the fifth game of the N.B.A. playoff series this month against the Boston Celtics, a 120-88 trouncing, was bizarre and inexplicable. In missing 11 of the 14 shots he took, he simply looked as if he had given up, astounding not only for James but for any professional athlete competing at the level of the playoffs. It was inexcusable, whatever the circumstance.

In a place like New York, the tabloids would have screamed "LeBomb James!" In Cleveland, there were a few boos, but they amounted to nothing compared to the desperation of the fans to keep him for next season and beyond. In such an atmosphere, human nature inevitably takes over: you stop constantly pushing yourself because there is no real incentive, particularly when you have so many good nights on the basketball court and keep your fans satiated.

. . .

LeBron, take the chance. Just go and never look back. In the greatest city in the world, you will never regret it. It is time to leave home.

You get the sense that Bissinger wanted LeBron to leave the Midwest via a large Greyhound with a duffel bag over his shoulder, the coach bus kicking up dust as it stopped to pick him up on a rural stretch of U.S. 224. I don't know what Bissinger thought about the ESPN special.

(Speaking of which, J.A. Adande seems to posit that it's Soledad O'Brien's fault that the story veered off into some giant debate over race in America . . . maybe Jon Stewart has a point about cable news? Three of us briefly debated this aspect last night while we were watching the Heat-Cavaliers game and in retrospect it seems silly to have done so. At any rate, not worth bringing up again.)

All told, Cleveland's fans were the most interesting part of the game last night (with the exception of this, which is kind of awesome). Some cities are like that. Philadelphia is one place. So is New Orleans, I recently learned — it seems that the entire city jumps up and starts waving handkerchiefs whenever K. Gates' "Black & Gold (Who Dat!!!) Superbowl Edition ft. Ying Yang Twins" is played. Seriously, it's weird — it looks like those scenes in Season 2 of True Blood when the Maryann Forrester character puts the entire town of Bon Temps into bacchanalia trances.

You get the sense that Cleveland fans wouldn't need a "Fan Up" campaign to remind their fans to arrive to games on time and stay until the end. You'd think that players would like that aspect of playing in a city, but that's clearly not the case. In that sense it reminds me of something someone reminded me once about art museums: Museum-goers are under the impression that museums are primarily about seeing art but there's a case to be made that's not the real reason museums exist — rather, museums are about maintaining collections of art, and viewing the art is only a secondary purpose. Some collections are better than others in this respect, but most only show a small percentage of what they hold.

In the same way, maybe the Miami Heat are less a root-worthy team than they are a collection of museum pieces — like a Platonic ideal of "Starting Lineup" (minus the point guard). And instead of winning championships or giving a city something to cheer for, the team simply exists to make overwrought Nike ads.

Of course, without those overwrought Nike ads, we wouldn't have the spoofs:

In the commercials LeBron says "What should I do?" over and over. But for the rest of us taking it all in, it's more like "So what do you do?" — because there's not much else interesting about the story line now except to want to see the Platonic ideal fail.

*See this, this, this and this, respectively.

Posted: December 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Thrill Of Victory And The Agony Of Defeat! | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,