— It’s finally over. After a mere two years of buildup, LeBron James has had his own TV special. He’s got your great big pile of cash. He’s got everything he wanted. Now it’s time to give the fans something they want.
It’s time to win some rings.
This isn’t a suggestion or request, as the King will shortly find in Miami. He picked his situation and his teammates. He’s going to hook up with two of the game’s greatest players, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Fans there and analysts everywhere aren’t going to ask if he could please try to win a title. They’re going to demand it.
Second place isn’t going to count. Nice tries won’t matter. No one will care an iota if he wins six more MVP awards in a row. Heat fans won’t give a damn about whether his elbow hurts.
LeBron said it himself: “The only reason you play this game is to win championships.”
These are the right words. They’re also true ones. In the NBA, more than any other team sport, greatness is measured by rings. Bill Russell has 11 of them. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bob Cousy and Michael Jordan have six each. Kobe and Magic each have five, and Shaq has four.
A lot of other guys who played with the greats have multiple rings, too. Robert Horry has seven and Scottie Pippen six. Dennis Rodman has five. Dwyane Wade has one.
LeBron James has none.
This has nothing to do with character or anything else. LeBron seems to be a decent, well-grounded person. He didn’t get blinged up for his big TV special. He threw on some jeans, sneakers and a purple-and-white striped shirt, and that was it. The only jewelry he wore was a wrist watch, and it wasn’t a flashy one.
This was refreshing because you know he put a lot of thought into how he should present himself. He chose his down-home, regular-Midwestern-guy look, for which parents everywhere will be grateful. It’s a superstar look you won’t mind your kids imitating.
He’s always been well-spoken and dignified, and he’s never gotten into trouble. You can’t ask for more.
But we don’t really know who LeBron James is, and we never will. He’s still more famous for tossing chalk dust in the air than for winning anything. He’s better known for his endorsements than for what he’s done on the court.
He didn’t go to college where he would have had to mix and mingle with other students, play basketball with guys who were never going to the NBA, talk to reporters, endure demanding coaches and write English papers. When other people are learning who they are, he was already a superstar.
The exponential explosion of media has walled him off from mere mortals. Jordan was every bit as celebrated as LeBron, but you could chat with him in the locker room before a game. It’s not the biggest thing in the world, but it made him more human and made us less likely to be judgmental, because we thought we knew him.
That’s impossible today. What we know about megastars is what they spoon feed us. And it’s easy to beat up on somebody we don’t know. And now we’ve passed another milestone, when the world’s biggest sports network handed over an hour of air time to a basketball player and provided him with his hand-picked interviewer, then spent the entire afternoon and the rest of the night talking about him.
This is how things will be done in the future. Big news already breaks via Twitter. In 30 years, we may look back on LeBron’s announcement and marvel at how quaint and unspoiled it was. By then, we’ll be watching these things on pay-per-view webcasts.
At the same time, we’ll talk about what LeBron did after his big announcement. Nobody at that point will care about chalk dust or shoes or what kind of sports drink he was paid to swig. We won’t even care about how great he is with kids and how much he gave to charity.
All anyone will care about in 30 years is how many rings he has. He chose to play with Bosh and Wade. Now he has to win.
He says he knows that. He says it’s all that matters.
“It’s not about individuals. It’s about a team, and that’s what this game is about,” LeBron said.
The words were exactly right, and right now that’s all we have. But come November, words won’t matter anymore. Wins will.
Fans in Miami aren’t going to hope for wins and titles. They’ll demand them. You can’t be a megastar without them.