Thursday, May 13, 2010

On Jumping the Shark

Strange happenings on Tuesday night: I skipped off from Cavs-Celtics to watch Lost for an hour, and when I came back, the Twittersphere was abuzz with schadenfreude: Both for an athlete and a television show, each of which had seemingly set us up for disappointing conclusions. Of course, this is the worst thing about the Internet: Lost is not over, and Cavs-Celtics is not over, but because of the instantaneous ability for everyone to respond to everything, it already feels that way. It feels like LeBron's career is a failure, and it feels* like six years of Lost are a failure. This is ridiculous--I actually have a weird feeling the LeBrons will pull it out tonight and then lose Game 7, just to maximize the Cleveland heartbreak factor. But watching LeBron on Tuesday night--his body language, his demeanor--was one of the strangest things I've ever seen. It was almost as if he suddenly felt the weight of all those decades of Cleveland failure, and absorbed them into his skull. It was almost as if the mythology bled into the reality.

The most powerful scene** I've witnessed in my sportswriting career came in the Cleveland Indians locker room after Game 7 of the 1997 World Series. I stood in front of a veteran pitcher named Charles Nagy, who had just given up the game-winning hit. And Nagy just sat there, wearing a soggy T-shirt and a pair of tights, staring at the carpet. He had struggled throughout the playoffs, but he'd actually pitched well in relief that night. There is nothing athletes hate discussing more than curses, yet it honestly didn't feel like that team had been done in by the futility of the city of it represented; it just felt like their luck had run out.

LeBron on Tuesday night felt different. How can he not feel the weight of all these questions, of all this uncertainty, of the considerable expectations he's built up for himself? And it's not over, and he still has a chance to make it right, but LeBron is not just battling the Celtics anymore. He's fighting against the mythology he's built up for himself. He's fighting against the mythology of an entire city. And he's fighting against those people who expect any great cultural creation to inevitably end in disappointment.

*To some people, though not to me. While I thought this week's episode was relatively weak, the reason it was weak is because Lost has always been a character-driven show, and this was an answer-driven episode. Ambiguity is always better than absolutism.
**Or at least, the most powerful scene that didn't directly involve a human tragedy.

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