Day 108: Just A Kid From Akron – On Lebron, The Narrative, and Superheroes
by Tom Noonan
So there’s the narrative. It’s been there since high school, something we created, magazine covers created, sportswriters created, you created, I created. It’s what put him in that six ring-sized shadow and told him he had to grow into it, match it, eventually dwarf it. It’s what he broke when he made the Decision, and its why we, everyone north of the beach, hurt so much when that huge, unflinching mistake aired. He betrayed the narrative, botched the origin story, cowered from the struggle. He wasn’t a superhero, so we tried the only other narrative we knew: the Villain.
And he played it well, I’ll give you that, he played this new role well for a while. When he was handed a microphone and then promised the world an Empire, promised utter dominance, we all had reason to shudder. This wasn’t what we had asked him for, this wasn’t what the Sports Illustrated covers were supposed to become. We wanted The College Dropout, but he kept playing Graduation. We assumed an innocence he never had, an understanding of the arc, a drive to be the best ever, to elevate others, rather than deciding to win here and now. We assumed Lebron wanted the story we’d already written.
But then he lost, somehow tripped up inches from the throne, from his dynasty, as if we had found the justice we’d been seeking, given the story we wanted, as if he were just another villain. It was easy then to diminish his game, to search for where everything went wrong and how we could have let it happen, to cast him out of the royal court. We kept trying to find it, the narrative, so we decided it couldn’t be that simple. We threw out the good vs. evil paradigm and imagined that there could be a third option, a noble pariah, a villain worth rooting for, someone we could grin confidently alongside. And we finally realized that he wasn’t ever going to be a superhero. He was too transparent for that, too upfront with his feelings, too vulnerable, too human. So it was us who botched the narrative, not him, because he had always only been just a hero.
So maybe there shouldn’t be a narrative, not yet anyway, because the constant contextualization of events robs us of the actual achievements, removes us from the moment and into some far off, imagined ideal. Then his absurd stat lines begin to get marred by footnotes and history haunts our perspectives, clouds our appreciation. We mistake his joy for arrogance, boyish smiles for insurmountable ego. He doesn’t wear 23 anymore. He won’t be taking his talents anywhere else for a little while. It’s time we let him play it out, let the narrative write itself, let Lebron decide, for once, what the story will be.