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You’re Forgiven, Lebron

November 2, 2010
Lebron with Miami Heat teammates


I haven’t been very nice to you, LeBron James.

I savored your post-Decision fall from grace as a morality play on hardwood. You with Chosen 1 inked to your back had to flee your own state. I wrote some harsh words about you this July for slamming your legacy harder than one of your vintage Tomahawk jams.

Maybe you read it, LeBron. You did warn you took names all summer. So, in the unlikely event you checked out ProseBeforeHos, Mr. James I hope you a) enjoyed the cute koala pictures and b) remember you have only yourself to blame.

You did it to yourself, LeBron. You panicked about the rings. Jordan won his first by now. Kobe just won one for the thumb. You looked over your shoulder and couldn’t shake the specter of Kevin Garnett’s ringless Minnesota years. All the while, a 22-year-old Kevin Durant assembles an burgeoning dynasty-in-the-making out in Oklahoma City.

You talked too much, too. You called fans and family “spoiled” with your play after you were thrashed by an aging Boston Celtics team for yet another early playoff exit. You pulled out the race card when CNN’s Soledad O’Brien asked about LeBacklash. Take a page from Michael Jordan’s political playbook. It’s short: a few milquetoast one-liners that mean absolutely nothing.

And it’s impossible not to feel for Cleveland. The most tortured sports city in the nation suffered a new low as 13 million viewers tuned in to watch the local phenom dump the home team on the grandest of media stages. You partied at the glitzy South Beach W Hotel, as your Cavs jersey burned. It comes out later you had been ignoring all calls and texts from your seven-year employer for weeks. Sure, you at least had the decency to agree to a sign-and-trade with Miami. But barring the sudden dawning of a J.J. Hickson-Jamario Moon Dynasty the Cavs will win 23 games this season. And Cleveland tourism will lose even more.

Missteps like these are why LeBron’s popularity amongst American athletes skidded from #4—behind only Peyton Manning, Troy Polamula, and Brett Favre—this January to #78 Big-Ben-alleged-rapist-territory today. Hours before the Miami Heat season opening loss, a Cleveland radio station hired a witch doctor to curse LeBron James, chanting: “Tie a knot against the king. May he die without a ring.”

But 3 months, 4 NBA games, and 1 sparkling new Nike ad later, I forgive LeBron James.



*******

LeBron Is A Role Model

Lebron James Child Game


LeBron James is not a politician. LeBron James is not a bailed-out Wall Street banker. LeBron James is a professional athlete who is paid vast sums of money to swish a basketball through a net. He is also a loving boyfriend and father. Nothing more. Nothing less.

LeBron hasn’t been charged with rape. He hasn’t been implicated in a dog-fighting ring. He hasn’t even been docked with a speeding ticket. LeBron’s lone crime is changing jobs and flubbing the PR. Never before has America so vilified an athlete for a simple change of uniform.

Truth is, LeBron got too much advice. LeBron James is Generation Y’s Mozart with a Spalding who has averted burn-out behind a massive entourage cocoon that would make Vince wince. He had the august triumvirate of Warren Buffet, Michael Jordan and Jay-Z for consul, for starters. Then he had his childhood friends whispering in his ear. Nike and Vitamin Water had their thoughts as well.

LeBron didn’t know what to do. So, in the end, LeBron did what any confused twenty-something would. He called his mom. Gloria told her son to go where he would be happiest. 10 hours later he announced he was “taking [his] talents to South Beach” and became the most loathed player in the NBA.

The Decision meant LeBron James wasn’t The One we were waiting for. That we were no longer witnesses to the next Michael Jordan. But the truth is you wouldn’t want to be like Mike, either. Talent is liquefied trouble, as the late great filmmaker Sidney Pollack mused. T’was raw Jordanian anger that fueled His Airness to become the greatest basketball player who ever lived but also quite possibly the craziest.

Air MJ Photograph


MJ racked up more mistresses that All-Star Game appearances. He fought his own teammates in practice. He is a degenerate gambler who has lost millions betting on his short game. An embittered Jordan dedicated his Hall of Fame coronation speech to calling out his “haters”. He enters his twilight years ungracefully pecking at today’s marquee talents from his Charlotte owner’s box. Jordan is destined for decades of restless retirement defending his legacy. Alone. Six glittery rings are all that separate Jordan’s brilliance from his madness.

Kobes Mean Face


Kobe Bryant shares the madness. He flares the Barracuda face deep into the NBA playoffs. It’s why Kobe has 5 rings. And it’s also why his wife has 3: an engagement ring, a wedding ring, and a dazzling $4 million 8-carat purple diamond My Bad ring after Kobe faced Colorado rape charges in 2003. It is the same singular focus that drives so many champion athletes but last-place husbands.

Tiger Woods has it. Tiger wanted to be like Mike. Perhaps a little too much. It’s theorized that the Vegas hard-partying of Jordan and Charles Barkley seduced a young Tiger Woods to The Life. That changed “Go On. Be A Tiger.” from an Accenture ad slogan to a national punch-line.

Tiger and LeBron share the same birthday (December 30), black ethnicity, and megalith Nike contract. That is all. Nine years and worlds separate them. One was raised by a military strict dad and loving mom, went to Stanford, and often plays in a sweater. The other? A heavily-tattooed manchild from a single mom and the streets of Akron, Ohio. Guess which one turned into sex-addicted Lothario who cheated on his Swedish bikini model wife and two children with umpteen mistresses from Vegas strippers to the teenage girl next door?

LeBron didn’t get that gene. Preening prima donna that he may be, LeBron James is the most squeaky-clean sports legend this side of Peyton Manning. Of the decorated NBA Class of 2003, Dwyane Wade has been locked in a sordid divorce trial and custody battle. Carmelo Anthony has been videotaped in murky Baltimore back-alleys and had friends take the rap for marijuana possession charges. LeBron James kicked a water bottle once ($25,000 fine) and joined the Miami Heat. That’s it. In the age of TMZ and Twitter, this is unfathomable. Especially when you consider what LeBron’s lived through.

LeBron spent his formative years mostly alone. He spent the evenings hoping his mom Gloria would make it back from work. She didn’t always. LeBron never knew his father. Now he and his mom are being sued $4 million by a man who claims he had a one night stand with Gloria back in 1984.

It explains some of LeBron’s interview tics. He doesn’t like to be interviewed in big rooms. He doesn’t like to be interviewed in rooms he’s never been in before. And he especially doesn’t like to speak with strangers. No lavish Nike shoe deal will ever let him forget these hard-knock years in Akron.

LeBron Has Done This Before

Let’s be honest. We’re only mad The Decision wasn’t Cleveland. If he announced he was returning to the Cavs and raised $2.5 million for the Boys & Girls Club, the legend grows. Instead he chose to play with his friends, raised $2.5 million for the Boys & Girls Club, and we all watched the We Are All Witnesses banner come tumbling down.

If it was about money, he would have picked New York. The Knicks’ recruiting pitch was simple. Want $2 billion in lifetime salary and endorsements? Play here. By their calculations Miami would net James the least of his four possible destinations—-a lowly $600 million. Cleveland, #3 at $690 million. Mark Cuban estimated James cost himself a billion dollars in brand equity by choosing Miami. Though the Mavericks owners would probably say otherwise if James had picked Dallas. If it was about the legacy, he’d stay in Cleveland.

But it wasn’t about the billions, and it wasn’t about the fame. It was all about recreating high school. You see, LeBron has done this before. Though not with Vitamin Water product placement splashed everywhere. And definitely not in a Ralph Lauren lavender gingham.

Lebron the Decision


But back home in Ohio in a dingy high school gym. There’s a chapter in James’ memoir “Shooting Stars” where he chronicles choosing St. Vincent-St. Mary, a starchy high school basketball powerhouse with his buddies over the local, mostly black Buchtel. James was ridden off a traitor who betrayed his own kind. In spite of the controversy—or perhaps because of it—the boys went on to win three Ohio state titles. The name of the chapter? “The Decision.”

A decade later James teamed up with super-star friend Dwyane Wade and super-star-by-association friend Chris Bosh. In them, LeBron found an (albeit better-paid) band of brothers who all took more flak and less money for the sake of the team. Yes, America will never again love LeBron as our generation’s answer to Michael Jordan. (That crown is now Kevin Durant’s to earn.) But like Kobe now, we will soon respect LeBron as the best basketball player on the planet—no matter how much help he had collecting his first rings.

We’ll merely see the Jordan Years as a different era. A no-holds barred, angrier era when rivals Magic Johnson and Larry Bird wouldn’t even talk to each. The kids are softer today. Today’s phenoms have been texting each other since AAU scrimmages in their teens. They are the product of a sensationalized youth talent search that hypes its phenoms on the cover of Sports Illustrated at age 16.

Lebron James SI Magazine Cover


And so I’m ready to embrace LeBron 2.0. The Chosen 1 turned Villain. A harder 1 who’s outgrown the pregame shenanigans with Shaq. I’m ready to watch LeBron wage battle before hostile road crowds with the biggest bulls-eye in sports on the back of his jersey, a new #6 on the front.

I’m ready to cheer LeBron on as he aims for the impossible: a triple-double in a season, 72 regular season wins, and 7 rings. And I’m ready to watch LeBron James’ 2026 Hall of Fame speech when we won’t remember any of this.

LeBron’s speech will tinged with love, not laced with hate. He will graciously thank fans and teammates for a charmed career before going home to Akron again to a mantle glistening with rings, MVP trophies, and happy family pictures.

And we will all have been witnesses. Not to the next Michael Jordan. But the first LeBron James. A kinder, gentler giant who checked his ego, paycheck, and stats to lord over the NBA with a little help from his friends.

Being Lebron, The Free Agency Redux

June 30, 2010


Imagine you woke up this morning as LeBron James. You are America’s best and most beloved athlete. You are so famous the President says he’s you: “I’m LeBron, baby. I can play on this level. I got some game.” The press is literally calling this is the Summer Of You. You are 25 years old, and you are on the market. It’s good to be King. You report on the set for your first Hollywood movie in a couple weeks.



But alas, all is not right in the Kingdom. You just got bounced from the playoffs early (again) by an aging, banged-up Celtics squad. With a few passive jumpshots, your crown lost some luster. This is the year you fell off the Michael Jordan trajectory. MVP titles. Olympic gold medals. None of that matters. At the end of the day, it’s all about the rings. MJ had six. Kobe has four. You have none.

LeBron James woke up one morning changed into not the next Michael Jordan, but the next Kevin Garnett. A freakish, high school-straight-to-pros prodigy who let his prime years go to waste for an also-ran team in the Midwest. Kevin Garnett warned LeBron about the dangers of being too loyal last month. KG said he would have left Minnesota for Boston years earlier knowing what he knows now.

But LeBron’s a loyal guy. He has the Akron area code 313 inked to his arm. He throws his annual MVP acceptance ceremonies in his Ohio high school gym. For him to leave Cleveland will always be a chink in his armor. He couldn’t win one with the hand he was dealt. Still, he’s given 6 ringless years of his career to Cleveland and lies even deeper in Jordan’s shadow. The Cavs can’t even get out of the East.

*******


LeBron James and Tiger Woods share the same birthday (December 30) and ethnicity. That is all. Nine years and worlds separate them. One was raised by a military strict dad and loving mom, went to Stanford, and often plays in a sweater. The other? A heavily-tattooed manchild from a single mom and the streets of Akron, Ohio. Guess which one turned into sex-addicted Lothario who cheated on his Swedish bikini model wife and two children with umpteen mistresses from Vegas strippers to the teenage girl next door?

Meanwhile, LeBron James has an immaculate public image. He kicked a water-bottle once and didn’t shake hands with the Magic. And I’m being nitpicky here. With TMZ and Twitter now, this is amazing. James is engaged to his high school sweet-heart. His mom Gloria deserves… LeBronian praise.

LeBron doesn’t have the raw intensity of Michael Jordan. This is a good thing. When all is said and done, BronBron won’t win more rings than Michael. But he’ll be much happier and popular. “Talent is liquefied trouble”, as filmmaker Sydney Pollack liked to say. It fueled Jordan to 6 rings, yes, but he also fought his own teammates in practice and became a compulsive gambler. He muddled through a messy divorce and was still bitterly calling out his haters during his Hall of Fame acceptance speech last year. Those six rings are the only fine-line between Jordan’s brilliance and madness. The NBA was just angrier back then. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird wouldn’t even speak to each other during their storied 1980s rivalry. Nowadays, there’s LeBron biking around with Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade in Beijing:

Lebron Gets His Bike On


Like LeBron, Generational Y’ers are more global and not as mad as our predecessors. YouTube and Facebook tend to keep us happy. And LeBron James is the perfect specimen for YouTube. There are 112,000 LeBron James videos on YouTube. (And this is the best one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=epwac8efNug). He drops the Akron Hammer Tomahawk jams mid-game, but he’ll get down for impromptu dance-offs with Shaq pre-game too:



So it’s only appropriate that Generation Y’s Mozart has a lion-dragon tattoo inked to his chest and is Eddie Murphy funny. LeBron shares Gen Y’s sleepy Facebook political activism, too. He’s not especially outspoken about anything, but he did donate money to Obama’s 2008 campaign. He took Jordan’s queue about not being political. He’ll give the most milquetoast sound-bytes on current events. LeBron James reps Nike’s, not Darfur.

*******


Thank God for the World Cup because besides that, SportsCenter will bombard us all summer with “Will Brett come back?” and “Will LeBron stay?”. LeBron can look to baseball for some pointers. Alex Rodriguez shows LeBron exactly what not to do. A-Roid took steroids for three years, cheated on his wife with a Toronto stripper, and is just generally a despicable human being. He’s merely a better Jose Canseco, a.k.a a juiced up slugger who dated Madonna. A-Roid chased the money out of town and did win a ring. But he couldn’t win a title by himself. He’ll always be the Ben Affleck to Derek Jeter’s Matt Damon—a punchline:



Then there’s Joe Mauer. It is impossible not to pull for Joe Mauer. He speaks like the guys from the “Fargo” movie, unwinds Sundays by mowing his lawn at his log cabin, and is only the greatest catcher since Johnny Bench. Joe Mauer spurned the Yankees and Red Sox to take a sizable hometown discount and stay with the Twins. It’s been hailed as a sign that small market teams can still keep their superstars. Joe Mauer singlehandedly saved Minneapolis tourism for the next 8 years.

Imagine you are LeBron James. You have five choices. Pick one:

a) LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS: LeBron going to the Clippers would be like Megan Fox marrying Donnie Wahlberg. Right house, definitely wrong brother.

SportsBook.com Odds: Clippers +1000

b) CHICAGO BULLS: Even President Obama is pitching his city of Chicago. And LeBron has never played with a point guard like Derek Rose. The odds-on favorite, but playing in Jordan’s House is not conducive to leaving Jordan’s shadow.

SportsBook.com Odds: Bulls +150

c) MIAMI HEAT: Welcome to Miami? Stephen A. Smith reported on his radio show and Twitter feed Monday LeBron James and Chris Bosh are committed to joining DWade. It is Stephen A. Smith, sure, but could you only imagine?

SportsBook.com Odds: Heat +600

d) STAY IN CLEVELAND: Home is where the heart is. And the Cavs are still a championship caliber team. But think Kevin Garnett.

SportsBook.com Odds: Cavaliers -150

e) NEW YORK: You will always be from Akron, but there is nothing like being King of New York. Ask your best friend Jay-Z. Then have a little chat with your buddy Dwyane Wade about coming too. What can you buy with $30 million a year max contract you can’t buy with $20 million? Besides, you and Mr. Wade would recoup it with interest when you bring NYC four straight NBA titles.

SportsBook.com Odds: Knicks +200

Via PBH: Being Lebron James In July 2010

Talking About Y Generation

June 11, 2010
Generation Y is sick, yo! We’re 70 million Americans strong, born between 1981 and 1992, and always have the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ back:



Ahhh Generation Y! Our best days start (and end) with Fruity Pebbles. Two 25 year old guys—LeBron “King” James and Mark “Thief” Zuckerberg—are the co-valedictorians of our class. We’re allergic to voicemail, addicted to texting, and checked Facebook twice in the time it took to read this sentence. And studios, if your action flicks don’t have at least three explosions, you’ll be lucky to get an illegal download from us guys. If that.

*****


We were first dubbed “Generation Y” in a 1993 editorial to distinguish us from Generation X (born between 1972 and 1980). It’s only fitting the piece ran in an “Ad Age” publication, because we are the most marketed-to-and-researched generation of all time. The problem is “Generation Y” is a dreadful name: a) it’s not original, b) it’s not clever, and c) it’s dead wrong.

You see, we are nothing like our Generation X brethren. Generation X grew up on MTV and is a little darker. And can you really blame them? Their childhood coincided with their parents’ 1970s Me Decade hedonism. Their best video game was Atari (1977).

No, Generation Y admires its grandparents the most, a.k.a. The Greatest Generation. It’s not hard to see why. Our grandparents were born into the Roaring 1920s. They languished through the Great Depression before years of war overseas battling Jew-hating madmen. Sound vaguely familiar?

But there are two glaring differences:

1) Our grandparents were more hardcore. When my grandfather was my age, he survived a kamikaze attack in the South Pacific and spent three days on a lifeboat alone with a gashing neck. (I go to the gym Thursdays. Sometimes…)

Ornery critics sneer that us Generation Y’ers are soft. That we were pampered too much as kids. We’ve been called the “Trophy Kids” because we were raised hearing “no one loses”. The Clint Eastwoods of the world have a point. When I was six years, I went an entire soccer season without even touching the ball in a game—even though I was starting midfielder. Yet I still won a trophy for “Team Spirit”. At youth swim meets, the winner got the blue ribbon, but even the fat kid who finished two minutes later got a maroon-colored ribbon just for finishing. (Trust me, I’ve got at least three collecting dust in an attic somewhere thanks to the 25 meter butterfly.)

I can tell my Dad worries that we take HBO’s “Entourage” too seriously. That we think fame and money will just happen. The reality is we don’t look like Vince (even though we’re already better actors), and we are facing years of hard work and “learning the craft”.

2) We got the sweetest toys ever. Our grandparents’ blockbuster new game growing up was … Monopoly (1935). Meanwhile, Generation Y has enjoyed the fruits and Apple of the exponential part of the technology curve. We’ve gone from blowing on “Super Mario 2” Nintendo cartridges to make them to work, to “The Sims”, to “Avatar” in 15 years.

However, this is not to say we were spared by the retail-ideas-so-dumb-they-are-brilliant department. Our aunts and uncles had the Pet Rock. We have the Snuggie:

Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt may have made the most prescient quote about our generation. The “Angels In The Outfield” kid turned brooding thespian noted, “This generation is going to blow away every generation ever. Because we’re the first ones with the Internet.” And as Social media and wine expert Gary Vaynerchuk pointed out, “The Internet is 15 years old. It hasn’t even had sex yet.” (Unless it is European.)

In translation, Mom, don’t even think about taking “World of Warcraft” away from us:



Generation Y is closing in on a quarter-century, and we’ve already seen our fair share of drama. Our “there is no Santa Claus” moment happened after Bill Clinton looked us in the eye and denied he had “sexual relations with that woman”. Learning Mark McGwire’s 1998 record homerun chase was fueled not by hard work but steroids was our “there is no Tooth Fairy” epiphany. Columbine was our more fatal Kent State. September 11th, our Pearl Harbor. No WMD’s in Iraq was our generation’s Watergate. The ultimate tragedy is 4,402 (and counting) of America’s bravest didn’t die after Nixon’s cover-up.

We see Barack Obama as one of us. He’s the cool professor. Obama’s rousing rhetoric, not being George W. Bush, and social media prowess awakened Generation Y’s sleepy political activism during the 2008 presidential campaign. We joined his Facebook group, donated money, and showed up at the polls in record numbers.

Once Obama got elected, however, we hit the snooze button again:

We still love Obama but disillusionment is starting to creep in. Change may be coming, but it’s glacially slow. Remember the iconic “Hope” poster that was a clarion call for fresh thinking? It was donated to a museum by a pair of lobbyists.

Obama Hope and Change


Deep down, we’re starting to think we missed the peak of the American Empire by 40 years. We quietly fear Afghanistan, “the graveyard of Empires”, is our Vietnam. Domestically, 15 months of filibustering and partisan infighting over health care reform reminded us why we hated politics in the first place. We don’t understand why “don’t ask, don’t tell” is still an issue. And don’t even get us started on Arizona:

No Mexicans No Burritos


Grown-ups I talk to are befuddled as to why we aren’t angrier. My Dad emails me gloomy Wall Street Journal articles enumerating the mountains of debt his Baby Boomers are putting on our tab. My dad laments that unpaid interns are conquering the world. He’s not alone. Economists whisper that, thanks to the protracted Great Recession, we are showing the symptoms of another Lost Generation. My school Dean Glenn Hubbard worries about Generation Y’s perniciously high unemployment rates (over 16% for 24-year-olds). He fears for twenty-somethings two years out of work can become virtually a “life-sentence”.

Despite all of the turmoil, us Generation Y’ers are still a bubbly bunch. Maybe we’re naïve. Maybe YouTube keeps us happy. Or maybe it’s that the world has doubted American generations since our Founding Fathers. And never before has the world seen a generation with our tolerance, creativity, and innovation. It won’t be easy. But I have no doubt we have the vitality and ambition to become the Sweetest Generation. And perhaps one day our grandchildren will marvel at our achievements against tall odds. Even if they never get our love for the “Jersey Shore.”

Via ProseBeforeHos: Talkin’ Bout Gen Y