I’m not from Cleveland. Basketball isn’t even my favorite sport. Watching game seven of the NBA finals was still an amazing experience.
Who but a Californian could not be thrilled for LeBron James and the people of Cleveland? God bless America. What a great, historic moment for American sports.
Can Sports Save America?
LeBron’s enchanted evening got me wondering. Are sports the last truly great thing about America? In these benighted times, I’m starting to think sports are the only thing in our nation that’s still working.
That’s ironic, because I was always told that sports were basically the worst thing about America. Growing up in progressive public schools, I heard a lot of speeches about the evils of sports-worship. Athletes were overpaid, attention-seeking prima donnas. How could they be suitable role models for young children? Why wasn’t that money going to education? Also, we should be getting excited about consequential things, like political activism, instead of gawking at men with muscles. The list of gripes seemed endless.
In universities it’s even worse. Liberal academics love to complain about sports teams guzzling all the attention and resources. It kills them when the athletes get shiny new stadiums and training facilities while they’re still begging someone to fix the thermostat in their office.
Here’s the thing, though: athletics departments offer something people actually want. How many English departments can say that nowadays?
It’s ironic that my schoolteachers were so down on sports heroes, because I grew up in Colorado in the ’80s and ’90s, when nearly every little boy had a treasured No. 7 Broncos jersey somewhere in his T-shirt drawer. Perhaps a mere man could never truly justify that level of adulation, but John Elway gave it the old school try.
As for political activism, I think Cleveland paints an instructive picture this year. Even as activists lay plans to drag the city into a quagmire of racial tension and class conflict, an overpaid, hotshot athlete just gave the city a moment of solidarity and healing that will be remembered for decades to come.
Sports Show Us Shame and Redemption
Of course, the sports world isn’t always covered in glory. Steroids have for some time threatened the integrity of baseball, as the concussion issue casts a shadow over the NFL (which also happens to be a loathsome organization, a perfect blend of political cowardice and corporate greed). Transgenderism threatens to turn the Olympics into a farce, and Brock Turner reminds us that some athletes really are just jerks.
Sports offer opportunities for redemption, though. Like any good sports story, LeBron’s tale has had its share of dramatic tension. His departure from Cleveland in 2010 was bitter. Miami gave him everything an athlete was supposed to want, and on the level of spectacle, the Heat left little to be desired. Still, it all left a sour taste in our mouths. Clearly, he tasted it, too.
His return electrified the sports world. This never happens anymore. While college sports still allow athletes to retain some regional ties, professional sports leagues are little socialist consortiums that expect athletes to check their personal connections at the door. Athletes get their perquisites, but only a superstar at the absolute top of his game could just decide to go back home. It’s not a priority for most top-notch athletes, anyhow.
It was for LeBron. Miami apparently helped him realize he didn’t just want to win. He wanted to win for Cleveland.
It seemed like a long shot. He returned to a flailing Cavaliers team, and the Golden State Warriors quickly assumed a commanding position at the top of the NBA. An athlete in his thirties knows he can only stay on top for so long. Cleveland has been disappointed so many times, losing feels like a law of nature to them.
Apparently it isn’t.
America the Beautiful
Can I just point out that James has now done what our political class has catastrophically failed to do? He pulled us out of our couch-bound slumps and brought us to our feet. He made us feel proud to be Americans again. At least for a few hours, the differences of race and class that today seem more divisive than ever suddenly seemed much less significant.
Those damn prima donna athletes and their infernal attention-seeking.
Why do sports manage to retain some measure of excellence as the rest of the world burns? There are reasons. Because they are rule-bound, sports have their own internal protections against the corruption and sectarianism. Even corrupt and cowardly professional corporations can’t totally destroy the discipline that naturally drives team sports. Also, sports take their structure from the same “little platoons” that ideally should underlie American government. It’s no accident that some of the world’s best sports come from the same regions of the world that generated American political ideals of limited government and self-rule.
Our political system, though, is drowning in corruption and vice. Meanwhile, professional athletes keep giving us reasons to believe. Save us, LeBron James. You’re our only hope.