Love him or not, LeBron will rule

OPINION

  • LeBron James
LeBron James (Getty Images )
June 24, 2012|By Stephen Markley, For RedEye

In all the ink and bytes being spilled over LeBron James and his first NBA championship, it feels like no one has acknowledged that the sheer outpouring of opinion is the answer to the question itself: Yes, LeBron James is going to be the most iconic basketball player ever.

When I say "iconic," I'm talking about the ephemeral combination of narrative and talent. Besides that, will he also be the best of all time when he leaves?

Probably.

I know, I know: six rings, The Shot, the flu game, whine, piss, moan. Don't worry, Bulls fans, that was as hard for me to say as it was for you to hear.

I'm a Cavs fan, and I had to watch the guy I grew up playing down the highway from, who was supposed to be the savior of one of America's most beleaguered sports towns, walk away. When he left, it sports-shattered my sports-heart.

To this day I still have not watched "The Decision," and I likely never will. Watching the postgame celebration after the Miami Heat won the championship Thursday vacillated between nauseating and riding-the-"L"-to-work-hung-over-with-the-air-conditioning-conked-out-when-the-guy-next-to-you-burps-and-it-smells-like-curdled-milk.

If it would ensure LeBron would never win a championship, I'd gladly give back my all-time greatest sports performance, when I dropped 19 points in a JV game (including three straight 3s in the first quarter—no humblebrag, just brag!).

History is always hard to see as it's being written. Whether you're a basketball nerd and pay attention only to basketball nerd stuff like "player efficiency rating" or simply want to count rings, it stands to reason that LeBron at age 27 will put together a string of seasons that rival or surpass anything Michael, Wilt, Oscar, Magic or Bird managed.

Winning a Jordanesque six rings seems eminently possible, while I would be shocked if he totaled fewer than four (and don't even give me the Dwyane Wade argument; Jordan had Pippen, a top 50 all-time player and—without getting into an esoteric B.J. Armstrong vs. Mario Chalmers debate—each of those six rings was won with a better team than James has yet had at his disposal).

Yet the controversy of "The Decision" itself coupled with the bogus, simplistic and uninteresting redemption storyline of this year's finals versus last year's (he played better in one than the other, and ESPN writes about it like it's frigging "Rudy") will only play into the narrative. As teammate Shane Battier pointed out, LeBron is the first true superstar of the 24-hour social media age, which, along with his polarizing celebrity, will only act to cement his status and further his legend. Therefore, he's an icon who will almost certainly live up to the hype.

The only comfort I can take is that sports heroism is inherently impermanent. All legends fade, all heroics become bedtime stories, all spectacle looks weirdly slow-motion and grainy when you watch them two decades later.

Except for my 19-point sophomore firestorm. That [bleep] will live forever.

REDEYE SPECIAL CONTRIBUTOR STEPHEN MARKLEY IS THE AUTHOR OF "PUBLISH THIS BOOK." REDEYECHICAGO.COM/MARKLEY

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