Symbolism is found everywhere we look and the world of sports is certainly no exception. The omnipotent presence of “Touchdown Jesus” provides a fitting backdrop for autumn afternoons in South Bend, while equally depicting the nexus between football and religion at the University of Notre Dame. The rival Wolverines, of the University of Michigan, still wear winged helmets, symbolic of their rich history and football tradition.
There are some less poignant examples, like why Michael Jordan wore #23 (his older brother Larry, wore 45, and MJ didn’t think he would be half as good: 45/2 = 22.5 rounded up = 23), and some more poignant -- like Mike Piazza’s go-ahead blast, on September 21st, 2001 (less than two weeks after the attacks on the WTC), which helped New York beat more than just the Atlanta Braves. It was emblematic of New York unity, the importance of belief and what’s possible when you bring them both together as one team (all of NY, and America, post 9/11).
It dawned on me last night (with about 9 minutes to go in Game 6 of the NBA Finals) that LeBron James’ headband was just another symbol -- a mere microcosm of the world of insecurity, LeBron James has been mired in ever since his “decision” to play in Miami. I understand this notion sounds silly, “what do you mean, it’s just a headband," but it’s not just a headband -- it’s more.
I mean, think about it. Why does LeBron wear that headband? To hide his hairline. You would too, if your hair (or lack thereof) was seemingly the punchline of every joke, meme and "SNL" skit known to man. So what’s the easiest way to avoid criticism? Well, when I was young and got bullied in elementary school (because my mom would pack “love you” notes in my brown bag lunch), I would hide in the coat rack and eat my Lunchables by myself -- hey, (in my mind) hiding was a better look than getting roasted. Yeah, hiding is always the easiest way out.
Flash back to the 2011 NBA Finals. Mavs vs. Heat. Dirk vs. LeBron. This was the match up a lot of NBA fans hoped for, pitting the crafty Dirk Nowitzki against the brute physical force of LeBron James. Ultimately, to the dismay of most, it was more like Dirk vs. “Whoever LeBron Passed To,” by the time the series came to an end. It was uncanny, LeBron literally disappeared on the world’s biggest stage.
It was no surprise where LeBron disappeared to. Any true basketball fan knew he was hiding, trying to be the guy who didn’t mess up, instead of being the guy who did go out and lead the way. I guess that fear’s only natural (when you leave your beloved hometown to play basketball with 2 superstars and win “8 rings”). You wouldn’t want to be that guy either. So what did we get? LeBron passing up good looks for passes to teammates. LeBron hiding.
With 9 minutes to go last night, LeBron’s headband fell off in the heat of competition. With 9 minutes to go, and the season on the line, LeBron couldn’t hide anymore. Liberation at last. What America saw was magnificent (and I’m not talking about his receding hairline). LeBron finally looked like he cared about winning -- and just winning. He finally realized that as a professional basketball player (and the best in the world), winning is all that matters. Not the jokes about his hair, not the fear of missing a shot, just winning -- and LeBron understood that he was his team’s best shot at extending its championship hopes.
In my opinion, once LeBron shed his headband, he shed every inhibition of criticism along with it. With his back against the wall, LeBron showed us just how dominant he can be -- headband or no headband. We saw a different beast, one that we thought we saw last Finals (against OKC), only to be trumped by his caliber of play in Game 6. LeBron is one of the most dominant players of all time. It’s about time he started playing like it.
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