The quality of athleticism was high. Three of the top players in the league, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwayne Wade, and Lebron James were featured. Role players piqued interest too, from Dallas' Jason Terry tattooing an image of a championship trophy on his bicep before the season started to Miami's Mario Chalmers, of fame from his NCAA heroics, making a name for himself on the sport's biggest stage. The series featured a set of games that were some of the closest ever in an NBA Finals series. Yet the 2011 NBA Finals will be remembered more as a morality play than a sporting event
Hemingway said, "there is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self." Lebron failed in this series because he could not be noble; he remained stagnant in his accomplishments on the court and in his continued lack of character off of it. As the confetti in Dallas begins to settle, it becomes clear the driving force behind public interest was whether James would win not on the court, but off of it.
As sports enthusiasts we appreciate talent, skill and the drive to win, regardless of an athlete's personal history. Fifty-five thousand in Yankee Stadium cheered on Josh Hamiton, a recovered drug addict, as he put on an unprecedented showcase of power at the Home Run Derby. Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan are idolized despite their personal wrongdoings. What is different about Lebron?
"All the people that were rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today," James said, "so they can get a few days or a few months or whatever the case may be on being happy about not only myself, but the Miami Heat not accomplishing their goal. But they got to get back to the real world at some point."James lost as a teammate on the court, but more importantly he lost as a man. His late game woes pale in comparison to his conduct outside of the game. There was no epiphany as he spoke about the series. No new found humility, only a pregame little league taunt at his opponent and a postgame jab at his critics. James' character remained stagnant. He sharply contrasted his Dallas counterpart, Dirk Nowitzki, a study of a Code Hero. Graceful under pressure, both as a winner in 2011 and as a loser in 2006.
The irony is deep down, we want Lebron to live up to his potential as an athlete. We want to see him succeed playing the game in a way we've never seen before -- it's our nature as sports enthusiasts. But the casual observer, the additional viewer who decided to tune in this year, searched for signs of grace under pressure when the game clock wasn't ticking, and ended up finding something as empty as the American Airlines Arena: a look of bewilderment between possessions, a lack of will in the final minutes, and an unchanged perspective on the microphone after the game.
Nowitzki and his teammates succeeded, both on the court and off of it, and they should be celebrated for their accomplishments. Outspoken owner Mark Cuban stayed out of the limelight, quietly observing with pride, knowing the magnitude of what his players had just done both as athletes and as gentlemen.
Mr. James is his own worst enemy. Less as a basketball player, and more as a man who refuses to evolve in spite of glaring flaws and an endless chorus of critics who point them out. We hope that he succeeds, both as a basketball player and as a man with such potential for greatness.