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Sympathy for the devil (LeBron)

Congratulations to the Dallas Mavericks for winning the National Basketball Association finals last night. It was a riveting series, nearly every game a close one.

This morning I woke to hear all the sports pundits saying that the Mavericks' win over the Miami Heat showed the value of the collective over the individual, of the regular guys over the superstars. That's all going too far.

Like most fans, I found the LeBron James "Decision" circus last summer a real turn-off (and said so at the time - see here). Yes, the "not six... not seven" championships statement was dumb. I found myself on the bandwagon rooting against the Heat (as Dwayne Wade said, all you need to do is re-arrange the letters to spell "hate").

But all of the media attacks on LeBron had the reverse effect of making him more sympathetic (at least in my eyes). The media made the whole NBA season to be all about him. This was an exciting finals series between two teams, and yet all we read about was that it would be vindication or not for LeBron's move to Miami. His every move in the finals was scrutinized, he was heavily criticized when his scoring lulled (especially if in the fourth quarter) and there was unconcealed glee whenever he appeared to not be god-like.

But the reality is more complex than the simplistic media narrative allows. For a start, James, Wade, Bosh & Co. had an excellent season - they came this close to taking home the trophy.  And James performed really well in the finals, and the fact remains that every team in the league would love to have him. At the start of the season they were effectively crowned champions by the pundits, and then the same media crucified them when they stumbled while learning to play together. Most importantly, they did everything great basketball teams do: they defended, they rebounded, they passed the ball, they hustled. They were not just a bunch of pampered superstars. James in particular was clearly a team player (and, if anything, sometimes too unselfish).

On the other hand, the idea that the Mavericks were just lunch pail guys putting in a day's work was also ridiculous: they had one of the game's top stars in Dirk Nowitzski, and Jason Kidd and Jason Terry are no slouches either.

The finals did not prove that a multi-star system doesn't work: it can with the right players who play as a team. And the multi-star approach won't with the wrong ones who don't play together- see, for example, the dysfunctional Knicks and their boring style of giving Amar Stoudemire or Carmelo Anthony a one-on-one isolation while the other four guys stand around.  

I predict LeBron will be back in a big way next year. I wouldn't want to stand in his way.

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