Last night’s NBA Finals Game 7 was the first good game in what had been a really disappointing series full of blowouts and suspensions and superstars disappearing for long stretches of time. Cleveland was the least-bad when it counted and LeBron James took home his first non-All-Star-Team NBA Title. I understand that this was important both for LeBron and for the City of Cleveland for whom nothing had gone right since the Otto Graham era of Browns football (not counting the exploits of Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn in the movie Major League). I get that, and I didn’t really have a dog in the LeBron James vs. Steph Curry fight. Whatever. I just want to see a good game.
I also don’t consider myself a huge sports curmudgeon. I don’t care how many tattoos you have on your neck or how long your shorts are or what you wear to the arena. For that matter I don’t care how “precious” your traditional family is. That said, I was a little shocked by the minutes immediately following the Cleveland victory.
What happened was this: LeBron James rolling around on the floor crying by himself for a while. Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue sitting by himself on the bench, head-in-hands, crying by himself. Other Cavaliers doing some version of the same thing. Golden State Warriors players making their way up the tunnel.
I’ve been an athlete and a coach, and sometimes the hardest thing to do after a loss is shake the opponent’s hand. But after a game of this magnitude I guess I don’t understand the fact that there’s absolutely no impulse to walk across the floor and shake Steve Kerr’s hand. Or for LeBron to seek out Steph Curry for a brief post-game embrace. Or for the allegedly super-classy Curry to do the same thing.
For some context, consider Muhammad Ali, who nearly killed, and was nearly killed-by, Joe Frazier. After the Ali-Frazier bloodbaths, a post-fight embrace was customary. It conveyed the idea that “although I was just trying to kill you, I have the utmost respect for you and for the battle we were just in.” It is saying, essentially, “I appreciate what you do and I wish you well.”
The fact that it occurred to absolutely nobody to do this last night is distressing to me. Even Mike Tyson, known for quick, savage knockouts, and a defcon level of “crazy,” always had a post-fight embrace for his opponent.
I’m not trying to harken back to a simpler time, because I know that there was no simpler time. There’s nothing new under the sun. Otto Graham and Jim Brown and Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn all had egos and were all sinners. But I’ve spent nearly two decades trying to “sell” my wife on sports, based on things like teamwork and camaraderie and mutual respect, except that none of those things were on display last night at the highest level of sport. Even she noticed how sad it was that Lue was having his cry alone.
It’s no secret that we live in an increasingly narcissistic and isolated world where events seem to happen only so that they can be immortalized on a person’s Instagram account. But what was weird about last night is that it seemed like you had a dozen “winners,” all of whom had narratives and agendas that were unfolding completely independently of their teammates and opponents. A dozen sad little islands of ego.