It is hard to work up much pity (or any) for a man making $153.3 million on a four-year contract to play basketball.
So what we seem to be feeling instead is closer to morbid delight in watching LeBron James’ woes in his unraveling first season as a Los Angeles Laker. It is different. It is weird.
America has known LeBron for half of his life, since he was a teenage phenom whose high-school games were nationally televised. He is 34 now, and we are seeing something new, something not seen before.
We are seeing him fail.
Seeing him palpably frustrated in his own inability to lift what’s around him.
After 13 consecutive playoff appearances — including eight straight NBA Finals and three championships — LeBron is all but assured of missing the postseason for the first time since 2005. and of playing on a losing team for the first time since the season before that, his rookie year.
There is a particular fascination, though, in watching all-time greats try to recover something they’ve lost. Try to fend off age and circumstance when they find that the career-long front-running King is suddenly the underdog you might even find new reasons to root for.
In golf we wonder if Tiger Woods, at age 42 and almost 11 years past his last major win, has one more in him? (Or two?)
Miami spent how long looking for Dan Marino’s last hurrah? Waiting for what never came?
It has very quickly become something similar now with LeBron.
The doubters are multiplying. The undertakers who would bury him.
Can he prove them all wrong? Or will the last of LeBron’s prime run away from him in the midst of a move to L.A. that threatens to stick an ugly, buzz-kill epilogue on a fantastic career.
His legacy is in play only to a limited degree. If the choice of L.A. continues a failure it will be but a footnote on his career. However, it would have stopped whatever minor progress James had been making vs. Michael Jordan in the ultimate G.O.A.T. race. (Jordan’s basketball legacy survived a year in baseball, three years retired and then a late comeback with Washington. LeBron’s would survive a Lakers chapter that disappointed).
More than that, it is too soon to write off LeBron or the chances he’ll find success in L.A. before he’s through.
L..A. was beginning to come together before LeBron was injured on Christmas Day and missed 18 games. The failed pursuit of Anthony Davis in a trade was demoralizing, and seen as a personal defeat for LeBron. The roster lacks shooters to space the floor for James. Coach Luke Walton and GM Rob Pelinka both could be headed out.
What if, though.What if LeBron can lure Kyrie Irving from Boston in free agency this summer? What is the talks to acquire Davis rekindle? What if the Lakers get lucky on a lottery draft pick?
Yes, LeBron venturing into the rugged West to join the Lakers looks like a mistake, now.
But the man has given us a whole career of reasons to believe he won’t be going out like this.