Everyday, LeBron James wakes up with something big and ugly staring him in the face — a bare finger with no championship ring on it.
Now in the ninth season of his career, the quest for the Golden Ring probably feels more like Captain Ahab’s hunt for the White Whale than winning a few games of basketball.
His ringless finger is the monomaniac captain’s wooden leg.
Monomaniac: exaggerated or obsessive enthusiasm and preoccupation with one thing. It means being consumed by a single idea. It’s what drove Ahab to become nuttier than squirrel crap. It’s what ultimately killed him and his crew on the Pequod.
In some sense, this is what the NBA Championship has turned into for James. An elusive monster he’s been chasing for nine years. The difference between James and Ahab is that the monster didn’t spring from James' mind, it sprung from ours. We keep the White Whale alive everyday in sports talk shows and columns.
“When is LeBron going to win a championship? When is LeBron going to win a championship? When is LeBron going to win a championship?” We’re like the kid in the backseat who keeps asking his parents every five minues, “Are we there yet?”
James’ hasn’t won a championship because he’s been trying to win it for everyone else. The year he finally accomplishes it (in a column I wrote in February, I predicted it would be this year) will be the year he looks in the mirror before every playoff game and says, “I’m going to go out and play the game of basketball in a way that the man looking at me will be satisfied with.”
The adoption of that mentality is the only way for James to make winning a championship an adventure and not a torturous burden. He needs to stop making it feel like a quest to Mordor to banish all evil ("Lord of the Rings"), and start making it a road trip to Disneyland.
He needs to trust that he is the greatest basketball player in the world right now and that the hard work and team-first mentality he has always played with will lead him to a result he is satisfied with.
In a healthy way, James needs to be OK with not winning a championship. He needs to be OK with missing game winning, career-defining shots. He will not make it to a championship until he can let those losses go.
We have driven James to think that winning an NBA title is the only way for him to feel validated as a human being. The problem is, when you play the game with that kind of pressure, you play on a court made of eggshells instead of hardwood. When you play the game feeling like you have to be God on the basketball court, you become overwhelmed with how overtly human you are.
We compare LeBron James to Michael Jordan by how many championship rings each one has. But at the end of the day, a true fan will ultimately cheer for their beloved sports figure’s life, not his career. At the end of the day, I want James to become a good person more than I want him to become a great basketball player.
Jordan won a lot of championships, but at what cost to his relationships with himself and the important people in his life? I’d rather have a ringless James that goes home at night to a loving family than one with a lot of rings and an empty house. That’s not to say I wouldn’t mind seeing him have both.