Just do it, LeBron.
Trust, I’m not even coming at you on some “Give the fans what they want!” angle. Even in a climate where fans are tight with their money, your team fills arenas wherever you travel. Last time I checked, you have the second highest-selling jersey in the NBA. You’re pretty much a lock to start every All-Star Game for the rest of your career. And it’s not just because you’ve been dominating, but also because you’ve made an effort to be entertaining at the same time. In other words, you’re already giving the fans what they want, perhaps more than any other athlete in the world. So I understand why committing to an ultimately meaningless dunk contest during an already hectic All-Star Weekend seems entirely unnecessary.
So this isn’t about the fans. This is about reclaiming your voice.
“I’m myself. I don’t change for nobody,” you told me for your cover feature in Dime #47, just about one year ago. “I don’t change for Nike, I don’t change for the Cavs. I don’t change for the NBA.”
Of course. Like any grown man, you don’t want anybody talking for you, making decisions for you. If you did, public pressure alone would have had you dunking for the trophy in like ’05. But lately, a lot of people have been putting a lot of words in your mouth. They’ve convinced the general public that you haven’t done the dunk contest because you’re scared to lose. That you weighed the risk/reward of getting beat by some rookie or some no-name Fred Jones-type and decided it would be too damaging to the aura of LeBron James. That’s what they say you’re saying, and people believe it. Tack on last summer’s “dunk tape” incident, and it only becomes more believable.
Most of us know you didn’t personally order any tapes confiscated; and we know why you didn’t want to shake hands in Orlando; and we know you’re not worried about losing in an exhibition dunk contest. But every year that goes by where you don’t compete, everybody else’s reasons for why you won’t compete will begin to set in as widely-accepted truth.
In case you did have some trepidation, don’t worry. While it might seem a little late in the game to do something that Kobe got out of the way as a rookie and Mike did when he still had hair, you’re only 25 years old. Dominique was still in the dunk contest at 28, 29 years old. Doctor J was there right until the end of his career. And even if you do lose? No problem. Jordan, ‘Nique and Doc all lost. Dwight Howard has lost twice, but remains more appreciated for competing than he is ever ridiculed for losing.
Besides, we all saw the McDonald’s All-American high school contest. So long as your jump high and dunk hard, the trophy is basically yours. Think it’s too late? Please. You tell whoever needs to know that you want in, and I guarantee Gerald Wallace comes up with a convenient sore hamstring in no time. The League will make it happen.
I’m not saying you need to compete for the sake of your image — you could continually say Eff ‘Em from here on out and still be exalted as the greatest thing since turkey bacon — but it would do something to re-establish the fact that you are calling your own shots. Theories keep surfacing as to why LeBron doesn’t want to dunk; theories argued loud enough by everybody else that people listen. What’s been missing is your voice.
If there was ever a time to make a statement dunk, this is it.