Champ with no character

TO THE QUICK - Jerry Tundag (The Freeman) - June 27, 2016 - 12:00am

Let me say the good things I can say about Lebron James first. Lebron is a great basketball player, probably the best of his generation. He handles the ball well and is an excellent outside shooter. He can power himself to the basket and is a great finisher. He can block and is hard to stop on a fastbreak. He is someone everyone would want on his team.

But the man does not have character, or at least the character of a true champion. When Lebron emerged from the plane back in Cleveland after dethroning Golden State in their own court, he was wearing a Warriors T-shirt. He had to rub it in. He did not have it in him to be magnanimous in victory. He just did not have the class act of a true champion.

To paraphrase a saying: "You can take the man out of the inner city. But you cannot take the inner city out of the man." Lebron was born in the depressed area of Akron, Ohio near Cleveland to a 16-year-old single mother who had to give him up to a family who can ensure him a better shot at life. Such difficult circumstances sometimes produce great men of character. But sometimes they don't.

Many people find it as easy to be awed by his sheer greatness at play as it is to hate him because of his arrogance. How maddening it is to see him shove his teeth into the face of an opponent whose shot he has just destroyed with an explosive block, glowering at him as if he had not seen anything more puny, helpless and ready to eat. If only he does not wipe out his displays of superb skill and art with an unrestrained display of crassness that serves to demean instead of elevate.

Nobody can challenge Lebron in virtually all aspects of the game. Why the need to impose that fact can only hark back to some dark insecurities from his past that no amount of recognition and accolade can manage to rein in. When Lebron stepped over a fallen Draymond Green, that was not a Manny Pacquiao motioning to the referee to do something about his beating of Antonio Margarito. It was a Mike Tyson biting off a piece of the ear of Evander Holyfield.

Pacquiao comes from more or less the same background of poverty and deprivation as Lebron. And both have risen to the top of their games and became great champions. But Pacquiao does not step over fallen enemies or shoves his face to demean and insult oppenents. Pacquiao helps them up and eventually makes them his good friends. Pacquiao is clearly a better class act as a champion than Lebron.

Gabriel Malagar, a former sports writer of The Freeman, has more character than Lebron. Unlike Lebron, whose loyalty to a team is only as strong as that team's chances to win a championship, Gabby never abandoned the team he rooted for in the NBA. Starting with Seattle, where he had cousins who introduced him to the Sonics with gifts of T-shirts and caps, Gabby went with the team even when an ownership shift took it to Oklahoma.

In the best and worst of times, to the point of sometimes losing his pants in disastrous bets, Gabby kept the faith in his Seattle/Oklahoma. Let it not be forgotten, on the other hand, that Lebron left Cleveland when it became untenable for his championship desires to stay. He moved to Miami which had given him his best opportunity for a title.

And there he did win, not just one title but two, until a bunch of aging veterans from San Antonio frustrated his bid for a third. Realizing that Miami was also aging, Lebron started to redesign again his future and wound back up at Cleveland where, upon arrival, he roared "I am back" as if his wrinkled yesterday was all that easy to forget. But forget they must, the hungry Cleveland fans who, with no sports championship in more than half a century, are only too happy to have him back.

And yes, Lebron did finally end Cleveland's championship drought. He brought home the NBA title. Not only that, he set personal and league records that will be very difficult to match, much less break. That no team had previously come back from 1-3 to win the title is due largely to Lebron. That is how great a player he is. That is why he is on top of the basketball world. As to having the character of a true champion, however, Lebron would still be in kindergarten.

Am I sour-graping? No. I rooted for the Warriors only because I cannot be with a team that has Lebron in it. In sports as it is in life, it is not the title held aloft that means anything but the character upon which was built the struggle to attain it. My team is San Antonio, long built around the venerable Tim Duncan, a true champion, with or without a title.

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