So LeBron James didn't look like he was having fun Tuesday night, is that the conventional wisdom after one game? Too much pressure? Too much at stake? Too much risked in search of a joyless championship?
Well, those are the risks you run when you want to eat a planet. You can't be the guy who looks like he's having fun. You have to be as grim as Galactus, the comic book villain. You have to be the flint-hearted adult. You learn that glory is something that can only be given you by others, and when you find out you're not doing it for glory, then it's business.
|Some days at the office are going to be better than others for LeBron James. (AP)|
But let's look at this another way, namely, the only way that actually makes sense as opposed to what makes superficial sense to the punditocracy. James already got the glory, and did so without having to actually produce a championship. He became the icon of an entire league simply by being The Next Big Thing as opposed to winning a great big ring. And with all due respect to Magic Johnson, who was happy as hell when he was on the Lakers team that won in 1980, his rookie year, this is the more normal progression for your standard superduperstar. There is still the waiting period for true and enduring greatness. The glory is the easy part. The ring comes at a cost.
That cost is innocence. Rings aren't won by one glory-soaked player, but with the help of those who have learned the backhand of the business, and who have adapted to the compromises one makes for the ring. Some have left the world of stardom and become vital specialists. Some are just good practice players and the grease in the locker room. Some live with being ancillary stars but never the go-to guy.
But you need them all to win the ring, and the quest for glory actually gets in the way. You can't seek glory. It finds you. It found LeBron, and he decided he wanted more.
And that's where the fun went.
He is 25, a fun age for most. But he's been playing in the league for seven years, which makes him nearly a 30-year-old. He has felt his first really hard backlash from the nation that iconized him, and he has found out that since the nation and its tastemakers are the ones who dispense the glory, they can also take it away and use it as a clawhammer.
And this was inevitable. There is a point where you can no longer be the man-child. You have to be the man, and men play by harsher rules and harsher standards. James jacked up the price of poker with the offseason decisions he made and the way he chose to reveal them, and when there's that much in the middle of the table, people get grim.
And that's where the fun went.
Now he is about to find out that assembling a Rat Pack of stars isn't the same as making an epic movie. Much is demanded, and more each day. The joy of winning is the burden of winning, and the fear of not winning becomes an all-consuming hell.
James is playing for different stakes now, pure and simple. And that's where the fun went, too.
So never mind fun, and never mind looking for it in LeBron James. He made an adult's decision over the summer, and he lives with the adult consequences every day between now and June. Nothing wrong with it, really -- just the price of doing business.
And fun? Fun's got nothing to do with it. Not everybody is Magic Johnson -- that's why they call it magic. For the rest of the ballplaying world, it's work. Highly paid, rarefied-air work, but work nonetheless.
And that's where the fun went, too.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.