I live in Cleveland, where LeBron James has been thrilling basketball fans this season with clutch three-pointers and on-court athleticism that is unmatched in the game. The King’s greatness is as blinding as it rare. There hasn’t been a player like LeBron since Michael Jordan and there likely won’t be another player like him for decades (at least until his son makes it to the NBA). All of which makes it extraordinarily odd that my children have never seen him play — a situation which is entirely my fault.
It’s slowly dawning on me that I may have inadvertently placed myself in a sports-related moral crisis. I’m beginning to feel like I have an obligation to ensure my kid has a chance to see LeBron play. Not only should my boy experience the wonder of King James, he should feel like he participated in this specific moment in history in the city he’s growing up in.
I was never a sports guy. I was more of a poetry guy, embodying all of the groan-inducing stereotypes that image conjures. Until I became a father and moved to a major sports market on the edge of Lake Erie, I didn’t even allow my kids’ burgeoning fandom to blossom. But it’s good for them and helps them bond with others. Also, I don’t have anything against sports per se. I’m just not excitable in that regard.
Still, there are phenomena that are difficult for even me to ignore.
I’ll now admit being an earnest Cleveland Indians fan and an ironic Cleveland Browns fan. I’ll happily get drunk at friends’ houses while watching the Brownies lose and I try to get my kid to the ballpark at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario about once a year. But, for some reason, an interest in the Cavaliers never stuck.
To be fair, when I moved to the Cleveland, the Cavs were still a struggling franchise with a prodigal messiah and three years away from championship relief. The Decision still weighed on the city. I was a budding baseball fan and I knew at least something about football. I decided my family would root for the Indians and backburner the Cavs (bad decision) and Browns (exceedingly good decision). Then Lebron came back and I stuck with my plan.
If that sounds like half an excuse, that’s because it is. Here’s the rest: I don’t know shit about basketball and feel shame about that fact. I couldn’t tell you what a point guard does. I have no idea what a “post” is. I can’t tell zone from a man-to-man defense. While my friends, fellow dads all, talk about trades and stats and strategy, I smile and nod my head stupidly with nothing to add.
I was fine with all of this until two things happened: LeBron led the Cavs to the Championship win and my son entered first grade. The first of these two occurrences is important because it helped me understand just how extraordinary James is. Regardless of whether or not I know anything about the game, his athleticism and skill is something to be admired.
The fact that my child is now in first grade means that he’s suddenly exposed to other 7-year-olds who are as fanatical about the Cavs as they are about Pokemon. Also, he’s being educated in a school system intent on boosting civic pride with wine-and-gold spirit days and classroom sports trivia contests which my child has zero hope of winning.
The fact that my son is clueless when it comes to his friends’ basketball hero is a specific failure on my part as a dad. By not engaging in the current cultural moment in my city, I’m pretty sure I’m robbing him of a meaningful experience. Watching LeBron play today is — if I understand this thing correctly — akin to watching Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel. He is great in the biggest sense of the world and ours in the Cleveland sense of the word.
I hear people saying, “So turn on the TV, you doofus.” That would be an easy fix if we weren’t cord-cutters. And we don’t have an antenna to pick up games on the local channels. Sure, more excuses.
So, I’ve realized that as a parent, I’m the gatekeeper of my child’s experience. That has mattered to me before. I took him on a crazy two-day road-trip to Kentucky just to see the sun slip into eclipse for four minutes. How much easier would it be to get him in front of a game to see 48 minutes of play that is just as rare and spectacular?
I obviously understand the power of the rare and spectacular moment. In all other areas of my life, I am keen to chase them with my family. We’ll go out of our way to have a unique experience at an incredible sight. And, in all honesty, I should put LeBron in a level of Ohio experiences that is at least as incredible as, say, having a picnic in front of the world’s largest picnic basket.
That’s why I’m spending the next few hours being distracted by online ticket sales. The Cavs are in the playoffs again, and there’s a rumor that LeBron won’t be coming back next season. So I better get the kid to a game. Not only to make up for being a terrible sports dad, but to also give him a chance to see the greatest of all time in action.