I think when Tiger Woods wakes up in the middle of the night, he's reflecting on a lot of things. He looks back at all the poor performances in recent years, all the lost opportunities at majors, the loss of his family, the loss of half his fortune. He has a lot to think about, a lot to reflect on. What happened on Thanksgiving with the car crash was one of many things he no doubts regrets.
How weird it must be then to be LeBron James, to wake up every day and realize that the rest of his life will forever be based on what he did in a 24-hour period two years ago. James has said some things that have required clarification, and to be sure, he's come up small in big situations several times. But he's a model citizen, he's never been arrested, he sacrificed money to go to Miami -- he makes less per year than Joe Johnson -- and he may just be one of the five greatest basketball players who ever lived.
And yet, he just can't escape what he did two years ago. First it was The Decision, then it was the celebration ceremony in Miami, where he rose onto a stage and imagined his Miami Heat winning five, six or seven championships. No athlete in modern history has faced a tougher road to vindication than LeBron. Most of the time, the monkey of being a choker or a perennial loser is lifted off an athlete's back the moment they win a championship, and they never have to win more than one. It's how Alex Rodriguez, Peyton Manning and Phil Mickelson stopped being seen as chokers.
No so for LeBron, who truly cannot win no matter what the Heat do in Game 7 against Boston and possibly in the NBA Finals. James was perceived to have taken the easy way out when he joined with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. If he wins a title, it means nothing until he's matched Kobe's five rings or Jordan's six rings or at least approaches the expectations he himself pronounced two years ago. He'll actually have to win five, or six, or seven before he can be acknowledged as an all-time great, otherwise analysts will forever view LeBron as an underperformer, the same way Greg Maddux "only" won one ring, and Peyton Manning "only" won one ring. Even if he gets a couple, the wins will be discounted because it's what he's supposed to do. No one is going to gawk in amazement if the Miami Heat and their three superstars get a championship. It's only impressive if they make a dynasty out of it.
That's the crazy thing with LeBron: he's always fighting an up-hill battle. Take yesterday for example, when he scored 45 points and single-handedly carried Miami to victory in Game 6 with unquestionably one of the greatest performances in playoff history. That game alone would solidify any other basketball player as a big-game performer, but LeBron still needs to be great in Game 7, and then be great in the Finals and win that too. He's being punished by the sports media, who decided to take his pronouncement two years ago literally and who relish the opportunity to savage him at every opportunity. Somehow we can forgive Roethlisberger and Woods and Vick, but what LeBron did refuses to die. Yeah, how he behaved two years ago was pompous and arrogant. But there comes a point when he have to let it go. We have to stop comparing him to Jordan, and comparing the Heat to a seven-time champion, and just embrace the fact that he is a spectacular athlete whose crimes, in the greater scheme of things, are trifling.
What matters is that he's the best player in the league by a mile, and he showed it in Game 6. But every game he plays seems to be a set-up for people to point at him and go, "Ah-hah!" The crazy thing with LeBron is that he just put up the greatest performance ever that means absolutely nothing, because if the Heat do lose Game 7, no one will remember anything he did outside of losing. They'll forget that he carried Miami, that his numbers over the last two series stack up next to the greatest playoff performances ever. And all because of a few really, really, really unfortunate statements he made on national TV two years ago.