Monday, June 13, 2011

Upset with LeBron James? Blame Zack Morris

Congratulations. LeBron James didn't win an NBA championship. This was the outcome you were hoping for, wasn't it? You haven't viewed him in quite the same way since he took his talents to South Beach. You mocked him. You ridiculed him. Most of all, you wished he would fail. And sure enough, in the most important games of his career, LeBron failed.

(I'm assuming you rooted against LeBron. I base that assumption on my Twitter feed, which was overwhelmed with "Take that, LeBron!" jokes after he lost the sixth and final game on Sunday night. Twitter is always an accurate barometer of how America is feeling at any given moment.)

That a person such as LeBron could engender so much animosity is fascinating to me. He left his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, to play with his buddies in Miami. He did so in a very peculiar and ill-advised manner, to be sure. He didn't need to rub salt in Cleveland fans' wounds by making his announcement on TV. (Though I don't recall there being an uproar when Drew Carey chose to work elsewhere.) But is he a bad person, deserving of our scorn? No, probably not.

I've thought a lot in the last two weeks about what could've possibly caused LeBron to make one questionable PR move after another. He had endeared himself to fans with his easygoing personality, his apparent loyalty to his home state, and, of course, his talents. Why embarrass the Cavaliers? Why go through with The Decision? Why participate in a way-over-the-top pep rally? Why make fun of Dirk Nowitzki's illness while in the midst of a semi-collapse in the biggest series of your career? Why tell all of your detractors after the elimination game they need to "get back to the real world at some point"?

It would be easy to blame his handlers, who advised him at the least on The Decision, which will continue to sully LeBron's reputation until if/when he wins a championship. No, I believe LeBron's blissful ignorance can be traced back to his childhood. I don't know LeBron personally, and I'm not a psychiatrist, but his behavior seems awfully familiar to me. I once knew another man who acted just as LeBron has. He was popular, self-assured, athletic. He had it all. But much like LeBron, he nearly derailed his own career with a series of unfortunate missteps.

His name: Zack Morris. And I believe his antics have shaped LeBron into the person he's become.

I have no proof that LeBron is a Saved by the Bell fan, but it stands to reason that he watched Saved by the Bell as a kid. He is 26 years old, meaning he was between the ages of 7 and 8 when the series ended. And it airs for two hours every day on TBS, so he's had ample opportunity to catch up on whichever episodes he missed. How could he not have watched Saved by the Bell? It was the sitcom that defined a generation. (Not quite true, but it has grown in popularity in the last 20 years. I really believe that. Why else would TNT give Mark-Paul Gosselaar a new legal drama every year?)

There are so many parallels that can be drawn between Zack's time in school and LeBron's NBA career to date. Need convincing? Here are the cold, hard facts:

-- LeBron left his home state, Ohio, for Florida and a chance to be surrounded by better teammates. Zack left his home state, Indiana, where he attended middle school, to be surrounded by a better cast. I say this with all due respect to Miss Bliss, Mikey and Nikki. But to be fair, in that trade, we, the fans, received Miss Simpson, Jessie and Kelly. It was the most lopsided swap of the late 1980s, ahead of the Herschel Walker trade.

-- LeBron announced his departure from the Cavaliers in a widely ridiculed TV special. Zack announced his departure from John F. Kennedy Junior High School in Indiana in a widely ridiculed TV special. OK, I made that up. But NBC really missed the boat here. I would've watched, as I watched anything on TNBC, no matter how far-fetched the premise. TNBC actually had me convinced for a few years that California Dreams could've become the 1990s' answer to The Monkees and had a successful recording career. In any event, Zack did not have a Decision, though I would've really liked to have seen Jim Gray ask him whether he bites his nails.

-- LeBron took his talents to South Beach. Zack took his talents to Southern California. And he had many talents, more than LeBron has now. Zack was a star in multiple sports, a member of the glee club, a radio disc jockey, a member of a trivia team, an employee at a beach club, a finalist in a school song contest, a member of a teen line (twice) and a Good Samaritan to a pretty homeless girl.

-- LeBron is supremely confident, as confirmed by the fact that he's openly discussed his "talents." Zack is supremely confident, as confirmed by the fact that he inserted a subliminal message into an audio cassette in which he described himself as "great looking," "smart," "funny," "a 10," "perfect in every way," and a "blond Tom Cruise." I firmly believe that LeBron listened to a Bo Revere tape with his own subliminal messages on the day of The Decision.

-- Not long after The Decision, LeBron and his new teammates, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, were met by thousands of fans in Miami at a pep rally. Zack and his new friends at Bayside were the focus of many, many unnecessary pep rallies at The Max.

-- Zack once dreamed that he was a singer and performed in front of a big crowd. LeBron once dreamed that he could pull off pretending to be a singer and performing in front of a big crowd.

-- LeBron has a tendency to rub people the wrong way with his actions and his words. Zack, well, he was a jerk sometimes. This fact is lost in TV history, but Zack was not a very good person. How many times did he insult or let down students who he subconsciously felt were beneath him? He used Screech for his own personal gain many times. He essentially dumped Kelly to hit on a school nurse he had no chance with. He tried to squirm his way out of a date with an obese girl because she was obese. But my personal favorite: As Zack develops a friendship, and perhaps something more, with a girl in a wheelchair named Melissa, he exclaims, "Even though she's handicapped, she gave Cathy perfect advice." What an awful, awful thing to say. And yet somehow, Melissa eventually forgave him. Zack provides ample evidence for anyone who believes that girls are attracted to jerks.

-- LeBron came up short on the big stage, in the NBA Finals. Zack very nearly missed the big stage -- the graduation stage -- until a last-minute performance in a production of Swan Lake earned him the credits he needed to graduate. Which is to say, I expect LeBron to win a championship one of these years after he participates in a ballet.

-- And the most obvious point: LeBron is a basketball player. Zack was a basketball player until he accidentally bumped into Mr. Belding and required knee surgery. A sign of things to come for LeBron? Be extra cautious when walking behind Pat Riley, LeBron.

Do you see how LeBron's transformation into a not-so-fan-favorite could be the direct result of years of watching and idolizing Zack Morris? My, how times have changed; we gave a pass to Zack in the early '90s for his many social indiscretions, but refuse to do the same for LeBron now. Cut LeBron some slack. Blame Zack.