Note to LeBron: Be Interesting

LeBron James is stealing again. First, he borrowed Michael Jordan’s number. Then he borrowed Kevin Garnett’s playing-with-the-talcum-powder, rotating it a touch so that he tossed into the air and prostrated like Jesus Christ instead of clapping it into the scorer’s table a la Garnett. There’s nothing wrong with any of these things, they just show a distinct lack of imagination. That’s understandable for a kid that’s been in the national spotlight since he was 15 years old. He has developed a stable “Superstar” identity, only playing to the masses in controversy-bleached Nike commercials. When would we have expected him to learn about the world, and create some sort of real identity in it? Never, that’s when.

But now LeBron has gone too far. I love him, but if you take him at his word he’s about to make a huge mistake. He’s about to emulate Kobe. Now you might be thinking, “, what’s wrong with emulating Kobe? Isn’t he the World Champion?” He is the World Champion, but that’s not the point. The point is that I hate Kobe, and I like LeBron, and I don’t want LeBron taking cues from Kobe. Especially not this one.

If we take LeBron at his word, LeBron’s going to change his number after the season. He said as much after last night’s game. He said “no one” should wear 23 any more, in honor of Jordan, and he’s wants to make a switch.

Don’t. Do. It.

I know a sportswriter writing in a dark corner of the Internet is unlikely to make him change his mind, but I’m going to try anyway. First, he never would have considered doing this if Kobe hadn’t done it first. That’s just a given. The idea that superstars should change their number for a reason other than it being forced (Ray Bourque, Michael Jordan) simply never existed before Kobe’s self-imposed rebranding. Kobe probably thinks changing his number was part of a growing-up process, but I see it as childish. The point of keeping a number so long is to frame the player behind it, and watch them grow up inside of that frame. It gives every moment context, and gives you a game to play every time you see a highlight. When is that? Oh, that’s when his hair was short, it must be during 2005—before he learned to trust his teammates. Oh wait, he just passed. That’s 2009! He won the title that year? And so on.

Second, it screws over previous jersey owners. Of course, if LeBron changes teams, he’s welcome to change his number to whatever he wants. Once change is in the air, might as well embrace it. Is this a double-standard? Hell yes. But it’s one I like, and this is my blog, so there you go.

The biggest problem, though, is that LeBron’s whole rationale for ths switch is wrong. Michael Jordan isn’t Jackie Robinson, and even in Robinson’s case I think players should be allowed to apply to Major League Baseball to wear number 42, which is currently retired league-wide (Mariano Rivera is grandfathered in. Cue grandfather jokes). Look at soccer. Pele wore number 10, and now anyone who wears that number is associated with his greatness. It’s an honor, and one that doesn’t get bestowed lightly. We can do the same thing with number 23. Hell, LeBron, you already did.

I get it: you want your own identity now. You want to transcend Jordan. Here’s what you do then: instead of paying lip service to how great Jordan is, come out at say it. Say “I want to be better than him.” Throw down the gauntlet. Say you don’t want to wear number 23 because you don’t want to overshadow him, not because you want to honor him. Say something interesting. For once.

We know it’s what you’re thinking.