Home > Culture, Sports > Echoes of Hegemony: LeBron James’ Championship and Resistance to the Inevitability of Dominance

Echoes of Hegemony: LeBron James’ Championship and Resistance to the Inevitability of Dominance

Even if you’re not much of a NBA follower (and I mostly missed the boat this season), you’ve surely heard that the Miami Heat defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games to take the Finals and give the divisive superstar LeBron James his first league championship. Most of what I can or would say about this development would come off as a bit of a re-statement of what I wrote on the subject of the Heat’s Big Three experiment and the angles of public opinion on LeBron James last year after their Finals loss to the Dallas Mavericks. But it’s worth reassessing the points made there under the shifted illumination of a championship.

This trophy is taking its talents to my mantle, bitches.

As Bethlehem Shoals argues with thoughtful perceptiveness, a Heat and LeBron James title were always basically inevitable, and much of the disappointment and fan disdain for James over the past couple of years has had to do with his perceived inability or unwillingness to fulfill his potential as a dominant figure, as promised by the acres of hype that have long surrounded him. LeBron himself spoke to this with his trademarked casual bluntness, reacting to the victory with the callous-sounding phrase “It’s about damn time”. Shoals expounded on this utterance as emblematic of the King James image in general, but to me his words speak to the inevitability question again, the certainty of dominance that has always echoed behind every resonating footfall that James has made, on and off the court.

With this in mind, it should be obvious that there is an undercurrent of the alternative underdog predilection of mass culture at play as well in the resistance to LeBron’s ascent, that well-meaning but deluded idea that choosing the option that is painstakingly constructed as “other” undermines the hegemony of the dominant modes of culture rather than reinforcing them. That malevolent hegemonic power in the professional basketball sphere is represented by a powerful African-American man who did not go to college and his made his career choices with less than the level of public grace expected of one of his race and position in American society surely complicates the picture. LeBron once got in public trouble for agreeing with a similar implication, of course, but it’s as foolish to discount the influence of such prejudices as it is to attribute opposition to him entirely to them.

Will the gilded sheen of a championship finally shift perceptions of LeBron James and his ambitious power move to South Beach? It can be a cure-all for the shortfalls of professional athletes, after all (just ask Marc-Andre Fleury about that). But despite nebulous accusations of his weakness in crunch time that have long dogged him (surely laid to rest after his pivotal Game 4 Willis Reed-ing of the Thunder), however, LeBron’s ills have never been of the in-game variety. He resides on another level on the court, seemingly forever gearing down and yet still lapping the pack and even the leader’s group of his league.

But his dominance on the court leaves him out of step off of it, perhaps an understandable side-effect of his elevation to world-beating status at such a tender age (he is still only 27; he can keep this up for another half-decade at least, if not more). For this reason as much as for their unsurpassed virtuosity in the game itself, it’s rational to expect the mass resistance to LeBron James and his hegemonic Heat to continue mostly unabated. We can view LeBron with awe, we can label him with our inherent distrust of the powerful, and we can even strive to understand his ability and his decisions with a dispassionate eye. But we cannot relate to him, not really. Even if he can resemble our own errors and missteps in his public relations clumsiness off the court, he forever elevates himself above us with his performances on the court. His hegemony allows no empathy, and his inevitability, essentially, is irresistible.

Categories: Culture, Sports

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