A Bad Idea
The Commish doesn’t dig the possible LeBron-Wade hookup in Miami.
Last Friday, to commemorate Michael Jackson’s passing, Vibe Magazine ran an oral history of the MJ vs. Prince rivalry. There were stories about Prince scoping out the Victory tour to get an idea of how to one up MJ with his Purple Rain tour and, then, MJ attending four nights of Prince’s Purple Rain concerts, probably on a similar mission. But my favorite anecdote came from Alan Leeds, who managed James Brown’s tours before linking up with Prince’s camp. The story goes like this: MJ wrote “Bad” — the eponymous, mega-smash-hit single off MJ’s 8x-platinum follow up to Thriller – as a duet for him and Prince. An “event” video was to follow with both as performers. Prince ultimately backed out. Why? As Leeds, conveyed, Prince thought “it would have forever been Michael’s video with Prince as just a guest. So that captured what the relationship couldn’t be.”
It doesn’t matter where your allegiance falls in the MJ-Prince debate or whether you think Prince was ever MJ’s equal; the fact is that MJ was huge and Prince was huge. And Prince was too big to be a “guest.” I love that story because it reminds me of the complex player-relationships in sports between rivals and, sometimes, teammates.
I bring this up in the context of the NBA’s free agency bonanza and the prospect that we could see LeBron James joining Dwyane Wade in Miami as his “guest” for the next four years. How and why is this a good idea?
When covering the 2006 Eastern Conference finals, I wrote a piece about Dwyane Wade perfectly playing the beta-male role to Shaq’s alpha-male. Wade, in just his third season, was already a better, more impactful player than Shaq, who was in the beginning stages of decline; but, Wade willfully dulled his ego and, at least from a personality standpoint, ceded team-supremacy to Shaq throughout that championship run. That was four years ago, though. LeBron and DWade are now both thoroughly alpha-male figures. And — if you’ll allow me a soccer reference — in this circus-scenario of teaming LeBron and Wade, somebody’s gotta wear the No. 10 jersey. That’s how it works. So, thusly, Bron and Wade teaming up in Miami won’t work because it can’t work.
Think about actors George Clooney and Brad Pitt. I’m sure they have a ball making “Ocean’s” films every three years. But could you imagine those dudes agreeing to co-star in every film they make for the next decade? Of course, not. Clooney left the ensemble drama ER to be a leading man. Wade and LeBron are leading men. They can satisfy this teammate-jones every two years with Team USA. Playing 82 to 100-plus games per season together? There’s simply no precedent for this.
The Lakers and Celtics of the ‘80s are sometimes offered as examples of multi-star teams. And, I get that. Both Bron and DWade need and deserve to run with a fellow All-Star or two. But Bird and McHale or Magic and Kareem ain’t DWade and LeBron. You’d have to envision Magic and Bird proactively joining forces in 1985 to properly analogize the possible LeBron-Wade duo. Magic could barely handle sharing play-making duty with Norm Nixon — imagine the physical and philosophical tug’o'war there would have been Bird. Why would either player have wanted that? Why would us fans have wanted that? The Lakers-Celtics rivalry of the ‘80s would not have existed and the Magic and Bird legends that we know now wouldn’t exist. Their legacies and dramatic career archs were byproducts of their rivalry and their roles and responsibilities to their squads.
And, as fans, wouldn’t you rather want LeBron leading a juggernaut in, say, Chicago, battling for a championship against a Wade-lead juggernaut in Miami and Kobe’s juggernaut in Los Angeles? There are complimentary stars galore in this class. Chris Bosh, Amar’e Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer, Rudy Gay, Joe Johnson — let one of those dudes latch on to LeBron or Wade and keep the two goliaths separate. That’s drama…as opposed to them spending the next five years dancing an alpha-male tango as some hardwood version of The Beatles.
Speaking of The Beatles, last year, Rolling Stone — in the cover story “Why The Beatles Broke Up” — documented the forces that tore The Beatles apart. One of those forces was John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s tango turning in to a tussle in 1969 while The Beatles were recording Let It Be. Mikal Gilmore wrote: “For the last year, the Beatles’ partnership had been fraying. The long friendship of John and Paul, in particular, was undergoing volatile change. Lennon, the band’s founder, had in some ways acquiesced leadership of the band; more important, he was beginning to feel he no longer wanted to be confined by the Beatles…”
Can’t you envision that in Miami? I could see LeBron gradually grabbing the leadership reigns and frustrating Wade, who’s been The King of Miami for about five years. Or maybe LeBron, for a variety of reasons, consistently cedes alpha-male status to DWade and it produces nothing but tension. What then? We know how it ended for The Bealtes. Lennon bounced. A more contemporary example is Bobby Brown, who couldn’t exist in the shadow Ralph Tresvant cast over ‘80s and ‘90s R&B group New Edition (the Jackson 5 of their time), so, toward the end of his first stint with the group, he’d do things like breakout of their choreographed, nouveau-Temptations dance routines and gyrate and crotch-pump for 10 or 15 seconds.
Who knows how long it would take to turn in to a bad marriage? I just know that it’s not natural. Ensemble casts aren’t for leading men.
Vincent Thomas is a columnist and feature writer for SLAM, a contributing commentator for ESPN, writes the weekly “From The Floor” column and co-hosts the Hang Time Podcast for NBA.com. You can email him your feedback at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @vincecathomas.