17 February 2013

Trophies vs. Legends

If only to give myself a break from the garment-rending fallout of a 5th-round FA Cup loss to Blackburn, and perhaps also to lay the issue to rest once and for all, I'd like to visit an issue that has been on my mind since the departure of Van Persie and others. Van Persie claimed that he left to win more trophies. When he left, I was reminded of Lebron James's departure from Cleveland in order to, as he so classlessly put it, "take [his] trophies to South Beach" to play alongside Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, and ten cardboard cut-outs. Of course, they have gone on to win the championship that had so cruelly eluded James up until that point. James had slogged and played through seven years of frustration, never getting closer with Cleveland than a four-game sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs in 2007. James receives favorable comparisons to Michael Jordan. On a statistical basis, I'm inclined to agree. Where I demur is on philosophy. What I mean is this--Jordan, like Lebron, carried his team as its best player for seven long years without touching the championship. Here's where the difference in philosophy comes in--unlike Lebron, and unlike Van Persie, Jordan forced and inspired players around him to get better. With the possible exception of Dennis Rodman, no other player that Jordan played alongside had a chance to become a Hall of Fame-caliber player. Scottie Pippen, as good as a player as he became, owed all of that to Jordan's tutelage. Granted, Jordan may not have had the Bosman rule or transfer windows to blackmail his owners the same way that European footballers have. However, that's window dressing around the issue--Jordan looked around, and he decided that he would have to make the players around him better, whether this was chewing them out, staring them down, working with them in practice, putting the ball in their hands at key moments and praying, trusting, believing that the ball would go in. Ultimately, the proof came out in two separate three-peats, six championships in eight years. Talk about vindication. Talk about legend. Jordan, perhaps more than any other athlete, is Chicago's own. Never mind his years "playing" for Washington or owning the Bobcats. It's not for nothing we put a statue in front of the new Chicago Stadium and emblazoned that statue with the following quote from one of my favorite novellas:
“At that moment I knew, surely and clearly, that I was witnessing perfection. He stood before us, suspended above the earth, free from all its laws like a work of art, and I knew, just as surely and clearly, that life is not a work of art, and that the moment could not last.” 
— “A River Runs Through It”, Norman Maclean
For as many championships Lebron wins, there will always come with them the sense that he has somehow taken the easy way out. To whom among his current teammates or former teammates can he point and say, "I helped him to become the best that he could be and, together, we achieved epic feats"? Wade? Bosh? Ray Allen? No, even in admitting that all athletes are mercenaries (not a criticism), Lebron's "Decision" as well as Van Persie's, will always smack of rank opportunism: "I can stay and fight, or I can get while the getting's good." Each of these jocks--and I deliberately declined to use other epithets, for good or evil--looked around and said, "winning things is hard. I want to go where winning is easy." I'm sure Van Persie will go on to win many things with Man U, and it will feel good to him. How much more could it have meant if, instead of looking at established players like Carrick, Rooney, Scholes, Giggs, Vidic, and others, he could look at Wilshere, Walcott, Ox, Ramsey, Gibbs and also feel that he has made some among them into greater players--protégés who would also look to him as a source of their greatness? What kind of statue would stand outside the Emirates then?

This brings be me back to Maclean's description above. Life is not a work of art, and the moments of perfection we're lucky enough to witness could not last. It's just a shame that a potential moment of perfection was shunned so soon before its inception. However, in the words of advice I may have to share with my daughter sooner than I'd like, if he doesn't love you, don't waste your heart loving him. We may feel like emotional wrecks right now, having crashed out too early, but we'll recover. We are Arsenal