The psychology of sports is a fascinating thing.
We love heroes, but when they get too good, eh, not so much.
Witness LeBron James, the greatest player of his generation. In his early years we rooted him on endlessly, bought his shoes and jerseys, and anointed him musch too quickly as a "King."
He did and does things on a basketball court we mere mortals can only dream of. But, he was too good, for too long, too rich, too mobile, too effortless, too commercial, too proud, and inevitably, by the time he took his talents to South Beach, we started to root against him. We jeered with glee when he lost in the finals.
It's human nature. We love talent, but we hate perfection. What we see as confidence one day, we take as cockiness the next. We build heroes up, and we tear heroes down. Who's next?
We adore Hollywood actors and recording stars, but almost as soon as we build them up bigger than life, we start glancing sideways at the tabloids in the checkout line, hoping to find some scandal or rumor we can use to dethrone them. "Did you hear about...?!"
Sooner or later, unless our celebs and heroes die young, we turn away from them and pan their work.
We worship politicians - until we elect them, and then their approval ratings steadily go in the toilet, and we gleefully pass memes to humiliate and belittle them.
But nowhere are we more fickle than sports.
We deify NFL quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady - until someone dredges up something we can use against them. You've listened to admitted potheads and alcoholic buddies vilify Bonds and A-Rod for using a performance enhancing substance. Oh how we loved Tim Tebow for being a good religious fella, until we decided to hate him, for being an too much of a good religious fella.
After we hated LeBron, we loved Steph Curry.
He was something new, a mouthpiece chewing, downtown shooting wunderkind who seemed genuinely humble, good-natured, family-minded and unselfish.
LeBron was big and outrageously muscular and covered in tattoos, gifted with everything one would need to dominate.
Suddenly elfish-bodied boyishness was back in style as we ran out to buy Curry jerseys.
But you can feel it starting, can't you? "He can't be that nice - what is he hiding?" "He doesn't play defense." "Why is he sitting out that many games with a tweaked ankle?" Steph took the regular season wins record from the basketball god of gods Jordan, who we no longer remember that we eventually tarnished a bit, too.
Golden State became too good for their own good. Winning, and scoring, started looking too easy. There hardly seemed to be any point in bothering with the playoffs, just hand them the trophy at the All Star break.
Nut we can turn at a moment's notice. One bad game, even one lazy play, or one misspoken word in the poist-game press conference, and the guy we proclaimed a second coming yesterday we call worthless and over-rated today.
I'm as fickle as anyone, maybe more so.
I despised LeBron, until the vast overexposure of Steph became even more annoying.
And lo and behold, those of us who hated LeBron, suddenly find ourselves - can it be true? - rooting for him, just a little bit.
The 30-something LeBron seems a little less aloof and impervious all the sudden, just a bit vulnerable. Maybe poor Cleveland deserves a title in something. Maybe we don't have the heart to see King James lose three in a row. We'd at least like to see a Finals that would not be a foregone conclusion where we're switching channels before halftime.
With this newfound warm-heartedness toward the Cavs and their face, "LeBron" seems almost too formal. We're boys now. We're LeBros. Where did I put that old Cavs shirt...
It's a bit hard to argue with those who say the NBA is more watered down than in the Jordan era.
In that period the NBA had Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Shaq, Hakeem Olajumwan, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Dikembe Mutombo, Karl Malone, a young Kobe Bryant, an old Dr. J, Isiah Thomas, Clyde Drexler, Reggie Miller, Dominique Wilkins, John Stockton, and the list goes on. There's a lot of the top 25 of all timers in that group.
After Steph and BronBron, maybe Kevin Durant, who today is at that level? Are Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook, Kyle Lowry, Andre Drummond, Damian Lillard, Dwayne Wade, James Harden, that "other" Isaiah Thomas or the rest of the also-rans in the MVP consideration going to be remembered as Top 25 All Time material?
Surely athletes are always getting better and bigger and faster and stronger. But is competition improving?
Headed into the season, how many teams really could hope to legitimately contend for a title? Two, maybe four or five tops, out of 30?
And then, there are the conspiracy theorists who insist the NBA is as rigged as pro wrestling.
Granted, it does seem like major market teams win that draft lottery a lot, and that officials' calls seem to benefit the popular teams and superstar players at times.
Did it look a little suspicious when the most dominant team in the history of the NBA, the Warriors, got clobbered by 17 points by the Lakers' pathetic goodbye Kobe touring company in March? Did it make people go "hmm" when the Cavs, untouchable in the entire 2016 playoff run, got clocked in game three of the current series at the hands of mighty... Toronto?
I'm not about to go all Geraldo here, and people who think the league fix is in are goofy.
But in a time when it was clear Cleveland would be the only team with any chance to win the East even before the first game of the season was played, and the primary question in the West seemed to be whether Golden State would beat up OKC or the Spurs or both en route to another title, the drama of some exceedingly unlikely upsets sure didn't hurt the league's financial and TV interests any.
In the end, whether your team's moody multi-millionaires beat my team's moody multi-millionaires isn't the big question.
It's where the next heroes are coming from when we finish tearing down the current batch.