Is race a factor in LeBron vs. Dirk face off?

Nearly one year ago LeBron James told the world after shunning the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat that he would accept the role of villain that has been placed upon him, courtesy of an ad by Nike.

As the NBA Finals begin tonight, millions will gather around their televisions in anticipation of seeing James and his posse get what’s coming to them. James along with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh have dealt with the upstart 76ers, the aging Celtics and MVP Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls in that order. In order to win his first NBA title James must get past the Dallas Mavericks led by sharpshooter Dirk Nowitzki whose performances in these playoffs has evoked the memory of Larry Bird given Nowitzki exceptional shooting ability.

So what angle will the mainstream media seek out in this series?

Will it seek out to paint Nowitzki as the anti-LeBron — a player who has become a fixture in Dallas community for 13 seasons. Despite the possibility of free agency, he remained loyal to the Mavericks and is in a position to win bring Dallas their first basketball championship. Despite being on great regular season teams that turned out to be even greater playoff disappointments, Nowitzki has become somewhat of a sentimental favorite since sweeping Kobe Bryant and the Lakers and defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder with the NBA’s best young player in Kevin Durant.

Imagine the media crush that would shower over Dirk and the Mavericks if they could dispose of James and the Heat?

Could there be a racial motivation for the press to sway in the direction of Nowitzki and the Mavericks? After all the NBA has been dominated by black superstars and Nowitzki is the first white superstar in the Finals of note since…Larry Bird. It’s been a generation since Bird won his last title in Boston and was in fact the last white player to win the Finals MVP. So there is a motivating factor here.

Add to the mix that the majority of anyone you speak with regardless of color has some hint of resentment towards James for the way that he handled things last summer and you have the makings for your classic “Good vs. Evil” match up. Negative comments from ex-greats like Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson have only fanned the flames of hate in the direction of James and the Heat. In retrospect, was there any wrongdoing on the part of James? Who followed the NBA’s free agent infrastructure guidelines and no tampering was founded.

And while “The Decision” show may have been a little over the top, the same can be said for the reaction of Cleveland Cavaliers’ owner Dan Gilbert labeling James’ move as “narcissistic” and a “cowardly betrayal” as well as some Cavalier fans burning James #23 Cavs jersey in effigy.

Never has the media been more critical of one team in any given season than the 2010-2011 Miami Heat. In the midst of a mid-season slump that included a sound defeat at the hands of the Bulls, the press was almost taunting in their questioning.

Reports of members of the Heat crying provided fodder for late night talk hosts as well as headlines on ESPN. Any Heat loss was met with a foot to the ribs. After the Miami Heat defeated the Celtics in five games in the second round, James and his teammates spoke glowingly of clearing a hurdle needed to be considered title contenders only to be deemed arrogant and cocky.

The Heat find themselves -in a no-win situation — losing to the Mavericks increases scrutiny and victory will increase the antagonists. While the Mavericks are sitting in a pretty good position in terms of being on a low flame in a high pressure situation, everyone knows the pressure is on the Heat — and the Heat know as well.

The mainstream press has a way of painting distorted pictures of real situations, particularly in sports (see Duke vs. UNLV 1990), this is one of those times. LeBron James is anything but a bad guy and that assessment by some to imply that is unfair. There are no heroes or villains in this series, just basketball players — pretty darn good ones, and whoever leaves with the Larry O’Brien trophy will have deserved it.

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