I had written this about a week ago, in my pathetic attempts to be "current" and link the current news o' the larger world to perspectives on the smaller literary community I pretend I'm a member of. To wit, I just ended a sentence with "of." And I was too busy to actually publish this when it had more than three iotas of cultural relevance. Naturally.
It is not without some irony that one of the top Google searches to turn up both "LeBron James" and "Saul Bellow" are a news page with Bellow's obituary coupled with an item regarding James' desire to be a billionaire.
As Mr. James takes his act from the cold warrens of Cleveland to South Beach, and Cavaliers fans are burning his jersey in effigy, the literary world takes little notice. Perhaps we should, as this episode reminded me of nothing save for Saul Bellow.
You must obviously see the connection.
Mr. Bellow, a Canadian, Quebec-born–Quebec, that not-so-somber province–and who went at things as he taught himself, free-style, and made himself one of the preeminent American novelists of the 20th Century. A genius, author of one of my favorite novels, and a Nobel Prize winner.
Mr. James, an American, Akron-born–that extremely somber city–and who has also gone at things as he taught himself, free-style, and has fashioned himself one of the world's great professional basketball players (though whether that office is one worth occupying is debatable). An amazing athlete, not one of my favorites, and two-time NBA MVP.
See how they're connected, don't you?
OK, let's start from the start. For those of you currently living in a tree or without any connection to the wider world, LeBron James left the Cavaliers to play for something called the Miami "Heat." Any objective reader can see the mistake in this, for while you can envision a Cavalier, a "Heat" is beggars the imagination. How does a "Heat" dribble, pass or shoot? Is it a bonfire with arms? A female dog at that time of the month? A crappy movie?
You can say, "I'm a Celtic" or "I'm a Sooner" or such, but will anyone ever say, "I'm a Heat"? (Or "I'm a Magic," for that matter?)
I'm a Heat! Douse me with a fire extinguisher, damnit!
The opprobrium aside, I could not give a flip about where or for whom anybody chooses to ply his or her profession, and the nation writ large could show show the same passion about for jobs being sent abroad as Clevelanders had for LeBron leaving, perhaps we would still consider Ohio's largest city a bustling metropolis instead of The Mistake on the Lake.
What James did that was less-than-savory, according to people who write about these things, was that he took what should have been a routine (ok, not "routine") job change and turned into a media circus worthy of Lindsey Lohan, except lacking the interesting bits.
To his credit, James was forthright about his narcissism, and apparently did not leave Cleveland because he dislikes the town or that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is located there, while anybody with more than six brain cells knows it should be in Memphis.
Yet Saul Bellow did a similar thing in 1993–he decamped the University of Chicago, his long-time employer and base, for Boston University.
James: Witness this
James: Witness this
I remember reading an interview when it all went down. The thing that struck me, and reminded me of this LeBron James foolishness, was that Bellow basically said he was leaving Chicago because it wasn't literary enough. While ostensibly leaving because he was "tired of passing all the houses of my dead friends," he bemoaned the fact people in his adopted hometown did not recognize him: here he was, already a Nobel laureate, and yet when he ventured around Hyde Park to a 7-11 or perhaps to the North Side to hang out at Kingston Mines or Buddy Guy's, people didn't say, "Hey, it's Saul Bellow, the brilliant, amazing, award-winning novelist!" but instead, "What's this old guy doing at a blues club?"
I have written enough times about Saul Bellow to make it obvious that I have a love-hate relationship with him: I love his work but am not the greatest fan of his personal behavior. And I am not in a position to judge anyone's motives for leaving one university employer to another.
But even that he would admit that he was miffed that he wasn't famous enough in Chicago was jolting. It just shows that no matter how brilliant of mind an artist may be, it offers no protection against rot of the soul. Not that I would know about being brilliant.