Killing hyperbole: or, a lesson learned from the “Lebacle” overreaction

Last night, Lebron James had a bad game.

One bad game. Against a very good team. In a pressure-filled playoff atmosphere.

And, from the sound of it, the world is coming to an end.

Henry Abbott expertly covers the “sky is falling” aspect of this one bad game in a recent post on his blog, TrueHoop:

The “LeBacle” may soon prove to have been one of the darkest moments in Cleveland’s miserable sports history.

But please, spare us the assertion that after one bad night we know James has always had a permanent flaw. It’s just absurd, and amazingly some of it’s coming from the faithful in Cleveland. Twitter, Internet comments, my e-mail inbox, Facebook, all are loaded to the gills with talk that he’s doomed to mediocrity, psychologically deficient or was intentionally tanking.

As if those 69 playoff contests and 548 regular-season games were the aberration, and this one horrible night was the truth. As if the guy who scored 25 straight against the Pistons in a similar situation needs a lecture, from Twitter, on embracing the challenge.

Somebody should make a big list of all those people who think they now know James is a doomed player, and we’ll revisit in a decade.

He’s talking about basketball writers. But there’s a tone to this that reaches across all subjects, one that draws a sharp line showing the difference between writing WITH passion and writing FROM passion.

The first is all about embracing what you do and attacking it with gusto: cherishing each word, taking your shoes off and splashing around in the subject matter, laughing and waving your arms, delirious with happiness because – damn it – you love this.

The second is allowing the moment to cloud your judgment, letting hyperbole set in, overreacting and ACTING THE FOOL, as the more street-worthy performers might say.

The first leads to emotional prose. The second leads to 24-hour news channel hype.

We’re all guilty of the second.

Admitting we’re guilty helps us focus on the first, by identifying our own overreaction and acting accordingly. With grace. With all sides measured. Without filtering common sense in search of a sensational stance.

This was lovingly handwritten on May 12th, 2010