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If only you knew the pain I fought through to write this post.

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Thanks to a deep desire to nap and a DVR that’s threatening to delete everything I want to watch, I spent a few hours this afternoon watching the Heat and Barcelona win sometime in the past week, and I was struck by how casually brilliant LeBron James and Leo Messi look. When you think of Michael Jordan, you invariably think of the image he cultivated, which looks something like this:

He was a winner, no doubt, but he always played up his own struggle. It was never enough for him to be great: he had to sprinkle the floor with Kryptonite just to remind everyone how incredible Superman is on Tuesdays. James and Messi? They’re content to be great. Neither of them is going to pull a Kobe and leak his every bump and bruise to the media in order to score a “heroic” twenty-one points. They’ll leap and weave around the children like the gods they are and that’ll be that. Consider Messi at 1:33 in this video:

Restraint is a talent, I know, but it doesn’t always manifest itself as disdain, and that shot? It mocks the sport. It asks “You want me to do this?” and shrugs its shoulder in consent. Is it as manly a display as Jordan’s? Absolutely not. But I’ll take it or its sibling — The Kid‘s perpetual “I just did what now?” expression — over the now-conventional displays of aggressively false modesty plaguing major American sports.

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