The Underdog 2012-2013 Chicago Bulls and the Spirit of Capitalism

By John Wilmes\n\nThe Bulls have been ousted from the N.B.A. playoffs. It’s a shame, nurse cialis but it’s also a merciful relief. They were surprising, and big-hearted, valiant; they were anemic, bedraggled, teasing.\n\nThose of us who fell in love with them were playing our typical Midwestern part—we were worshiping the work ethic of Jimmy Butler, Nate Robinson, and Joakim Noah, who, despite every reasonable metric suggesting they were short of what they needed to win a playoff series (given the horrible run of team injuries, and general dearth of game-changing superstars) pushed their way through the Brooklyn Nets, and then gave the hated Miami Heat a good battle (for about half of the series, anyway). And we cherished this like nothing else—I don’t remember feeling this proud when advancing further, to the Eastern Conference Finals two years ago—because seeing these underdog surrogates of ours stick it to the shining stars, with a simply stronger will to work, grants validation to one of tenets we hold most strongly to.\n\nSociologist Max Weber’s 1904 book “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,” a canonical work, elucidated how Reformation Protestants like Martin Luther, and their ensuing centuries-long influence over Western society helped to re-conceive work—work itself—as an inherit benefit not just to the individual, but to society; and thus, work itself became a signifier of grace, that most noble of human traits. Work itself became holy, unquestionable, and the ultimate right thing to do—this belief has transcended religion, and permeated society like few others. And it’s long been suggested that this cultural dogma has found its most natural home in the American Midwest.\n\nIf the fetishization of the so-called gutsiness of Chicago athletes (symbolized perfectly by this incarnation of the Bulls) is any indication, the suggestion seems quite true. Especially when this love for work itself is contrasted with the droves and droves of criticism leveled toward Derrick Rose, for not “gutting it out” by not playing on a surgically-repaired knee which he has said that, despite medical clearance, often feels tenuous. Still, Rose’s reluctance to play was taken as an insult to the very quality we worshipped in Joakim Noah’s initially questionable decision to play for nearly entire games in the playoffs—Jimmy Butler has been lauded repeatedly for playing all 48 minutes of many playoff games—despite Noah’s recurring troubles with a plantar fasciitis injury. In Noah, in Butler, and in coach Tom Thibodeau’s relentless pedal-pushing, there was proof that no calamity is so grand and complex that it can’t be overcome with more hours of preparation, with more hustle. Work could get us through this. Fans have nearly renounced Derrick Rose for not co-conspiring in this truth; a truth which has been, of course, disproved by the eventual fall to Miami, anyway. Work itself is, very frequently, not enough.\n\nAnd thus we have the further (and far more satisfying) contrast, that between the Bulls and the hated, hated Heat. LeBron James left Cleveland (a consummate underdog, Midwestern city) to join Miami, and play alongside Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade—two future hall-of-famers. This, many say, was a convenient solution to the problem of James’ growing legacy—he can’t win the big one. He folds under pressure, they said. He’s not as good as Michael Jordan, they said. By joining forces with two other super-talents, he copped out of proving otherwise, they said; \”how convenient.\” But he also damned us, by making a Midwestern championship incredibly unlikely, and by betraying our love for work itself—not only by leaving the dogma’s geographical home, but by drastically reducing the load of his necessary input, by having Wade and Bosh to now lean on. When LeBron signed his Heat contract, Michael Jordan was one of many voices to re-validate the value of work itself, by saying he’d never have joined a team with so many other stars (never with good friends Patrick Ewing, never with Charles Barkley)—he’d rather do more of the work himself. He’d rather prove more. We loved this (even if it took our willful ignorance of Scottie Pippen to do so).\n\nThus, LeBron James is the perfect Midwestern rival (and thus, Bulls rival) not just because he is an indomitable talent, who makes a great rival for all cities with championship aspirations, but because he appears to disdain our love for work (this in spite of the fact that, off of the court, LeBron trains as hard as anyone in the league). He is, further, in his way, a representative of the oppressive cipher-wall of Late Capitalism—which, among other things, re-conceives the valuation of work all over again. Where “gutting it out” and “putting in extra hours” seemed to matter in the past, they now seem not to. The internet, the hyper-complex economy, and the increasingly abstract form of society and capitalism, overall, have called the value of hard work into question. Modernity has swelled into something terrifying, and the world seems altogether trickier, and even increasingly unfair. It is more commonly conceivable than ever before that hard work, itself, can certainly be done for naught. The Protestant Ethic is under assault. \”Work smarter,\” many say, \”not harder.\” We know the merit of such a truism intellectually, but there is still an overwhelming emotional comfort to believing that merely pushing harder is enough. At least part of our comfort in loving pure work stems from a denial of Late Capitalism, which seems to reinforce the disproportion of social wealth and opportunity more strongly than ever—this is perhaps most manifest in the widespread belief that there is no longer a middle-class.\n\nLeBron is now a champion (one-time going on two-time) because he has embraced that the game is \”rigged\” (which may be a defensive word, used to hide us from the scarier one of \”complex\”) and because he has decided to maximize his potential by joining Miami—in a fashion that many perceive as far more tricky than valiant. LeBron refused to stay in Cleveland, and just do the extra work.  He also performed a tacit denial of cold-weather regions, often romanticized, in the Midwest, as the demon which a strong work ethic must form against. His denial of our ways, naturally, offends us to our cultural core. And so when the 270-pound MVP takes a routine jab to the shoulder on a fast-break, from 5\” 9′ Nate Robinson, and throws his head dramatically backward in attempt to draw a flagrant foul—rather than earning his points in a more deserved fashion, LeBron acts out and rigs the game even more than it was already rigged, through the genetic luck of his terrifying frame—it angers us in large part because it is an affront to our historically strong value system. And another stinging reminder of just how wrong it could be.\n

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\nJohn Wilmes is a writer living in Chicago. He is a co-founder of Meekling Press, writes for the ESPN TrueHoop Network, and contributes regularly to Mutable Sound and NewCity. He is, also, @johnjilmywilmes and john.a.wilmes@gmail.com.

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