You’re 6’8”, 260 lbs and chiseled. You’re freakishly fast, and not in the overstated Jimmy John’s way, but in the way that the word ‘freak’ is actually a perfectly accurate descriptor. You’re smart, and not just in that hardwood genius (decent porn name alert) way like Pete Maravich, but in that entrepreneurial icon way, like Magic Johnson (awesome porn name alert) and Michael Jordan. You’re LeBron James, and you’ve got the world on a damn string. So why do so many people hate you?
We’re a couple years removed from LeBron’s choice to play basketball in Miami. And it highlighted one of the greatest questions any sports fan can ask of themselves, “Why does this matter so much to me?” I try to ask myself that anytime I’m getting revved up about a player, a game, or anything in the sports world. Now that I’ve had a couple years of hindsight, I think I know what it is with LeBron.
I’ll put my cards on the table: I used to be jealous of LeBron. In fact, I hated him. He’s one year older than me, and while I was wondering if I would make the basketball team as a freshman at Asbury College, LeBron was coming off his Rookie of the Year season for the Cleveland Cavaliers. At that time, LeBron was like body fat, a constant reminder of what I’m not. Now I’m over it. I think it’s the five-thousandth hour in a cubicle that lets a person release the jealousy of impossible dreams.
That’s right, kids. Life is full of disappointment.
Life lesson learned. Good for past Dusty. Now it’s now, and I still hate LeBron. He’s my least favorite player in the league, and it’s not even close. But why? He’s not a junkie. He’s not lazy. He’s not a selfish player. There’s a few standard answers other people give me, but they never satisfy my experience of dislike. I’ll get to my personal beef, but here are a few things that I don’t hate him for:
1. I don’t hate LeBron for being an arrogant prick (ie. The Duke fan of NBA players).
A couple years ago, a friend asked me if it was possible for LeBron James to be arrogant?
The obvious, philosophical answer is ‘Yes.’ The definition of arrogance is “overbearing pride”, but this definition requires the participation of another person, so what might seem overbearing to me probably doesn’t feel the same to say, Dwyane Wade. Basically, I don’t like what I’m saying about myself when I think of LeBron’s pride in who he is as overbearing to me. It smacks of a personal insecurity that I spent my younger days getting over (yeah LeBron, I ended up being captain of my college basketball team. Can’t say that, can you?)….all that reminds me of this:
“All the people that were rooting me on to fail, at the end of the day they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life they had before. They have the same personal problems they had to today. I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things that I want with me and my family and be happy with that. They can get a few days or a few months or whatever the case may be on being happy that not only myself, but the Miami Heat not accomplishing their goal, but they’ll have to get back to the real world at some point.”
–LeBron James, in the aftermath of the Heat’s loss in the NBA Finals
This quote is my favorite thing that LeBron has ever said. Most people think he’s bashing the little guy, but if you re-read that quote and think of “people rooting for me to fail” as being Dan Gilbert or James Dolan, doesn’t that quote seem totally sensible? Sure, I danced like a butter-churn when the Heat lost the Finals, but I had to wake up the next morning and get back to the same life I had before. He’s right, and I’m okay with it. So I’m ruling out arrogance as the reason I hate LeBron. But I do hate him. I hate him like I hate Brad Pitt doing voice-over work (a well-used but still wasted talent).
2. I don’t Hate LeBron for being compared to Michael Jordan (or Kobe):
Let’s face it, LeBron has a statistical argument for being as good as Michael Jordan in regular season play at the same point in their careers (fyi, Jordan was better statistically…but it’s close enough that a LeBron fan could put a respectable subjective spin on it). However, there’s the “rings” argument. (see: “scoreboard” argument).
For the record, I think the “scoreboard” argument is completely illogical. But as a Kobe fan, I’d just like to say that anyone who uses this argument to rank Jordan over LeBron has absolutely set a precedent for using that argument for Kobe over LeBron. Sorry, it’s just the truth.
3. I don’t hate LeBron for his zero clutch factor….well, not totally
Forget the fact that it has been shown to be statistically irrelevant over his entire career. It was obvious during the 2011 Finals. OBVIOUS. No debate. He disappeared. It’s not like he turned into young Kobe and went down in a blaze of misery. He went down like Bruce Willis in Braveheart (and if you’re thinking “wait, Bruce Willis wasn’t in Braveheart?” Congratulations on being really close to getting the joke). I would hate this attribute in a player, but I actually love it in LeBron because it helps him fail, so I kind of like him for disappearing. Three more reasons I don’t hate him:
4. I don’t hate him for all his pre-game and on-court antics.
5. I don’t hate him for dressing like giant, mutant Steve Urkel.
6.I don’t hate him for Nike hiding the Jordan Crawford event.
I hate LeBron for making success the highest priority.
I don’t hate him for “The Decision” or for any of the theatrics involved. I don’t even hate him for the decision and the super team it formed. “Nobody roots for goliath” is a cliché by now, and while it’s definitely a true cliché, I understand why LeBron did it. It’s easier to be successful. There’s less pressure and more fun. The money’s a wash when you consider all streams of revenue. I mean, I’d have probably made the same choice. What he is now, I don’t hate. He’ll continue to have professional success with the Heat. But if we go back to Pre-Decision, he had a chance to be a hero. A chance to be uniquely great. I don’t hate LeBron for what he is, but I do hate him for what he didn’t become. Were I his friend or agent or counsel, I’d probably think differently. But I’m just a fan, and it’s what I wanted.
I wanted LeBron to stand like a Spartan against the forces of Big 3’s (and big 4s), market inequality, civil stigmas and and every player who thinks they’re better because they have wins and rings (fun sidenote: which person is Pat Riley and which one is LeBron in this picture? Had LeBron stayed in Cleveland, it’d be an easy answer).
I wanted him to be David the shepherd, not the King.
I wanted LeBron’s statement, “I got a goal, and it’s a huge goal, and that’s to bring an NBA championship here to Cleveland. And I won’t stop until I get it,” to mean something. Anything!
I wanted him to test limits. Not just his ball skills, but how much can one man mean to a team, a city?
I wanted him to prove that being great is about a hell of a lot more than being successful.
I wanted LeBron to be Cleveland’s Basketball Jesus, spurning offers like Matthew 16:23. Instead, he turned out to be their Basketball Judas.
It’s over now. The damage complete and everlasting. I just wrote that I hate LeBron James for what he didn’t become. Now that I’ve edited the column, I’m realizing that’s not it. It’s not the answer to “Why does this matter so much to me?” I think this, like getting over my jealousy of him when I was 18, is probably just part of growing up. I think hate is the completely wrong emotion.
That’s right, kids. Life is full of disappointment.