[Note : Mahal will kill me if I post another blog about her. I fear for my life, so this is the result. Thanks for reading! ]
AT FIRST I thought I hated LeBron James (LBJ for brevity) and the Cleveland Cavs. How dare they (at the time) think they could just blaze a path to the NBA World Championship with only the latest Michael Jordan reincarnation, albeit the overall No. 1 draft pick, do-everything, no-weakness and play-any-position kind of phenom? How dare they think they could just wipe away years and years of being the league doormat by appearing in the conference finals not once but twice the first six seasons with LBJ? (Actually, they did erase all memories of futility with those few magic seasons.) And how dare they think they could keep LBJ in a Cavs uniform by relying on that most ephemeral of professional sports values, loyalty and gratitude?
Then I thought I hated LeBron James and the Miami Heat. How dare they (at the time) think they could buy a championship nucleus just like that, LBJ, D-Wade and Chris Bosh? (Actually, they did.) How dare they just give the keys to the kingdom to LBJ and tell him, yes, LeBron, go ahead and seduce all the players you think you need to win a title, we trust you that much. And how dare they just buy all the marginal role players that stepped up when the Big Three just choked and came up short in the clutch? (Actually, if ever any of the Big Three choked, the other two just stepped up and filled in big time for him.) And how dare they continue believing in their half-billion-dollar trio even after the latter choked in the 2012 NBA Finals? (It actually paid off with the first of two NBA titles a season later.)
It was only, duh, maybe sometime this season that I admitted to myself, OK you can start laughing now, that neither of the above had been the case.
I actually just hate LeBron James, as if you didn’t know.
It’s not hard to hate him, and off the top of my head I can enumerate quite a few reasons. He actually believed the myriad salutations of him as The Second Coming of His Airness, Red 23. The latter as if you didn’t know is only the most popular and one of the top two most successful players in the 60+ seasons of the NBA (Bill Russell being the other). LBJ started using Number 23 as his jersey number, began copying the latter’s moves and focused his entire life towards becoming Emjay the Second, and who could blame him? He had all the tools, and he certainly had the desire. But his lack of humility cost him a huge chunk of popularity and goodwill, probably his first 10 seasons as a pro.
Then after building up a boundless reservoir of goodwill with the Cleveland Cavs, he made a media event, witnessed by tens of millions, of The Decision (to leave Cleveland for the Miami Heat), which many say was a foregone conclusion by the time he actually declared it officially. He disappointed the city, state (Ohio) and fans of the Cavs, who could not see that it was after all a business decision made by a professional athlete who thought of his personal interests first before anyone else’s. It was nonetheless something that made it so much easier to hate him.
Then three seasons ago against the Orlando Magic or Boston Celtics I think, the latter might I mention one of my sentimental favorites no matter how they fare win-wise this season, he refused to shake hands after a losing series in the conference semifinals. (unneccessary sidelight : I have a replica jersey of the one Celtic that no Beantown fan would want, Ray Allen’s No. 20, the player who not only treacherously left Boston for the Heat, but who miraculously saved the Heat’s season with a Game Seven, Hail Mary three-pointer with :01 in regulation time. There was (ugh) no other light-colored jersey left. And it was on sale 😦 ) That nailed it in the eyes of so many NBA fans who already had bucketsful of hate reserved for him anyway. One of the unwritten rules of sports is no matter how painful the loss, after the final buzzer you accept the results, shake hands and get ready for the next battle. It was a minor mistake in the long term, but symbolically it showed what an immature, childish and self-centered albeit gifted player he was/is.
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Fast forward half a decade later and LBJ is on top of the basketball world. He could retire right now, at the peak of (well, maybe the start of the descent) of his career, and still be a sure thing to be voted in the Basketball Hall of Fame his first nomination, on the strength of his current accomplishments. He is still hated, but he is just as much loved and respected, if that makes sense at all. Let me give you a few more reasons to hate him:
He is actually one of the most gracefully and athletically gifted athletes, let alone big men of his generation. At six-foot-eight inches he can do anything a graceful five-foot seven speedster can do. But because he is big and brawny, he is never given the benefit of the doubt. It’s so easy for him to just bump and grind his way to the basket, which he does when he needs to. But most of the time he uses fakes, dribble drives and sleight-of-hand tricks that often leave much faster players scratching their heads.
He and his Big Three partners lost their first season together (2011) against the Dallas Mavericks. They lost ignominiously, and it was all the more painful because so much was expected of them; nothing less than a championship would suffice. Instead of going home with their tails between their legs they prepared for the next season the day after their championship loss, and ended up winning the following season against Oklahoma City Thunder, and again winning wondrously after that against the San Antonio Spurs.
As I said, there are so many reasons to hate LBJ, but they’re no longer rational ones. He’s paid his dues, and everything he’s done, any other sane person with his talent, skill and body would do.
Hating LeBron has stopped me from completely enjoying watching the NBA the last few seasons. Instead of appreciating and enjoying the skill and drama between basketball protagonists, it has been a waiting game to see how long LBJ will last before he falls. And because he and his teammates were the last team standing two years running, it hasn’t been a pretty sight for me.
The only way to stop suffering now is to step back and enjoy LBJ for what he is : a freak of nature, a superhuman talent whose desire and achievements will be hard to equal this or the next few decades. I would be very surprised to see an LBJ-like player again, and he has already done justice to the Michael Jordan comparisons so early in his career.
And that is why, for me at least , it’s time to stop hating LeBron.
His goodwill visit to the Philippines and the humongous donation his Miami Heat gave to the Yolanda victims certainly hasn’t hurt. I’m still not a Miami Heat fan, and I will probably never wear a Miami Heat No. 6 replica jersey, but I admire LeBron James for what he is : for being LeBron James.