LeBron fascinates me. His free agent saga, and the ensuing media supersaga, were what spurred me to start writing like this again. And it's been doubly fascinating to watch the world of basketball fandom divide into two camps, separated by their feelings on him. Both sides have become completely irrational – one tearing him down as some sort of impostor with every missed shot, the other deflecting every criticism with Pravda-esque consistency. It is clear to anyone even partly objective that he is the most skilled basketball player alive, yet I can't remember anyone so clearly talented inciting such division (Kobe? He feels like an outlier because of his off-the-court issues). Granted, I grew up at the epicenter of Planet Jordan, but I never felt that there was this comparable loathing of MJ. Were people sick of seeing him win? Sure. Did they tire of him getting calls? Absolutely. But LeBron hasn't been around that long and hasn't won anything. Nobody can claim that his shine his worn off or that they just want to see someone new – no, this is just a straight distaste for someone destined to be one of the greats, and in his absolute prime.
Obviously there's The Decision. But the LeBron defenders rightly argue that he did what always claim to want our athletes to do – put winning before dollars. To those that say he and Bosh are taking some kind of shortcut, the easy answer is that it happened in Boston before them, that Barkley and Clyde took their talents to Houston once, and that Jordan never won anything without Pippen, another Top 50 talent (of course, Jordan probably didn't predict 7 titles when the Bulls drafted a scrawny kid from Central Arkansas, but I digress). Altogether, it's a fair question to ask – if you liked LeBron the Cavalier, LeBron the MVP-caliber player – why would you hate him now?
What I realized last night – I don't really know when or why – was that I've never liked him, and only his escape from Cleveland let me finally embrace it. Having been force-fed a steady diet of LeBron since he played high school games on ESPN, I was probably not alone in being primed to resent his on-court persona, a reflection of being anointed since his tween years. The preening, the strutting, – it felt like too much. Now, I hate that I wrote that sentence – it makes me feel like Skip Bayless – and surely, he is far from the only or first one to do any of these things. They just felt so wrong coming from someone so talented.
But then he went to Cleveland.
What could you do? It was like watching a depressingly single friend finally get a girl, even if she was a showy and high maintenance and you knew that anything long-term was just a pipe dream. It was/is impossible to pull for somebody to fail in Cleveland (I want Peyton Hillis to run for 2,000 yards this year, and not just because I'm franchising him in my fantsasy league). Most of us just watched, marveling (ironically, like actual witnesses). You didn't pull for the Cavs, maybe, but you watched, maybe hoping for wins, but selfishly – only so you could watch some more. All of the things that would be turn-offs were dismissed – "It's Cleveland – he's their guy, let them have their fun." We instinctively give the underdogs more leeway (and yes, I just called a team that won 61 games last year an "underdog"). The narrative is different.
Now that protective coat is gone, and we react to him perhaps as we would have all along.
Speaking of reactions, 2006 was five years ago, Dwyane: