Now that the NBA Finals is in the books, I want to ask: Why do some people loathe LeBron James? I'm not sure those busy dancing on LeBron's grave this morning are all that sure. For many, they just know there's something about him they don't like. Ironically, the same was/is true of Dirk Nowitzki. Every year, Dirk and the Mavericks have endured the infamous and overblown "can't win the big one," "soft," or "choker" label. This year, though, everyone began rooting for them–largely because they were facing LeBron James and the Heat. Why?
Here's my crack at it:
I actually really, really liked LeBron until his move to the Heat. I loved the idea of an awful franchise getting a home-grown player–the greatest since Jordan–and parlaying that into urban renewal and a championship. LeBron, though, doesn't live to impress me. It's his choice what team to play for, so I didn't really resent his decision other than to view it as a possible attempt at a shortcut. However, it felt like I watched him change before my eyes. Predicting the 8 championships. The TV special on his "Decision," and the presumption that by taking a shortcut (and that's what it was), that makes one a champion. You could see this attitude at play in LeBron and Wade's premature celebration during game 2 of the Finals and making fun of Nowitzki's illness after game 4. Immature, foolish, and not a good way to endear people to you.
One more thing: the Heat's assembly of a team felt like all the biggest kids in the schoolyard conspiring to up on the same team, beating everyone else at basketball, and acting like the match was fair. It felt like a Heavyweight boxing in the Welterweight division–or TEAM USA joining the NBA. The Heat didn't draft those players, nor did they play together over time and have to work for it. Thus, the Heat were loathed for the same reason the Yankees are: not because they're good…because their great…the wrong way…by design of the star players and ownership involved. Now, LeBron is hated for the same reason Alex Rodriguez is–he's the face of what people believe is wrong with sports today–lack of parody, egos, shortcuts. If he stays a long time, he'll be respected like Jeter, Posada, and Rivera are.
Even so, there's a way to carry yourself. I call it, "Acting like a champion." This is why people see Derek Jeter as a champion and generally like him despite the fact that he plays for the Great Evil. It's not just the championships. It's how he plays, and how he carries himself. It's not even about quiet or loud. It's about maturity. The reality of the 2011 NBA Finals was…the Heat were "outmatured" by the Mavericks. Even Mark Cuban wasn't doing his normal routine. They won because they were better–better by being older, wiser and better unit. It was Team Tortoise beating Team Hare. To be sure, the Mavs had lot's of talent–but not Heat-level talent. They won because they "out-matured" the Heat. The Heat were a bundle of grapes and the Mavs were wine.
I don't think people's loathing of LeBron is totally fair to LeBron. He lives a generally clean life, he does a lot for charity, and may even go down as the greatest player ever by the time it's done. But, to earn the respect of the masses, he'll have to not only get a ring, but have to "earn it." That may mean failing a few times with the Heat. It may mean taking heat from the press without talking about how much pressure you play under all the time. Dirk has been fileted by the media since LeBron was in Junior High and never received a quarter of the accolades. But, he never even talks about it. He just plays.
To Dirk, Jason Kidd, and the Mavericks, congratulations. LeBron, you'll get yours. In the mean time, strive to act like a champion so that when you are one, we can cheer for you. We want to. It means doing what Dirk and Kidd did last night. Dirk had his John Elway moment last night. And now, he went from being a great player to being a real champion. I, for one, hope LeBron has that moment, too.
Tomorrow we'll actually offer some theological reflections on the NBA Finals…if that's possible 🙂
Give me your thoughts. Why do you think some people don't like LeBron? Is how we assess people like LeBron fair, or is it simply jealousy?