Lebron James Only Deserves My Ire

The Article: I Hate Lebron James by Adam Gallagher in The Speckled Axe.

The Text: “In this fall I’m going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.” With this awfully constructed sentence, LeBron James forever cemented his place in the long and tragic history of Cleveland sports. What’s more, in one fell swoop, he instantly became the most polarizing athlete on the planet, outpacing the nymphomaniac Tiger Woods.

Hailing from Cleveland, I know many people that would say something along the lines of: “It’s not that he decided to leave Cleveland. It’s the way he did it.” To be sure, “The Decision” was a supreme illustration of the profound self-absorption of the modern athlete. Why make us all listen to the serpentine, sycophantic Jim Gray vomit out canned questions for so long before announcing you’d be going to South Beach, LeBron? Ok, so “The Decision” was obnoxious, fatuous, and demonstrated LeBron’s profound lack of self-awareness.

Nonetheless, this whole the way he did it sentiment is plain bullshit. The reason that I despise LeBron is because he left Cleveland. He is a traitor. Not only do I simply hope that LeBron doesn’t win, I pine to watch spectacular failures on his part. For this, I can thank LeBron, because he has provided me with ample moments to revel in his pure, unadulterated cowardice.

Coming out of St. Vincent – St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio, LeBron was the closest thing there was to a “sure thing” one could imagine. Frankly, I don’t even think Magic or Bird, and certainly not Jordan or Kobe, were as highly regarded before their respective drafts. At 6’8 and 250 pounds—some speculate that LeBron may weigh closer to 260 or 270—there can be no doubt that we have never seen a player quite as physically gifted. It’s almost as though he was forged in some blast furnace in James Naismith’s basement. Watching him on the fast break is exhilarating, if not slightly repetitive. I just always feel like I know what’s going to happen: LeBron is either going to throw down as hard and as ferocious as a lion sinking its jaws into gazelle or he is going to get fouled by some lesser than weakling, muscle through it and produce another “and 1.” It is amazing to watch him powerfully glide across the hardwood and rise off the court with an effortlessness, recklessness, and strength that is unparalleled.

Since coming into the NBA in 2003, his game has developed at a rapid rate. With the glaring exception of his ineffectual post-game, he has all the skills of a basketball cyborg. I’ve already mentioned his ungodly abilities in transition. This has been augmented by joining up with Dwayne Wade, who is built like James but lacks his height. All of the talk immediately after the decision questioned how these two could co-exist and who would be Batman and who would be Robin.

The truth is, and this particularly evident on a James/Wade led fast break, they are both Batman. Which reminds me, the Heat’s other big acquisition in the summer of 2010, Chris Bosh, plays the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman’s butler Alfred. An important component of Batman’s team on first glance, but when you think about it, if Alfred died, would it really matter much? Batman would still be tough as nails. I know this comparison is stretching the limits a bit, we all know that Alfred (particularly in his Michael Caine iteration) could go to the rack harder than Bosh.

The larger point here is that LeBron has all the requisite skills one could imagine. He handles the ball like a point guard, has a consistent jump shot, is arguably the best defensive player in the league, has the court vision of Magic Johnson and the acrobatic panache of Dr. J. The guy is just a freak. Yet, it just seems that he can’t get over the hump and come through in the clutch. With all that immense physical talent, he is notably lacking in mental fortitude and self-awareness. Not to mention, the guy seems to just assume that it is axiomatic that he should be loved and praised by all. This is what makes him such an insufferable coward.

Before I go through his manifold failures, I think a major factor in LeBron’s cowardice is how obsessed he is with his image and what other people think of him. Seriously, do you think that Kobe cares what people think of him? Kobe is an assassin and when the game is on the line he’s not going to pass the burden off to another star on his team or some B-rate bench player. He is going to take the shot because he believes it offers his team the best chance to win. If he misses, Kobe takes the heat for it and goes out the next night and forgets about it.

LeBron is so myopically concerned with what the fans think about him, I’ve got to believe that it affects his end-game decision-making. Look at James’ Twitter page, it’s as though he is fervently trying to demonstrate that people really do like him.

By all accounts, LeBron was genuinely flabbergasted at the response of Ohioans and basketball fans in general after the decision. I mean, the dude runs around calling himself “King James.” What an asshole. If you watch post-game press conferences with LeBron after a loss, particularly a loss that he contributed to through some sort of tragic choke job, he can’t even look at the camera. He stares down or glances from side-to-side like a six year old being scolded by his mother. If you want to win some sort of popularity contest, I suppose that’s fine. If you want to be one of the greatest players in NBA history, you can’t be so worried about what Adam from Cleveland or Bob from Topeka thinks of you.

The Cavs actually made it to the finals in the 2006-07 season, essentially riding LeBron the whole way there. Outmatched in almost every way against the Spurs, the Cavs were resoundingly swept in one of the most lopsided finals matchups of all time. I was upset, but it didn’t matter that much. I knew we were getting close. By the end of 2007-08 season, LeBron was arguably the best player in the NBA. He had already become the Cavaliers all-time leading scorer and was in contention for the Most Valuable Player award. In the playoffs, the Cavs lost to the Celtics in 7 games. In game 7, LeBron scored 45 points, it just wasn’t enough. Regardless, the Cavs had a sense that they were getting closer. LeBron’s numbers were gaudy in the regular season and playoffs a like.

I thought that Cleveland’s title drought was quickly coming to an end. In the 2008-09 season, LeBron won the MVP (he was the first Cavalier to ever do so) and trampled over the Detroit Pistons in the first round. In game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals against Orlando, LeBron crushed a game winning three pointer, a moment that one of my fellow Clevelanders recalls as the last time he can remember crying. The truth is, LeBron put them in the situation where they needed a buzzer beating three pointer to win. In the last minute, he weakly threw the ball away and was called for traveling in the subsequent possession. The Cavs ended up losing the series and LeBron was questioned for walking off the court without shaking hands.

Although LeBron had previously offered up some pretty pathetic crunch time performances, the genesis of his choking can really be traced back the 2009-10 playoffs. In a performance reminiscent of his finals (dis)appearances from last year, LeBron went 3-15, scoring 15 points in game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Celtics. In game 6, an elimination game, LeBron put up the type of performance that really summarizes the whole tragic nature of his career. He had a monster 27 points, 19 rebounds, 10 assists, but also turned the ball over a ridiculous 9 times. The Cavs lost and LeBron was never to wear a Cavs jersey again.

Truthfully, I will never forget the night of “The Decision.” I went out on a first date that night with someone who also happened to be from Cleveland. After dinner, we went back to my apartment to watch the most absurd episode in sports hype and narcissism I’ve ever “witnessed,” as it were. When LeBron said, “I’m taking my talents to South Beach,” I was stunned. I had a sense that he was leaving, but for some reason I just never really grappled with the reality of the Cavs sans LeBron, undoubtedly relegated back to obscurity. I looked over at my date, she was now crying (I’ll always love you for that, Julie). Within ten minutes, I had a picture message from brother. It was his LeBron jersey… on fire. For the rest of the night, I pounded Miller Lites and texted with friends and family similarly revolted and dazed by LeBron’s “decision.”

Soon after LeBron left, a whole new class of scum seemed to emerge in the sports world. The post-Cleveland LeBron fans deserve a special place in pop culture ire for me. While there are a lot of people out there worth being reviled—Nancy Grace, Donald Trump, that guy from the Sham Wow commercials, Ashton Kutcher, Newt Gingrich, LeBron himself—I find post-Cleveland LeBron fans to be the barnacles on the bottom of the boat of sports culture. If you have been a Heat fan your whole life, I’d give you an exception. I can understand how you’d love your new team with its assemblage of all-stars. But, really how can you like LeBron after his Benedict Arnoldian move?

Jumping on the Heat bandwagon, to my mind, is a sign of serious psychological problems, likely stemming from insecurity or inability to determine what is and what is not cool. Let me tell you what is not cool: the Miami Heat. Good? Sure. Talented? Unbelievably so. Cool? Hell no. If you want cool, at least jump on the Thunder’s bandwagon. That is one cool ass team. I mean, you can appreciate LeBron’s talents all you want. I do myself. But being a “fan” of LeBron is really beyond the pale. It is really a reflection of LeBron himself who is an avowed lifelong Yankees, Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bulls fan. Let that sink in for a minute. He is from Akron, Ohio, was widely held to be the savior of Cleveland sports and grew up liking the Yankees, Cowboys, and Bulls. Once a frontrunner, always a frontrunner I suppose.

LeBron is not cool, really, not at all. He is arrogant, but, not in the Jordan/Kobesque self-assured sort of way. He is arrogant in the annoying way that the best athlete in high school is, certainly the most talented dude around, but such an unspeakably large douche. I’d really like to tell all post-Cleveland non-lifetime Heat fans out there to collectively shut up until LeBron wins something. Otherwise you just seem as annoying and as forced as LeBron.

As if the decision wasn’t enough, LeBron and the Heat put on a bizarre spectacle to announce their new all-star lineup. Complete with LeBron, D-Wade, and Bosh dancing on stage like a bunch of drunk assholes at their cousin’s wedding, LeBron promised that the Heat would win seven championships. With the exception of Chris Broussard (LeBron’s faithful scribe), pundits denounced LeBron’s clownish bravado. After some initial bumps in the road, the Heat had a fantastic 2010-11 season and made it to the finals. Perhaps more than any time before, LeBron demonstrated his utter lack of crunch-time acumen. As the series progressed, LeBron looked increasingly clueless in the clutch. He spent most of the fourth quarter in game 5 and the decisive game 6 sitting around watching Dwayne Wade dribble.

During the regular season, he averaged 26.7 points per game and in the finals he went down 8.9 points to 17.8, the largest drop off in points from a regular season to an NBA Finals in NBA history. My favorite memory from the 2011 finals was watching the much shorter Jason Terry splash a deep three right in LeBron’s oversized face to put the Mavericks up 7 with only 30 seconds left to go in game 5. After the series, the verdict was in on LeBron, he is a choke artist. Afraid of the spotlight and unwilling to take the necessary risks and shots to be a closer, it was all laid out before us. LeBron is afraid.

This year in game four of the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs against the Knicks, with the Heat up 3-0 in the series, the Heat had an opportunity to close the series out with the last possession of the game. Erik Spoelstra, the Heat’s head coach, drew up a play for Wade. Again, here was another opportunity for LeBron to work to overcome his choking legacy. It was game 4, the Heat were up 3-0, so even if LeBron missed the shot the Heat would have (and ultimately did) win the series. The series was truly a fait accompli. Spoelstra demonstrated his lack of trust in LeBron and now LeBron has another reason to doubt himself.

As I write this, the Heat are now in the second round of the playoffs against the Indiana Pacers. The only team left that can even compete with the Heat, the Celtics, are old and dilapidated. In the Western Conference, only the Thunder can come close to matching the Heat’s talent and athleticism. What I am driving at here is that the Heat have a high probability of winning the championship this year. Does that overturn my whole argument about why LeBron is such a pathetic, narcissistic coward? I’m not sure. I mean, he will still be the physically gifted player in the league. We will have to see whether or not he has overcome his mental foibles and indecisiveness. LeBron still has the chance to overcome his current legacy as the prima donna choke artist. From the bottom of my resentful Cleveland heart, I deeply hope he doesn’t.

Oh, and if LeBron ever decides he wants to return to Cleveland… I’d probably welcome him with open arms.

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