LeBron James, 2012’s Athlete Of The Year

LeBron James 2012 Athlete Of The Year

No matter what snarky columns the sportswriters would pen, no matter how they would leer at his tarnished brand, LeBron James still banked $48 million that year. In a day or two, he would fly off to the South of France or some tropical paradise. And they would still be there. Sweating out deadlines or making rent for walk-up apartments.

What we saw in LeBron’s Game 6 press conference was a man spent. Drained from a year of death threats, scorched jerseys, and deafening jeers. A year when he lost the country. His own mother was arrested for slapping a valet in the face. Drunk.

All this because he wanted to play basketball with his friends.

LeBron James Decision

LeBron locked himself in his Miami mansion for two weeks. He didn’t want to face the TMZ cameras outside. He didn’t want to see his first name—its own category now—sliding by on the SportsCenter ticker.

All LeBron wanted to do was soul-search. He dwelled on the mid-career crisis. On how “Legacy” wasn’t just a six letter word tossed around by restless sportswriters anymore. Days of couldas, wouldas, and What Should I Do Nows?

Until LeBron slowly remembered The Villain label was for Sunday ABC game story lines, not him. LeBron remembered why he loved basketball in the first place.

He walked back the Finals press conference. I’m not superior to anyone, he opined. He congratulated the Mavs on his website. And then he got to work.

LeBron locked himself in a sultry Houston gym with Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon. For days of endless jump shots and low post spin-moves.

And when Hakeem left that Houston gym he left with the first point-forward in NBA history. A point-forward who could a) drain the 20 foot jumper, b) back you down in the post, c) kick out to Dwyane Wade or Mike Miller on the perimeter, or d) slam it home with his trademark Tomahawk jam.

A point-forward who now had the arsenal to slay his nemesis Boston Celtics, silence Kevin Durant’s up-and-coming Oklahoma City Thunder, and bludgeon the Olympic field in London. A point-forward now a mantel groaning under the weight of the 2012 haul: NBA MVP, NBA Finals MVP, NBA Larry O’Brien Trophy, Olympic Gold Medal.

* * * * * *

We forget something.

LeBron James is not a politician who tweeted explicit pictures of himself. He is not a bailed-out Wall Street banker. LeBron James is another arrogant professional athlete paid vast sums of money to swish a basketball through a net. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Kobe had Colorado. Jordan, more mistresses than All-Star Games. Shaq staged his own Decision on the eve of the ’96 Olympics, planted kiddie porn on an employee’s computer, and had a sex tape. They shared the same singular focus that drives so many champion athletes but last-place husbands.

And yet LeBron has none of this raw Jordanian rage. He has no scandals or known affairs. (It was Teflon-coated teammate Dwyane Wade locked in the sordid custody trial.) LeBron hasn’t been charged with rape. He hasn’t been implicated in a dog-fighting ring.

Never before had America so vilified an athlete for a simple change of uniform. LeBron’s two crimes—both only in the court of public opinion—are 1) switching employers and flubbing the PR, and 2) the 2011 NBA Finals press conference.


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