By MIKE HERNDON
It’s got to be getting lonely to be a LeBron James hater these days.
First he couldn’t lead a team to a championship. Then he couldn’t lead a team to a championship unless he was surrounded by other superstars. Now … oh, don’t worry, they’ll think of something.
The Most Hated Man in the NBA led Cleveland to its first NBA championship this week, as the Cavs beat a Golden State team that had won an NBA record 73 regular-season games. He did it with a team that includes only one other legitimate superstar (sorry, Kevin Love doesn’t qualify), and though Kyrie Irving was also magnificent throughout the series, it was James who took over Game 6 and James who posted a triple-double in Game 7 to lead the Cavs back from a 3-1 series deficit.
Hate on this, haters: LeBron led all players in the Finals in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals — the first player to ever do that in NBA history.
What can’t he do now?
No matter what he does, the most steadfast haters will soldier on. There is a website devoted to hating LeBron: ihatelebronjames.com. There is a Facebook page dedicated to hating him (LeBron James Haters UNITED) that has more than 77,000 likes.
And there’s this guy:
Johnny Football will one day be bigger in Cleveland than his buddy LeBron ever was.
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) May 9, 2014
The now-former First Take host has been ripped up and down social media all week for that one, but guess what? He doesn’t care. He’s gotten rich off disingenuous garbage like that.
What’s everybody else’s excuse? Why do so many others who aren’t making money off outrageous hot takes spend so much time hating someone they haven’t met? A few possibilities:
- They’re still mad he left Cleveland for Miami. A valid complaint, except that now he’s back in Cleveland and he’s led the Cavaliers to the city’s first sports championship in 52 years. That water should have long since passed under the bridge.
- They’re mad at the way he left Cleveland. OK, this one I get a little bit. The Decision was a ridiculous, overwrought, hour-long look-at-how-great-I-am fest for an announcement that could have been handled in a tweet. The fact that he used it to raise money for the Boys & Girls Club masked the stench a little, but it still reeked of narcissistic overload. But that was six years ago. Get over it.
- They’re mad that he left Miami. Applies only to Heat fans and Dan LeBatard.
- They hate him because they think he’s arrogant and his talent is overrated. A topic that may be worthy of debate, but not hate.
- They hate him because he’s really, really good. The textbook definition of a hater.
- They’re sociopaths who aren’t happy unless they have someone, anyone, to hate.
You will hear Nos. 1, 2 and 4 given repeatedly as justification for the hate and, if you have friends in south Florida, maybe even No. 3. My suspicion is that all four are just excuses used to mask the underlying presence of Nos. 5 and 6.
Want to know what real arrogance is? Arrogance is when we think we know someone enough, based solely off what we see on television and read on the intellectual dung heap we call the internet, to hate them. We see them jawing with an opposing player during the game and assume we know what they’re saying. We read something unflattering about them and, because it matches our preconceived image of them, we believe it’s indicative of their character. We see them interviewed and pick apart their words, assigning some greater presumed meaning.
This player said “I” and not “we,” so he must be selfish. That player referred to his own ability or an opponent’s weakness, so he must be arrogant. What’s lost as the quotes are tossed around social media is they were often candid answers to specific questions.
But context be damned. We need someone to hate.
We don’t know LeBron James. All we know is what we see and hear and read. And what’s strange about that is that his game, his style of play, is decidedly unselfish for a player of his caliber. He is not one who demands a certain number of shots, who refuses to feed the ball to his teammates, who grouses when he isn’t the focus of attention. He gets his teammates involved, he passes the ball, he plays defense. Perhaps the biggest play he made in Game 7 was hustling back down the court, trailing the play, and getting back in time to block Andre Iguodala’s lay-up attempt late in the game.
A selfish player wouldn’t have made that play. Without it, Kyrie Irving’s subsequent 3-pointer wouldn’t have been the game-winner.
And from the haters, we get this:
Whenever LeBron wins, why is it that some else always makes the big shot?
— Tony Massarotti (@TonyMassarotti) June 20, 2016
Never mind that Michael Jordan didn’t take the game-winning shot in the 1993 and 1997 finals. When Jordan passed to an open teammate, it was evidence of unselfishness. When LeBron does it, it’s evidence of some weakness.
Bayless actually has praised James as “the best passer in basketball,” a statement that, while perhaps hyperbolic, at least acknowledges a strength of LeBron’s game. And much of his invective on Twitter this week has been in reaction to the other extreme — those now praising James as the best player ever.
It’s not hating on LeBron to believe that the “greatest ever” talk might be overblown when Jordan and his six NBA titles are the standard.
But a troll can’t resist dipping back into absurdity. Bayless has made a living off it: Say something that will bring out the crazy in people and watch the ratings pour in. And so, after James led the Cavs to the franchise’s first NBA title with a Game 7 win over the team with the most regular-season wins in NBA history, his reaction is this:
The Spurs would’ve beaten these Cavs.
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) June 20, 2016
I feel dumber just for having read that. But somewhere, by some water cooler or over some cubicle divider, you can bet some dullard repeated it this week to a co-worker as a sincerely held belief. And the stupid-hate continues.