It was a warm summer evening in July of 2010. Cleveland was burning. In a media spectacle known as The Decision, LeBron James uttered seven words that would send fans and critics into a tailspin: “I’m taking my talents to South Beach.” Some believed that since entering the league in 2004, the NBA’s youngest ever #1 overall draft pick had failed to live up to the hype. Others believed he was destined to be in the conversation with the greatest basketball players of all time. Now, almost six years after The Decision aired, LeBron James continues to draw criticism from fans and critics.
Even with putting up video game numbers last night (41 points, 16 rebounds, 7 assists) in Game 5 against Golden State, the LeBron Haters emerged in full force. It is mystifying that despite six consecutive NBA Finals appearances, two NBA Championships, four league MVP awards, two Olympic gold medals, and a list of NBA records longer than a Johnny Manziel weekend bender, there are still people out there who refuse to recognize LeBron for the player that he is.
Like many other professional athlete hate groups, the most militant anti-LeBron faction exists primarily on the internet. It is no secret that they walk, talk, and live among us; ironically, they seem to watch him play more than his fans. Although they surface in unison regardless of whether LeBron wins or loses, the post-LeBron loss Twitter landscape is a smoldering dumpster fire of crying Jordan memes and egg avatar accounts @-replying the Cavaliers team account telling them to fuck off and die. Inevitably, I will find myself scrolling through an argument about James that always manages to be about the same things:
When someone expresses that he or she likes a certain professional athlete, the first reasonable thing to do is immediately tell a story that reflects the athlete in a negative light. Say for instance we’re talking about Chipper Jones. One of my dad’s golf buddies used to live on the same street as Chipper Jones. He said that after Chipper moved in, he came to his door and told him that he had to change his pool because it looked too much like the one Chipper wanted to build. See? That’s mine.
A LeBron hater is armed with dozens of similar anecdotes as if he is the only professional athlete that has ever acted like a douche about anything. If it’s not okay for LeBron to be cocky, then I better not find you rooting for any team with a player that wouldn’t get an invitation to a candlelight dinner with the Dalai Lama. I understand that asserting “everyone else does it, so it’s okay” is hardly quantifiable as sound logic, but when the opposite case sounds equally ridiculous, it makes it pretty clear that a player’s attitude is often relatively unimportant in measuring how good or bad they are at their sport. Remember when Miguel Cabrera tried to get out of a DUI by dropping the “Do you know who I am?” line? Yeah, he recently inked a contract with the Tigers for $240 million.
“He’s not clutch.”
The question of whether or not LeBron James is “clutch” is one that continues to be brought back to life year after year and is routinely used as cannon fodder in the War On LeBron. In February of this year, ESPN Stats & Info sent out a tweet stating that LeBron James is 5 for 47 in game-tying/go-ahead shots in the past ten seasons. In true-to-ESPN-fashion, they failed to mention that this statistic was limited to the regular season only and that LeBron is 4 for 12 in the playoffs in the past 10 seasons. The math savvy sports fan will also notice that this excludes the first three seasons of his career, where he was 4 for 14 in the regular season and 1 for 2 in the playoffs (‘07 against the Spurs).
This omission was, of course, intentional; ESPN knew that their target audience would eat that shit up. The problem is that if we lobby to exclude statistics from measuring the “clutch” factor that have no foundation from which to start, and if we include them we run the risk of poorly interpreted ones being thrown around as fact. This makes it virtually worthless to continually argue about whether or not LeBron possesses the ambiguous “clutch” factor. Measuring a player’s propensity to come up big for his team when they need it possesses far too many intricate elements to make it anything more than an infinitely tireless and circular engagement.
The Ring Argument
It always begins with a comparison to Michael Jordan and usually ends with incoherent yelling getting sucked into a black hole of failed rhetoric. Arguing about the relative value of how many rings a player has is maddening, and it always will be. If we make the case that rings are important in determining worth, Bill Russell’s eleven rings should catapult him to the same level as Michael Jordan. Considering that Russell played in an era in which the league never had more than ten teams, this doesn’t seem like a sound argument.
If we exclude rings from the conversation entirely, it makes it seem like winning an NBA Championship isn’t an important factor in determining who should stand among the NBA’s greatest. Ultimately, stacking ‘ships has to be important but only if considered in the context of their performance. What this means is that you can’t bring up LeBron’s 2-4 NBA finals record without including that in the postseason he’s #1 all time in scoring average in game 7s (34.4 ppg) and elimination games (31.4 ppg).
No Reason Whatsoever
There are some people who loathe LeBron’s very existence without being able to articulate why. I find it perfectly respectable to hate someone (or something) without any valid reason at all, just on the condition that you will openly admit it. For many people, they woke up one day and decided they didn’t like LeBron and they’ve been trying to cover up their misplaced hatred with thinly pieced together arguments ever since. Admit you just flat out don’t like him and bring it in for a hug, you guys.
I’m not asking the world to go easy on him or trying to convince you that he’s God’s gift to Earth. I’m not trying to make you his biggest fan, either — LeBron fans are incredibly flawed given their propensity to make excuses for him in every situation imaginable. What I want here is for people to step back and reflect on any longstanding reservations they may hold about LeBron James and evaluate their merit.
You don’t have to like LeBron as a person, but it is inane to ignore his contribution to the game and deny that he may one day go down as one of the greatest to ever step on the court..
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