Monday, January 2, 2012

Justified Sports Hatred: LeBron James

(photo @ forbezdvd)


In honor of the 2011-2012 NBA season (which almost didn't happen) and my Atlanta Hawks taking on the Miami Heat to start the new year, we've decided to profile professional basketball's favorite current villain/target, Lebron James.

As with many of our "Justified Sports Hatred" subjects, the venom that gets directed towards "King" James often gets attributed to to the ever present "haters." And while there is no doubt that LeBron is a top flight talent, his enormous ego and severe deficiencies as a player (and a human being) offer plenty of opportunities for the hate to be justified.


2009 Conference Finals: The Missing Handshake

LeBon James' 2008-2009 Cleveland Cavaliers entered the playoffs with an impressive 66-16 regular season record. They had every reason to be optimistic that they could (and should) reach the NBA finals.  Unfortunately for the Cavs, they were defeated by the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals in 6 games.  As the Magic celebrated their victory and shook hands with the Cavaliers, Lebron stormed off the court. Not only did he refuse to shake any of his opponents' hands, but he also refused to talk to the media.

When he was later asked about his behavior, Lebron claimed that he didn't regret anything about his display of poor sportsmanship. Part of his explanation was:

"It's hard for me to congratulate somebody after you just lose to them. I mean, I'm a winner. That's not being a poor sport or anything like that. Somebody beat you up, you're not going to congratulate them on beating you up. I'm a competitor. That's what I do. It don't make sense to me to go up and shake somebody's hand."

     Pictured:  A visual interpretation of LeBron's statement.

Now to be honest, this wasn't that big a deal by itself. We've all had our weak moments when we didn't act with the grace or class that we should have; most of us are also lucky enough not to have cameras and sports writers telling the entire world about it. 

But when you combine this incident with rumblings about LeBron's poor attitude while on the U.S. Olympic team (that resulted in him almost getting cut from the 2006 U.S. National Team), the public got its first taste King James' ego...although it was nothing compared to what happened that summer.


Summer 2009:  The Dunk (And Ego) 
You Weren't Supposed To See

The LeBron James Skill Academy was a summer camp for some of the best high school and college players in the country that was held in Akron, Ohio. During a pick up game, Xavier's Jordan Crawford dunked over LeBron. While news of the dunk spread, video of it was confiscated by Nike officials...right after LeBron called over a Nike rep/goon, who minutes later approached  the camera man (freelance photographer Ryan Miller) and demanded that he turn over his tapes.  

                                                        yougotdunkedon.com


Miller was told that he was violating the camp's rules by taping the scrimmage, despite the fact that he had been permitted to film there, had been filming all day without incident, and Nike had no policy against filming at the camp. It was pretty clear that LeBron and Nike didn't want anyone to see King James getting posterized.  

This made a dunk that would have been news for at most 48 hours take on mythic proportions. When a leaked cell phone video of the dunk finally did emerge (that was authenticated by Miller), it really wasn't that big a deal.  



See what I mean? There's no doubt it was a great dunk, but it wasn't anything that would have made people think less of LeBron until he totally invoked the Streisand Effect on it.  

James' only response about the incident and its handling to the media was that even though he thought Jordan Crawford and his dunk were great, he's still better than an overwhelming majority of the players that he goes up against.

                                 cae2k.com


2010: The Decision To Be A Diva

After a surprisingly early exit from the 2010 playoffs, the Cleveland Cavaliers were faced with the prospect of losing their hometown star of 7 years. LeBron had hinted that he may go, calling July 1, 2010 (the first official day of his free agency) the biggest day in the history of basketball.  While this may have sounded like hyperbole to most, James wasn't joking.  

After a whirlwind of highly publicized meetings with various NBA teams, LeBron got ESPN to give him an hour of airtime entitled 'The Decision.' On national television, he famously announced that he would be "taking his talents to South Beach" to join the Miami Heat.

                                        miaminewtimes
"...along with any goodwill from NBA fans that I once enjoyed."

Let's be clear on one thing: I have no problem with James deciding to go with a different team. He even decided to take less money so that the team he was going to could sign more players, which is a lot more than Joe Johnson did for my Atlanta Hawks. Sure, it would have been nice to see James stick with his hometown team and fans, but signing a contract to go to a great team with a better shot at a title doesn't make someone a jerk.

What does make someone a jerk is having a narcissistic 1 hour television special about it that also embarrasses the town and fans that rooted for you YOUR ENTIRE LIFE. James and his remaining fans can point out all they want that revenue from 'The Decision' went to charity, but this wasn't about feeding his wallet; it was about feeding his ego.

                           blog.tmcnet.com
James tried to fit his ego inside his wallet once.
It turned out to be very impractical.


He then attended a celebration of the Heat signing him (along with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh) that was completely ridiculous.  As The Heavy's 'How You Like Me Now?' filled the arena, Heat fans went crazy for their new triumvirate of greatness. The "Big 3" didn't disappoint, either, preening and flexing towards their hysterical new followers as if they had already won the NBA championship...

...which wasn't nearly as bad as when James actually guaranteed that they would win at least 7 of them.





Summer 2010: James Kills an ESPN Story

On July 28, 2010, ESPN's Arash Markazi published a story about his time spent with James' "entourage" in Las Vegas. It basically depicts James acting like you'd expect him to: A total diva/complete tool. 

But almost as soon as the the story went up, ESPN took it down. ESPN tried to say that the story was never supposed to be published, but that didn't add up at all with how and when it was released. It pretty much came down to LeBron's people calling and demanding that ESPN take the story down, which they did.  

Fortunately, Deadspin.com was able to get a screenshot of the story and posted it for the entire world to see.


Summer 2010:  LeBron May Only Be 
Spoken To Via His Representatives

Legendary sports photographer Walter Iooss was scheduled to shoot LeBron James for the first time since 2003.  While Iooss had nothing but positive things to say about nearly every athlete that he had ever photographed, his one negative story was reserved for King James himself...and it's absolutely absurd.  If I tried to describe what he saw, I couldn't do it justice; here's the excerpt about it from his recent article in Sports Illustrated:

"Times change, and sadly, LeBron became a villain to many after The Decision. I’ve seen a lot of entourages, but none like his. In July 2010 I got an assignment from Nike to shoot LeBron right after his TV special announcing his move to the Heat. We rented the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, where the Lakers and the Clippers used to play, and there were 53 people on my crew — including hair and makeup artists, production people, a stylist. I had $10,000 in Hollywood lighting. It was huge. When LeBron arrived, it was as if Nelson Mandela had come in. Six or seven blacked-out Escalades pulled up, a convoy. LeBron had bodyguards and his masseuse. His deejay was already there, blasting. This for a photo shoot that was going to last an hour, tops.

This is how crazy it was: I wasn’t even allowed to talk directly to LeBron. There was a liaison, someone from Amar’e Stoudemire’s family. I would say to him, “O.K., have LeBron drive right,” and then he’d turn to LeBron and say, “LeBron, go right.”

LeBron had guards in the portals on the mezzanine level, talking into their hands. Really, what was going to happen? And then at the end of the shoot they all got in the Escalades. My God, I’ve been around Michael Jordan, but with him nothing even came close to this. Unimaginable."

                                         hotelfashionland
He also may or may not have done the shoot dressed like this while smoking a pipe


It seemed as though LeBron had given into his more selfish impulses, completely embraced being the villain, and had become an exaggerated parody of himself.  Also keep in mind that all of this craziness happened before the season even began...



2010 NBA Season: The Hate Parade Begins

The jilting of his hometown team on national television along with the factors mentioned above had made James a hated man to almost every NBA fan outside of Miami. In Cleveland, fans had even burned his jersey in the streets. Those that saw nothing wrong with LeBron's decision itself still strongly disapproved of the way that he handled it...including NBA commissioner David Stern.

                                         behindthebasket
And if anyone knows about creating bad PR, it's this guy.

Being the savvy self promoter that he is, LeBron decided to make a commercial about the controversy currently surrounding him. Entitled "What Should I Do?", the Nike advertisement showed James asking whether he should do what others wanted, or just try to be the best that he felt he could be:





Unfortunately, the commercial did not come with the viable and accepted third option:  Becoming a self righteous parody of a man-child diva. Luckily, Cleveland fans made a response video that is much, much better:




As the season started, the NBA and its fans decided for LeBron; they made him the villain. He was booed loudly and ruthlessly heckled in every city that the Heat visited, (especially Cleveland). But despite some early growing pains, the Heat turned into a dominating force. When they reached the NBA Finals in 2011, it looked like it would be LeBron's time to finally win a championship.

Unfortunately, that's when the real LeBron showed up. From taking 30 seconds during a game to adjust his headband (to hide his receding hairline), to making fun of Dirk Nowitzki for being sick, LeBron lived up to his billing as a first class jerk.  

                                             clevescene.com
On a related note:  The headband can only go back so far

Unfortunately for the Heat, while LeBron's antics and ego showed up in force the the 2011 NBA Finals, his play in the 4th quarter did not. After chastising sportswriter Gregg Doyel for asking about his lack of production in clutch time, James went on to score 8 points TOTAL in Game 4. He came back with a triple double in Game 5, but only scored 2 points in the 4th quarter. In Game 6 he managed only 7 points in the fourth.

As Dallas celebrated their NBA Championship, Lebron was asked at the post game press conference how he felt about the people that had rooted against him that year. Here was his response:




Ah yes, the old "My life is better than yours, so I don't care," approach. Very classy indeed.


2012:  Looking Ahead 
(Or Back If You're LeBron's Hairline)

Since the turbulent 2010-2011 season, Lebron and his team have been pretty low key compared to their bravado from the year before. Aside from the rapper Drake making a complete idiot out of himself by saying that the Heat are better than any other team that has ever won a championship (and because Larry Bird can't jump as high as LeBron), there hasn't been been anything to stir the same hateful fervor that there once was for the boys from South Beach.

Still, that shouldn't stop us from remembering the reasons that we hated LeBron and the Heat in the first place. Because you have to admit, as much as the anger and malice towards one man or one team can poison your heart...it sure was fun to have a bona fide villain to root against.

                                       mediatakeout.com
Drake's eyebrows and personal grooming were just getting too easy.


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