Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Why We Hate LeBron James Now

I found this article the other day. It basically says that people who hate on LeBron James are hypocrites and don't have any solid reason to hate him aside from jealousy.

In the author's opinion, we hate on LBJ because we don't like that he went to a different team and wants to win, or some twisted reason like that. He also believes that the more we hate him, the more we eat out of his hand, or something like that. He compares LBJ to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who was villified for not standing during the national anthem, and says that LeBron owns the people who hate him.

The author doesn't understand why people hate LeBron James. It's not because he left the Cavs. If LeBron would have left and gone to Denver, the Clippers, the Knicks, or any other team, Cleveland residents would be the only people still complaining. When the Cavaliers dropped from 61 wins in 2009 to 19 in 2010, it became pretty obvious that LeBron was the only player that the Cavaliers had, so who can blame someone for getting out of a bad situation?

Even if he would have gone to a team that had a solid No. 2 guy but no No. 1, that would have been OK. What bothers us isn't that LeBron left Cleveland. What bothers us is that he got together with his buddies for the express purpose of winning a championship. To the people sitting at home, that smacks of laziness.

We respect athletes who work hard. Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Albert Pujols, that kind. We hear stories about them being the first to practice and the last to leave. We like that. We expect our athletes to leave it all on the floor for us because that's why we pay them so much money. That's the tradeoff: We pay you money, you entertain us by giving it your all every day.

That's why, for example, Michael Jordan was beloved. He never took nights off. He never just said, "Screw it," and drop a pass to someone else instead of taking it himself. He never took the easy way. He pushed himself and his teammates to work, work, work, sometimes to their detriment. That what it takes to get six championships.

This isn't a question of whether or not LBJ or D-Wade or Bosh work hard on the court. No one is denying that they play hard. What puts them behind the 8-ball is that they gave up. Instead of using that competitor's fire to make their own teams better, they grouped together for the express purpose winning championships every year. Compare this to the Dallas Mavericks, which is comprised of Dirk Nowitzki, the husk of Jason Kidd, the occasional Jason Terry sighting, and that's it. Dirk could win almost on his own. Why can't these guys?

The author of the article also hints at racism, and reading the previous paragraph, you might be tempted to think that we liked the Mavs this year because Dirk is white, and we hated the Heat's Big Three because they're all black. That's too easy of an explanation, though. Here's why. Consider other African-American athletes:

Kobe Bryant. I was always a Kobe-hater, but I'm changing my tune. Consider: He has Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom and Ron Artest on his team. They're all No. 2 type of guys. You would never ask any of them to carry a team on their own, because they can't. Yet, Kobe won a title with these guys.

Tim Duncan. He has Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli. Neither of them are No. 1s. Yet, he won tons of championships with them. He's beloved in San Antonio and respected throughout the league.

Shaq. Shaq paired up with Kobe in LA, true. Yet, Kobe wasn't yet KOBE. He was merely a very talented player who wasn't still a little wet behind the ears. He needed time and maturity to carry a team. Once he got a little more mature, Shaq left. He needed to be the No. 1. He went to the Heat. Wade was still a No. 2 and only grew into the No. 1 role after Shaq left.

Kevin Garnett. Garnett grouped with Pierce and Ray Allen. Now, can Ray Allen carry a team on his own? When he was younger with the Bucks and Sonics, he kind of did, but he was viewed as a No. 2 before Garnett arrived. Pierce was also a guy who was on the cusp of being a No. 1 but couldn't quite get there.

See? It's not a race thing. No one was necessarily mad at any of these guys for being on the teams they were with except for those who hate on everything. KG even engineered his escape from Minnesota to end up on a contender, and when he won a championship we were HAPPY for him. It's not about race or trying to find the right team for yourself. It's about respect for the game and the fans.

For example, most people dislike the Yankees or Red Sox because they stack their teams with the most expensive and talented players and expect championships. When the Yankees won in the 90's, it was with guys like Paul O'Neill and Bernie Williams, along with Hall-Of-Famers like Jeter and Pettitte. These were guys who came up in the system together and became a TEAM together. Now that they stack their teams, we take a perverse pleasure in watching them lose.

We weren't mad that LeBron picked a different team, we were mad that he picked THIS SPECIFIC team with THESE SPECIFIC players. He went out and grouped himself with players that would get him an easy championship. He could fade down the stretch like he did last year and no one would notice because Wade and Bosh could pick up the slack. That's not respectful to the greats who came before, guys like Russell, Bradley and Mikan.

"But, what about letting him do what he wants to do? He's a human being! Maybe he doesn't want to follow the script we've set for him! Ever think about that, you heartless, selfish bastards?"

Here's the problem with that line of reasoning. We'll use a comparison between being an athlete and being a politician. They're very similar. Case in point: Who elects officials? We do. When we elect them, we expect them to represent us because we put them there. We pay their salaries, and when we stop liking them, we remove them.

OK, so who pays athletes? Well, same thing. We do. We pay with our tickets and watching them on TV. Therefore, we expect them to represent us because we put them there. If our team doesn't have athletes we like, we don't pay with our tickets or by watching them on TV. If we like an athlete, we pay them exorbitant amounts of money for our entertainment pleasure.

There's a reason that LeBron James gets paid more than, say, DeGasana Diop. It's because we, as the fans, want to see LeBron James more than Diop. We know he can do incredible things, so the payment is basically saying, "Hey, here's an advance on all the incredible stuff we expect you to do and payment for all the cool stuff you've already done. Good luck!"

That's why the argument of "Let the athlete do what he wants, it's his life" doesn't work. He gave up that right when we started giving him money to do awesome things for us. That's why we got mad at Ricky Williams when he walked away from football to hang out with gurus and get high: We paid him lots of money to entertain us, so we expect that he will do so.

Like, with LeBron, we paid him a lot of money to do incredible things on a basketball court. We paid him because sometimes we like to see an athlete transcend his sport and do something we've never seen. Instead, he took our money and did what he wanted to do instead of what we expected. Well, guess what? It doesn't work like that.

When a CEO takes enormous amounts of money for their work and don't accomplish anything, what do the stockholders do? They vote him out. When a politician takes more money than he deserves, what do they do? They kick him out. When someone gets more than they deserve, we get angry.

LeBron is blessed with a freakish amount of talent. It's fair to say that no other basketball player (and I'm including Jordan here) has as much as raw talent as LeBron has. He wanted to play basketball and use that talent to entertain us. When a person has that much talent and they decide to take it easy, we get angry. When we see someone like LBJ decide that he would rather hide his talent by letting someone else do the heavy lifting or treat his gift like something that is of no consequence, we get angry, and with good reason.

We get angry because we will never have that much talent, but we all want it. If we could have the talent that LeBron James has for one day, we would never, ever forget that day. We would dream about it. We would remember the one time we blew past three guys and dunked in the face of a fourth, ran down the court, blocked a shot, then took the ball the other way and drained a three with a defender's hand in our face. We would die with a smile on our face, remembering that one time.

Therefore, what we want to see, and what we pay LeBron to do, is use his talent to make his team better. If there was any doubt about that, all you have to do is look at how much hate is directed his way. The people who pay his salary have spoken.

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