All I have to do is mention the name “Lebron James” on radio or twitter, and off you go. His name sparks an immediate reaction, just like a bolt of lightning from the sky. A passionate, volatile, emotional reaction. The responses are as varied as the kinds of flowers in a botanical garden. But that’s probably not the best analogy since most of the reaction isn’t sweet or pretty or flowery or pleasant. He’s the Tim Tebow of the NBA: a household name about whom everyone holds a strong opinion. Even the marginal fans who can’t name more than one of Lebron’s teammates will be happy to tell you what they think of him. Trust me, he’s the last person I thought I’d be blogging about before the NBA Finals. Not after his epic performance in Game 6 and his leadership in Game 7 of the East Finals propelled his Heat past my Celtics. I spent more than a hot second screaming at Lebron’s face on TV during that series. But there I was on ESPN Radio Sunday night defending Lebron from his numerous detractors…and here I am now doing the same.
It took more than 24 hours to sift through all your tweets about Lebron, and the creativity is impressive! After I solicited your reaction, you came up with dozens of reasons to hate him and root against him. Everything from a perceived arrogance to his desire to be liked by the fans to the way he announced his divorce with Cleveland in the now infamous “Decision.” One tweet accuses him of constant flopping and whining and being out of touch with reality. According to so many of you, Lebron is not clutch and not a team player and nowhere near as talented as Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, mostly because he doesn’t have a ring. When it comes to Lebron, the numbers don’t seem to carry much weight. Forget that’s he elevated his play in the postseason to carry Dwayne Wade and the rest of the Heat. Forget that he’s averaging more than 30 points per game (and nearly 10 rebounds) while defending every position from point guard to center. Forget that he recently earned his third MVP award despite facing more criticism and venom than any other athlete in the NBA.
It’s somewhat ironic that I’m a voice of reason when it comes to Lebron since his Heat unceremoniously ended Boston’s playoff run the last two seasons. I hate the way he embarrassed the Cavaliers and his hometown fans by forcing them to watch his free agent “Decision” like everyone else. It still makes me angry to recall how Cleveland found out he was leaving for South Beach on TV. But I can’t fault him for choosing Miami and the chance to play with one of his best friends. I can’t fault him for leaping at the opportunity to win championships (“not one, not two, not three…”) because that wasn’t going to happen with the Cavs. Basketball is Lebron’s business, his career. Put yourself in his shoes and remember he was making a professional decision about what was best for his future. His immaturity showed in the way he announced his destination, but he’s expressed regret over that moment. After a year of playing in anger and lashing out at his detractors, he’s changed his attitude, outlook, and tone when dealing with the media and the fans. He’s learning and growing up and still carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. He’s mentally focused – a man on a mission.
Hard to predict what happens when the Heat and Thunder tip off in this highly-anticipated NBA Finals. Lebron may revert back to his previous Finals form when his scoring average dips almost 10 points below his production in other playoff series. He may not be able to handle the pressure, and his teammates may not provide enough support. You can be sure millions will root against him and say “I told you so” if he fails. As for me, inexplicably, I find myself hoping Lebron finally proves to everyone he’s a worthy champion – that for a few hours at least, it doesn’t matter what people say.