THE TRUE VILLAINY OF KING JAMES: HOW I RESPECT THE MAN, BUT WILL (PROBABLY) ALWAYS ROOT AGAINST THE MAN
I’ve often argued that every person’s views on sports, college and professional sports teams, and rooting interests stems from a period of formative years in their childhood. It’s the time when you started watching SportsCenter every day (for me, it was the golden age of Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann pre-MSNBC liberal crusader), watching every championship game/series, reading the sports section each morning (before the transition to around-the-clock internet coverage), and deciding who the heroes and villains were and who you’d root for above everyone else.
This formative time for me was 1995-1996. It’s why I’ve always had a special place in my heart for Peyton Manning, the Atlanta Braves, the San Francisco 49ers, Tiger Woods, and whoever was the underdog in the NBA Finals.
At this point in time, each fan’s views of what they root for and what they root against begin to form. For many of us, that means the opening of a Sports Villains Hall of Fame. Not unlike Dante’s Inferno, this hall of fame/shame/whatever you want to call it has varying levels with various meaning. For another blog post at another time, I may actually create these tiers and explain them.
But as King James’ official reign begins as NBA Champion for the first time, we must not spend too much time speaking of others who aren’t wearing vampire shirts (that are either Vampire LeBron or Vampire Kanye depending who you ask) and rapping with teammates and LMFAO.
LeBron (in Vampire T-Shirt) & Crew Celebrating NBA Title with LMFAO
Very briefly though, the biggest villains during my sports fandom days have been (in no particular order):
The New York Yankees, the New England Patriots,… – okay, those are my top two biggest teams by far. I ALWAYS root against them. After what the Yankees did to the Braves in the 1996 Series and the reign of terror the Patriots/Terrorists wrecked upon Peyton Manning and the NFL, these are the top two villains.
Other villains have been the Kobe/Shaq/Phil Jackson Los Angeles Lakers, any non-American golfer competing against Tiger Woods in the pre-scandal era, any team coached by Nick Saban, and, most pertinently to our discussion today, the Jordan/Pippen/Rodman/Phil Jackson-led Chicago Bulls.
Now let me be clear – when LeBron was in high school and his games were on ESPN, when he was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers, and as he put up many wonderful performances in the Cavs uniform, I was a huge LeBron fan. Why not root for the latest Boy Wonder to surpass his ridiculously high potential and allow us to witness history as we not only got the answer to the perpetual question , “Who is the next Jordan?” but got to witness it ourselves. Everyone wants to witness history, unless of course it’s the steroids-era baseball kind of setting history. But I digress away from the King too much once again…
The history that is pertinent to so many of the LeBron haters is “The Decision.” I still remember watching it in a sports bar in New York City. Regardless of what city I was in, just watching it felt a bit dirty. It was a bit off.
The rest of the story is well known – the uneven first season playing together, losing to the Mavericks in the NBA Finals, LeBron’s increasing villainy. I’m ready to move on, to be honest. Why? Because, to me, the proper place for LeBron and his talented friends from South Beach in the hall of sports villainy is right up there with Michael Jordan and the Bulls from the mid-90s.
I never hated Michael Jordan or the Chicago Bulls. In fact, I loved watching them play and respected their athletic achievements. But I wasn’t ever going to cheer for them to win. Why? It seemed too easy for them. Disney sports movies were always about the underdogs overcoming the odds to take down the all-too-mighty and usually-too-cocky New England Patriots, New York Yankees, LA Lakers, Chicago Bulls, or now, your NBA Champion Miami Heat.
Now I’ve talked to my best friends who love the LeBron-led Heat. I’ve read all the arguments about why I should have cheered for LeBron to win the title. Clay Travis and Rick Reilly made their very shrewd and very true arguments about why much of the LeBron hate is overblown. And you know what, most of what they said was right. But I was blown away by the leaps in logic. Yes, much of the LeBron hate has been overblown hysteria. But, much like the non-critically-thinking polarizing thought that enraptures our political and religious discourse, the
talking shouting heads make every issue into an all-or-nothing, Extreme A vs. Extreme B debate. Everyone who roots against LeBron becomes someone who doesn’t respect him at all (see Exhibit A below) or you’re a LeBron lover who wants to see him win every NBA Title and every MVP award for the next decade.
Now that Lebron has won his title and is The Once and Future King of the NBA, I’m hoping we can move away from those waiting for the true Lost Legend of LeBron and the absolute hatred towards LeBron out of the feeling that it’s the only option outside of rooting for him, and actually allow the South Beach MonStars (and to my Google Image search delight… someone has already created an image for me!) to take their proper place in the Hall of Fame of Sports Villains.
Sidenote: I was ecstatic to see my boy Shane Battier win a title and happy for Juwan Howard to win one after 18 seasons in the league on 8 different teams. Who was I not as excited to see win a title? Other former Grizzlies player Mike Miller. Mike freakin’ Miller. Sigh.
We shouldn’t root for LeBron to fail because we want to see him choke. For those of us who love watching the best in the world compete on the world’s largest stage, we should root for others to prove they are indeed the best by beating the best, which love it or hate it, is now the Miami Heat. Like pre-teen me in the mid 1990s, I’ll enjoy watching the Miami Heat play their game, but you better believe I long for the day when the healthy Chicago Bulls (irony), the gritty Memphis Grizzlies, the now tested OKC Thunder, or any other team upsets the monstrous Miami MonStars.
LeBron should be commended for what he has done, as he was so eloquently by Shane Battier, Bill Simmons, and Malcolm Gladwell. With the exception of Tiger Woods and perhaps Peyton Manning pre-Super Bowl win, no other sports star in history has been through the 24/7, Twittersphere, blogosphere, cable news grind like LeBron has. And, as pointed out by Simmons, Gladwell, and Battier, he has handled it better than many others would, including most likely Jordan in his prime.
BUT, that does not mean I have to root for LeBron. As Carles at Grantland suggests, I am excited for a tonal change in sports media and a different storyline about LeBron now that he has won a title. But that doesn’t mean I should or ever will root for LeBron. I never rooted for Michael Jordan. That doesn’t mean I didn’t and don’t respect how these great players play and enjoy watching them. But great teams that seem unstoppable… I have a history of rooting against them. I love me some underdogs. Karl Malone, John Stockton, Shawn Kemp, and Gary Payton were never able to stop the Michael Jordan-led Bulls.
Here’s hoping that Durant’s Thunder, the gritty Grizzlies, the Derrick Rose-led Chicago Bulls, or another team gives us some thrilling Finals series in the years to come. LeBron’s still the villain. Hopefully now, basketball fans will realize what type of villain he has been all along, and root for the Davids in the NBA (NOT Stern) to take down the Goliath who now sits on the throne.
Congratulations, LeBron. Now you can move forward in rising up the list of All-Time Greats. And I can root for everyone else to take you and your boys down. You may or may not become the all-time best. Only time will tell. Time… and Kevin Durant… and the rest of the NBA, present and future. Good luck out there. Everyone wants to beat the best. And I almost always root for them to do it.