I want to make a few things clear about my feelings towards LeBron James’ decision to play for the Miami Heat: until this year, I liked him. I was by no means a Cavs fan, but I loved watching him play because, quite honestly, he’s the most talented player in the league by a wide margin. He’s kind of like Charles Barkley was in his younger days: a, unique ‘physical specimen’ who does not conform to what his size says he should (which would be a power forward in the post, not a ball-handling small forward). Keep in mind, before Sir Charles was a loveable public alcoholic, he was a 6’4” power forward who not only played his position well, but was DOMINANT at a size typically reserved for guards. According to their official listings, the Round Mound of Rebound is one inch taller than Steve Nash. But my love for Charles has forced me to digress.
My dislike for LeBron had a slow build, and it also corresponded with my growth in admiration of Carmelo Anthony’s game. LeBron’s whining towards the refs has gotten out of control (much like Kobe’s), and that typically starts to send me over the edge on how I feel about a player. During the now infamous Celtics/Cavs second round series this year, I don’t think it’s a question that LeBron quit. His stats were great, of course, but with 2 minutes left in the closeout game, the Cavaliers just stopped trying to win, even though they still conceivably could have. I am a firm believer in your leader dictating the tone of the team, and had LeBron been trying to win instead of just sauntering up the court, I bet the rest of his team would have kept trying as well. It was without a doubt one of the most confusing, frustrating and maddening things I’ve witnessed in my decade of excessive basketball watching. If you’re a competitor, you don’t fucking quit. I suck at basketball, but even when my former roommate was beating me 10-1 in a game to 11, I was still trying. And the only thing on the line there was bragging rights.
I will still watch LeBron play next year. I would be a fool not to. But I hate that man, and so do a lot of other NBA fans right now. I’m pretty sure Cleveland will do their own, LeBron jersey variation of the Comiskey Park Disco Demolition Night by the end of the summer, led by Cavs owner Dan Gilbert himself. My hate does not stem from LeBron abandoning Cleveland, because I don’t care about Cleveland (does anybody?), nor does it stem from him taking less money to having a better chance at winning championships. I actually think that’s vaguely admirable. It certainly doesn’t stem from him realizing that he doesn’t have his now-teammate Dwyane Wade’s ‘killer instinct,’ although judging by The Interview with Jim Gray, he doesn’t quite realize that he should and will be deferring to Wade more often than he is used to in crunch time. If he’s willingly accepting an uber-Pippen role, then again, I find that admirable. Wade’s body will break down sooner than Bron’s, and Wade is 3 years older as well, so if these egos can coexist for long enough, LeBron will eventually have his chance as alpha dog again, but with less pressure, assuming the Miami Thrice win a title or two before this change occurs.
The reason LeBron left is pretty simple I think, and it is (to me) kind of telling about his personality. He is publicly a Yankees, Cowboys, and (while growing up) Bulls fan, just like every kid you went to school with in the 90s who liked wearing Starter jackets. This guy was the “son of Ohio,” but he never cheered for Ohio sports teams. When Michael Jordan hit “the shot” over Cleveland’s Craig Ehlo in the late 80s, LeBron was probably happy. He’s a bandwagoner, and as somebody who dislikes bandwagoners, I can’t like LeBron anymore.
To me, a bandwagon fan is the worst kind of sports fan. This is the non-New Yorker that cheers for the Yankees because chances are, they’re going to win more often than anybody else. He wears his #24 Lakers jersey to a bar in Toronto and yells “GIVE IT TO KOBE!” every time another Laker has the ball. The bandwagon fan doesn’t want to wait to win: they want to win now. And I don’t mean that in a ‘fiery competitor’ sort of way, because the average fan has almost no influence on the game, I mean it in that they don’t want to wait around for their local team to win. I realize this way of thinking might be kind of stupid, because my chosen team, the Raptors will almost certainly never win a title, but at least I’ll respect myself in some odd way. And as I have mentioned many times before in conversation, I find the concept of professional sports to be inherently ridiculous, and thusly support my own ridiculous opinions towards professional sports.
Irrationally hating bandwagon fans is pretty much the sports nerd’s equivalent of being the normal nerd in high school: I’m Ducky in Pretty in Pink, and bandwagon fans are the more popular and eventually successful Blane. We’re often working harder to meet our goal, but shit just comes so easy to the popular folk.
I realize that my Carmelo Anthony fandom complicates things here. The Nuggets are my secondary team, and Melo isn’t the only player on that team I really like (K-Mart, JR Smith, Chauncey Billups, Nene, etc), but I cheer for them because of Melo. My defense for this is that Melo does not get anywhere near the respect he deserves in comparison to the other premier players in the league. He’s the underdog superstar. People expect LeBron to win, whereas when Melo and the Nuggets made it to the Western Conference Finals a year ago, it surprised people. And it’s easier for a person like me to cheer for the underdog. When Kobe and the Lakers triumphed over the Nuggets last year, it was frustrating. The Lakers had more natural talent, and a deeper bench (in that they had one)… but you could tell just how bad the Nuggets wanted it. But that’s never what really matters.
Melo’s also got an ego, no doubt. Anybody who is showered with as much praise growing up as a basketball player at his level would have one, it’s the nature of the game. If people tell you something good about yourself repeatedly for long enough, you’re going to eventually believe it and carry yourself differently. I’ve seen this happen on a much smaller scale than a pro ball player, and I would imagine it takes a very strong will to avoid. But LeBron took the concept of ego and raised it about ten notches with his hour long ESPN special called “The Decision.” What Kevin Durant did in a single tweet, LeBron needed an hour of primetime television for. This has been written about just about everywhere, and honestly, to see how ridiculous it is, all you have to do is read this sentence: “This fall, man this is very tough, I’m going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.” Those are the words he said in the middle of an obviously scripted interview, and if you remove the painfully forced “tough decision” line, that would easily fit in a tweet. The rest of the hour was almost certainly spent rehashing points we had read many times in the preceding weeks. I can’t be a fan of any athlete who thinks they deserve an hour of primetime for one sentence.
To be fair, part of this isn’t LeBron’s fault. Michael Jordan was an egotistical douchebag too, but the peak of his career was 15 years ago, before the sports media ‘evolved’ into what it is now. But abusing the media’s admiration of him is almost as offensive as the media’s role in this to me. A lot of wrong decisions were made… and while the special was LeBron’s representations’ idea (and LeBron agreed to it), ESPN was probably the one who really profited. I suspect LeBron lost a lot of fans with the special, but the ratings were massive. I was (shockingly) in a movie theatre at the time, but the clips I watched later on that night were painful. It was like watching the high school quarterback step up to give some sort of speech at an assembly: you hate that he felt entitled enough to do it, but you still wanted to hear how he was going to try to address the school.
LeBron has to leave his native Cleveland to (presumably) win faster. Melo misses out on his rightful recognition. The Raptors never win, and Ducky doesn’t get the girl. Unfortunately, that’s the way it is, and the way it always will be.