Isn’t it funny—or, maybe, not so funny—how we like to hate on sports figures?
So, I offer this up in defense of the latest indefensible.
That would be LeBron James … cad, scoundrel, traitor and, worst of all, loser.
By the way, did you hear the one about James—a la Michael Jordan—now considering taking up another sport? Instead of baseball, it would be hockey, because hockey has only three periods.
In case you haven’t been paying attention, that’s a reference to James’ lack of productivity in the fourth quarters of the NBA Finals games against the Dallas Mavericks. To hear it, James lost that series all by himself.
Anyway, much of America was paying attention. Ratings were the second highest in the last seven years, eclipsed only by last year’s Lakers-Celtics finale.
Most people were watching because they wanted to see the Miami Heat—and James in particular—lose.
Include me in that category. I didn’t want to see the Heat prevail because I didn’t like the idea of roster-stacking with superstars.
Not that I blame James for that. He, and Chris Bosh, moved to Miami to join Dwyane Wade because they could. They saw a grand opportunity to pursue what all athletes claim to pursue and America generally regards as the only legitimate end reward: A championship.
That they came up short—even though it was less short than 28 other teams—the Big Three and their teammates are now being viewed as gigantic flops.
Sure, they helped bring it on themselves. First there was James and “The Decision” on ESPN, where he announced he was taking his talents to South Beach and sticking it to the loyalists in Cleveland and his native Ohio.
That was followed by a coming-out soiree in Miami that was all show biz and pledges to win multiple championships.
That made it easy to view the Heat not as that Dream Team, but as that Damn Team. The Heat were going to win the title and there wasn’t anything anyone could do about it.
Except the Mavericks.
After losing Game Six, James was asked about the “haters” who so delighted in seeing him not hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy. James was widely criticized for his response when he said, and I’m paraphrasing, that all those who despise him so would wake up the next day in their lives in the same circumstances, just as he would.
In other words, the outcome of a game—or a series—wouldn’t change things for anyone.
He’s right, of course.
Nonetheless, many seized upon that as James implying his circumstances of immense wealth and fame are much superior to the circumstances of his detractors. A couple of days later, he issued a statement and said that was not his intent.
Not making excuses for him—OK, yes I am—but this is a 26-year-old who was speaking off the cuff without advisers or handlers or teleprompters, moments after a devastating loss.
Certainly, I understand the loathing Clevelanders have for James. He jilted them in a highly publicized way. We might have felt the same here if Reggie Miller, at the height of his career, said he was taking his talents from Market Square to Madison Square.
I recall the letdown I experienced when George McGinnis bolted the Indiana Pacers for greener pastures in Philadelphia in 1975. I was sorry to see a local superstar go. But I couldn’t hate him for it, and I certainly didn’t feel any vindication when McGinnis and his 76ers lost an NBA Finals a couple of years later.
Bottom line with LeBron: I don’t think he’s a bad guy. He’s just a guy to whom wealth, fame and yes-men all around arrived well before maturity and perspective did. And I don’t think he’s a choking dog who single-handedly cost the Heat a title. That’s too easy. Too simplistic.
The Mavs played better. Good for them, especially former Pacers coach Rick Carlisle and a former Purdue Boilermaker, Brian Cardinal, whom I saw end his college career in tears, just short of reaching a Final Four.
Just as there is too much hate in the world, there’s too much hate in sports. It’s silly. We should reserve such emotions for those who really deserve them.
Like Tom Brady and those evil Belli-cheats from New England.•
Benner is senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League college athletic conference and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.