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Sunday, June 10, 2012

LeBron James - An Expensive Hate Tag

As the ECF drew to a close this morning and the Heat shut the curtains down on the Celtics and possibly on the big-three era, I for one realized how an arrogant, gigantic, and legendary in the making, LeBron James rose against all odds and averaged close to 35 points and 11 rebounds a game in the Conference Finals to almost single handedly take the Heat into their second consecutive championship finals starting on Tuesday. Let's forget the Heat for a moment and just focus on LeBron here. I will be honest. Yes, I wanted the Heat to lose or let me put it right, I wanted LeBron to fall. As soon as the memory of James’ 45-point, 10-rebound, five-assist season-saving performance wriggled into the brightest hours of Friday morning here in Hyderabad, it was no longer about Game 6. That was no longer good enough for me and for most LeBron haters. He had to win Game 7. I was waiting for him to fall today again, but like a true warrior as he stepped up the game when most needed and played another tiring, emotionally nerve racking 48-min game, I told myself, enough, I can't pretend to hate this guy anymore and that too, just for the heck of it and maybe because our dear friend Ramesh is obsessed with him, that ain't no sportsmanship.

So, after the game, sitting on the sofa, reading the newspaper I had this unusual sense of disgust within myself. I was forced to take an objective viewpoint and began questioning how one man can attract so much undeserved hatred and criticism. Was it something to do with the strong, palpable hate I have for James or was it something else; I wondered. And I bemoaned, perhaps this is a love that was to spring from my deep hate I have for him. After all, our greatest collective hate should explain our widespread love, and there is no better example than my renewal of love on James today. As a sportsperson myself, if I love Sachin, Nadal, Barcelona, and Messi, there is no way in the world I could pretend to hate this man any longer. I was always awed by his ability but he made me fall in love today, all over again and for only the second time after Ronaldinho seduced me with his quite stunning magical ability on the football field.
James is one of the best players in the league and, in my opinion, when it is all said and done, could be one of the greatest players ever to have played the game of basketball. And yet, at this moment, LeBron James is the most hated athlete in American sport if not in World sport (although, I believe Mourinho takes the world plaudits). If we did not love sports, we would not hate LeBron James as much. He has not sinned against society. He has sinned against competition. And this sounds backward, but it's true: If he had sinned against society, we would have an easier time forgiving him, the likes of Mubarak and Kasab having to get away from people ranting by spending time in air-conditioned jails is a sick modern era's example. We all sin against society at some point but in sports, competition is everything.

Let’s pick on what James had to offer and where we, and I for one, went a bit overboard and out of control with critical assessment. I don't mean the hate is unjustified. Or justified, for that matter. But let's pause for a second, put the hate on the stove to keep it warm, and think about this. Why do we even hate him, why?
  • Because the 2007 Final series was a rout by Spurs on the Cavaliers? I remember rooting for Cavaliers and James playing his fourth year and his first finals played an exceptional season until the final. To be pointing fingers at him for a dismal Finals performance is no way justified. And one has to remember, James was 22 at the time of the series and he was the single reason Cleveland were in the finals. Think about that.
  • Because LeBron spent seven years in Cleveland and Cavaliers made many half-hearted efforts to keep LeBron happy? An old, fat Shaquille O’Neal, and a non-motivated Antawn Jamison isn't good enough to keep many superstars with a team. When the best player you play with is Gibson, you know you won't be keeping your superstar for long. So, can we blame him for leaving Cleveland? I guess not.
  • "The Decision" as they labeled it and the high profile announcement – LeBron could have chosen a better way to exit Cleveland than with an hour-long special on ESPN. But then, maybe he was compelled by people around him, maybe there was a contractual obligation, I do not know. But one thing I probably could do, Feel for him. Maybe on another day he wouldn’t have done it and maybe he regrets it doing as much as many of us hate him for it. Having said that, I believe, and he would too I guess, "The Decision" was a mistake. But how long are we going to talk about it.
  • And the utterly infamous, "Yes. We. Did." campaign. The Miami Heat fans cheering, as other fans were angered, and NBA analysts scratched their heads. It created an unprecedented amount of hype around the newly-formed Miami Heat squad. And it was that hype that led to peak the “hate” when Heat lost the 2011 Finals to a spirited Mavericks. So, would we hate him for that? Maybe. In sport, nothing goes unnoticed
  • For all you know, the All-Star game is a joke. So last year when the papers did the rounds that James wasn’t gutsy enough to take the final shot, I laughed. I kept it to myself. But I thought, this is the heights of cynicism that any sportsman can be subjected to. In reality, the game was for ratings and fun, and if somebody takes a dig at you for your performance in such sort of a game, then you know you have already won.
But then I also believe and if James is paying attention, he should realize by now, the other guys do matter. The guys on the bench matter. The yuppies and pappies paying too much money to sit courtside matter. The guys who got cut from the team matter, and the guys who played college ball but couldn't get a sniff of the NBA matter, and the guys who sat on the bench for their high school teams matter. Without them, LeBron James is just a guy doing cool stuff against nobody in an empty gym, for nothing.
And maybe that is at the heart of the hate. Maybe that is everything and the only thing -- the one truth we all must believe in if we're going to be modern-day sports fans. LeBron tried to circumvent that truth. He went for a shortcut. It's a sports sin we can't forgive, and won't forgive, unless Thunders whip Miami in the Finals this year, then LeBron James will have served his penance. If we could let go Luis Figo moving to Madrid from Barcelona and Sami Nasri moving to Manchester City from Arsenal, why can't we let go off this.
In our minds, LeBron James tried to beat competition. It's the one victory we never want to see. Ring or no ring, in my opinion LeBron James is a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. He is posting numbers that can be compared to very few players all-time. The man has Goldberg's body with Carter's athleticism. Chances are he will never satisfy his haters or silence his critics because everyone has their opinion. But hate him or love him, you definitely can't say you've ever seen anything like him.
Sports-viewing is, at its essence, escapism. LeBron hasn’t yet let us escape. And we hate him for that. When he is on that court there is no better sight in the sporting world. Hail LeBron. 

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