News Columns & Blogs

The LeBron haters

People, except for fans of the Miami Heat, don’t much care for LeBron James.

We know why.LeBron James needs to stop talking and win championships.Mostly it’s because of the way he went about moving from Cleveland to Miami in the summer of 2010 and the inordinate amount of attention he drew to himself by making his decision in prime time on ESPN.

Then, shortly after signing with the Heat, James proclaimed that his new team would not just win one, not two, not three . . . yeah, it’s not easy to like a guy who went out of his way to make us all think he was an arrogant, spoiled athlete, just like so many others.

Before all of that, we liked LeBron. We liked what he stood for and that he was willing to stand by a franchise – the Cleveland Cavaliers – that really didn’t have much standing for it other than James.

Yet when the discussion is about most-loathed athletes, LeBron James’ name is always among the first mentioned. He sullied a reputation quickly and, apparently, permanently.

The only thing James can do to win back his former fans, I guess, is to follow through on that championship thing. He painted himself into a corner and, fairly or unfairly, there’s only one way out. James and the Heat have to win titles. Not a title – titles.

I was a LeBron hater after that ESPN debacle. His intentions, to raise awareness for Boys and Girls Clubs, was honorable but the show came off as a long pat on the back. James kept other franchises in the dark about his decision until the last second, and when he uttered the words: “I’m taking my talents to South Beach,” most of us felt an immediate disdain for everything associated with Miami, including Jackie Gleason.

James can be his own worst enemy. He sometimes says things that should never have escaped his lips. In an effort to smooth his rough edges, he usually just ends up creating more rough edges.

But I have forgiven him and moved on. I even want James and the Heat to win a championship, although I’m not sure I want Miami to win this season’s championship. I like too many of the teams still remaining – namely Boston, Oklahoma City, San Antonio and to some degree even Indiana, the Heat’s Eastern Conference semis opponent – to pull full throttle for the Heat.

I wouldn’t be disappointed if Miami won, though. In the critical Game 4 against the Pacers, I pulled for the Heat. I was happy to see James, who takes the brunt of the criticism from the national media when things don’t go well, have a humongous game with 40 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists.

There’s not really much for me to like about the Heat. I’m not a fan of Pat Riley, the general manager. I respect and like Dwyane Wade, but I’m not over the moon for him. I want James to succeed because I think he’s a good person. And like many good people, I believe he sometimes doesn’t come across that way.

I appreciate his loyalty to his hometown of Akron, Ohio, even though many in his native state still and forever will feel scorned by his “Decision.”

I think he’s a solid team guy, which used to be one of the best things you could say about an athlete. Now, though, James is frequently criticized for being too much of a team guy with a reluctance to take over games when they need to be taken over.

Some of the criticism of James is warranted, but much of it is not. He did a dumb thing two years ago by taking himself much more seriously than he should have. He should have handled his free-agent decision with more aplomb and class, but he chose to go to the biggest stage. Which, I will point out, was offered to him enthusiastically by ESPN, which was looking for big ratings and got them.

I just know that watching James play basketball is an experience like no other. There have been a handful of better players than James, and his lack of championships is a resume-killer, but there has never been a player with the combination of speed, power and skill that James possesses.

These athletes are human and sometimes they don’t think as much as they should before they act. It’s one of the things that makes them like us when so much else about them bears no resemblance whatsoever.

So you who hate LeBron and will never forgive him can go about your business hoping he doesn’t win championships. That’s your choice and to some degree it’s one I understand.

But I’m moving on and accepting the greatness of LeBron James without holding his imperfections against him.

I don’t like what he did two years ago any more than anyone else. But it was two years ago and now James is the most scrutinized athlete in the world. Perhaps even the most disliked. I think it’s unfair and I hope others start to slowly find their way back to the greatest basketball player in the world.