The king rules, like it or not
He is not the first self-appointed king to be disliked by his subjects. Not by any means. But right now LeBron James, King James to the dwindling fans he has left, is probably the most hated man in America. A scant two years ago he was among the most popular.
Last time I looked, though, James had no criminal record and no lurid affairs or paternity suits pending. He did not require multibillion-dollar government bailout or start a war with Iraq and while he is most certainly among the upper one percentile of wage earners in the United States, he has yet to inspire an 'Occupy LeBron' movement.
What he did do, though, is break the forlorn city of Cleveland's heart by announcing in a prime-time TV special that after seven years of being the face of the franchise in that town, he was leaving to 'take his talents to South Beach' and play for the Miami Heat.
No question the show was in poor taste and, according to those around James, he knows it now. And the press conference/love-in down in Miami upon his arrival was so garish, narcissistic and disgusting that even those with a strong stomach were vomiting for days on end.
The idea of a 25-year-old multimillionaire athlete leaving the rust belt to head down to sunny and vibrant Miami so he could team up with a few of his talented pals to win a bunch of championships may have seemed disloyal on the surface. However, the guy did nothing wrong and broke no rules. Cleveland or Miami? Put yourself in his shoes and then tell me what you decide.
I am certainly not trying in any way, shape or form to rehabilitate the man's image and will most likely root against the Heat in the play-offs this year regardless of their opponents. They are still way too full of themselves on court, where they preen and prance endlessly. But sadly, they are probably the best team in the NBA.
I am simply trying to figure out a way to enjoy, without inherent bias or hate, the skills of arguably the greatest athlete team sports have ever seen. It just seems that every time I try, I am told not to. This past week, for instance, a poll was released by Yahoo Finance asking who was the most overpaid person in America. Jersey Shore star Snooki was number one, followed by Kim Kardashian at number two. Coming in at number three was none other than King James because, according to a number of respondents, 'US$16 million a year is way too much to pay a basketball player'.
Yeah, it probably is. Despite being arguably the best player in the game, LeBron is only the 16th highest paid. Ever heard of Rashard Lewis? I didn't think so. Lewis plays for the Washington Wizards, who are the second worst team in the league. He averages less than eight points a game and makes US$6 million more per year than James, who averages 28 points per game and is probably going to win the MVP this year. Even funnier is Gilbert Arenas, who is getting paid US$22 million this season to not play after being released before the season started. James being on the overpaid list is due to pure and unfiltered hate and nothing else.
Like I said, I understand all that. But I also understand that watching James is often breathtaking. His combination of size, speed, skill, strength and agility has never been seen before.
There is not an athlete alive today in any sport who can compare. Not a single one, and that is why I am learning that I can like the player without necessarily liking the man. Barry Bonds taught me that. Bonds is arguably the greatest hitter to ever play baseball and certainly the most destructive offensive force the game ever saw. But as a person it seemed like he went out of his way to be disliked. He was rude, arrogant, rancorous and abusive. He was also, as it turns out, full of the same steroids that were rife in the game during his era. However, that does not change the simple fact that when you put a bat in his hands, time stood still. He did things no one ever has done and it is the same with James.
Despite being one of the tallest players on the court, James often covers the quickest opponent. It was James who basically put an end to Linsanity when he blanketed the Knicks' much ballyhooed guard Jeremy Lin in a game a few weeks back in Miami. Lin, and the Knicks, have not really been the same since.
James does not posses Michael Jordan's killer instinct at crunch time, at least not yet. And for many he will be a king without a crown until he wins his first title. But he is a truly transcendent athlete in his prime and, regardless of what you may think of the man, it still should not stop you from watching him. It won't stop me.