by Paddy Quarles
LeBron James is inescapable. Not only is he the most prominent superstar in the NBA, but he has played in the past five NBA Finals, meaning that he has been on television nearly nightly from October until June. Even during that brief three month off-season span, James can frequently be seen promoting Gatorade, Beats By Dre, Sprite, Nike, and Kia. James traditionally has a top five (usually top one or two) selling jersey in the NBA.
James’ success has had him tabbed as “The Chosen One” since he was eighteen years old. James was the first pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, 2004 Rookie of the Year, and four time NBA Most Valuable Player. Even before he graduated from high school, many thought that he could be the next Michael Jordan, or even better. However, when he left his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers at the altar in 2010, he became one of the most controversial superstars that the NBA has ever seen. To many fans, James became a villainous character when he joined the Miami Heat. He routinely gets booed in opposing arenas. Michael Jordan, the man who LeBron has been compared to since his high school days, was one of the most popular players to ever play. James is the closest thing that we have seen to Jordan, but what makes him so disliked? What makes James so different than Jordan? Let’s take a look at a couple of things that people hold against LeBron:
In 2010, when LeBron James announced to the world that he was going to leave Cleveland to join forces with fellow NBA All-Stars Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade in Miami, James did so in an hour-long broadcast on ESPN, which he titled The Decision. The owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert, released an open letter to Cavs fans just hours after James declared that he would be leaving Cleveland. “As you now know, our former hero, who grew up in the very region that he deserted this evening, is no longer a Cleveland Cavalier. This was announced with a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his ‘decision’ unlike anything ever ‘witnessed’ in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment.” Gilbert went on to call James’ decision a “cowardly betrayal.”
I think the vast majority of sports fans can agree that The Decision was a little over the top. A press conference would have sufficed. In all honesty, did it really take an entire hour for James to tell the world that he was “taking his talents to South Beach?” Probably not. It was this famous quote that served as the snowball that became the avalanche of LeBron James hatred in recent years.
James certainly isn’t the only player to change teams. The days where NBA players play for one team are long gone. Sure, maybe The Decision was a little bit overkill, but in all fairness, he did donate all of the proceeds to charity. In fact, James’ counterpart also had his own version of The Decision. Now, he never broadcast it on ESPN, but Michael Jordan himself threatened the Chicago Bulls with free agency. In the latter years of his historic 6-championship run with the Chicago Bulls, Jordan’s relationship with Bulls GM Jerry Krause had become increasingly strained. When Jordan was offered a contract by the New York Knicks, Jordan threatened to leave the Bulls. Knowing that allowing the greatest player of all time to leave for another Eastern Conference team would be the worst player personnel decision of all time, Krause signed Jordan for one year at $30 million in 1996, and again in 1997 for $33 million. As if that wasn’t enough, does anyone remember Jordan’s Washington Wizards years?
Another popular gripe about LeBron is his incessant whining. James can be frequently seen throwing his arms in the air like a petulant child after driving to the basket and failing to score, many times allowing his teammates to play defense four-on-five at the other end. James, the most impending physical force to be seen in professional basketball, puts his head down and charges like a raging bull through his defender and into the lane, only to complain that he is not getting foul calls. Everyone who has ever played basketball, be it in a park or in Madison Square Garden has complained about a foul call or two, but come on, enough is enough.
Once again, LeBron is not alone on this one. Jordan did plenty of complaining too, and even berating officials. In fact, it was this very thing that “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons, led by Isaiah Thomas, and Bill Laimbeer, preyed upon to defeat the Bulls. The Pistons fouled Jordan hard, very hard every time that he attacked the basket in order to get into his head, and it worked. In both 1989 and 1990, the Pistons defeated the Bulls four games to two en route to consecutive NBA Championships by being rough with Jordan. It was only through the tutelage of the Zen Master himself, Phil Jackson, that Jordan was able to overcome the Pistons and begin their championship run. Yes, LeBron and MJ both had their own set of rules. They both got fouled harder than other players, but they also complained about them more than most players. And yes, they both complained about calls.
LeBron James is constantly ridiculed for his eternally receding hairline. It seems that James’ hairline is constantly retreating from his forehead, only to magically reappear and then vanish once again. Whether this is of natural causes or not has yet to be proven.
While male pattern baldness is certainly not something that LeBron can help (it happens to the best of us), it certainly seems to be a favorite of his detractors. Perhaps the larger issue at work in this department is that LeBron keeps clinging to his hair for dear life. Why not just shave it? Jordan did, and that look worked pretty well for him for the better part of his career. No one wants to be bald, it may be time to just give up and shave it.
Quite possibly most popular criticism of LeBron James is that he’s not clutch. To be the best player in the world, one must come up big in the biggest moments. It’s what Michael Jordan did better than anyone else, and Larry Bird did before Jordan. After Jordan retired, Kobe Bryant, LeBron’s most formidable competitor for heir apparent to Jordan’s throne became immediately known for being clutch. Kobe knocked down big shot after big shot, just as Jordan did. The legend of Michael Jordan is littered with stories of his game winners over Craig Ehlo, his “Flu Game” performance in 1997, and his iconic buzzer beater (with a slight push-off) against Utah’s Byron Russell that doomed the Jazz and NBA Hall of Famers John Stockton and Karl Malone to careers without a championship. Nearly the entire crop of great NBA players in the 1990s (with the exception of the Houston Rockets, who won back-to-back titles in the two years that Jordan was playing baseball) retired without ever winning a championship simply because Michael Jordan could not be beaten in the biggest games.
James, however, has not been as clutch, not that this is even remotely possible. Jordan, who did miss his fair share of shots, is the most clutch player of all time. Even Hall of Famers like Larry Bird feared him. It is beyond outrageous to ask anyone, be it Kobe Bryant or LeBron James to be as clutch as Jordan. But for those who chose to ignore reason and logic, notice that LeBron has hit game winning shots against both the Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks in this year’s playoffs. Not too bad for someone who isn’t clutch.
He Isn’t Jordan
He’ll never be as good as Mike, they said. He’s no Jordan, others said. Really though, are you as good as Mike? Is anyone as good as Michael Jordan? Jordan was undefeated in the NBA Finals, the best player on the team that won the most games in NBA history, five time NBA MVP, and just about every other accolade that a player can win. No one is Michael Jordan. Are you the Michael Jordan of your profession? Are you the LeBron of your profession? Just let LeBron be LeBron. Enjoy his gifts, just like you enjoyed Jordan’s. Even if he is a little annoying.