What’s up with all the LeBron hate?
LeBron James opted out of his deal with the Miami Heat Tuesday and the reaction was predictable.
From coast to coast, on airwaves, the Internet, and social media, LeBron was slaughtered.
Folks who understand the mechanics of NBA free agency and salary capology warned fans not to overreact to James exercising his contractual rights under the collective bargaining agreement.
There is a large school of thought that holds that James has no intention of leaving Miami and is making this move to allow Pat Riley the flexibility to improve the Heat’s supporting cast.
Dwyane Wade is in serious decline and LeBron had no significant help in the Finals against San Antonio.
LeBron-staying-in-Miami is no fun for the haters. It’s a much better story for all of us if LeBron wants out. This would validate all of us who crushed the odious “Decision’’ and the wildly offensive smoke-and-mirrors show when LeBron talked about, “Not one, not two, not three [championships] . . .”
LeBron haters might cut him some slack if he’s actually sticking it to Riley in the wake of the Heat president’s expansive (“everybody needs to get a grip”) press conference. The session was widely viewed as Riley calling out his best player and challenging him to stick around Miami and win the hard way.
Now we have all these fantasy league scenarios of LeBron going to Chicago, Los Angeles (Clippers or Lakers), New York, Houston, or even Cleveland, of all places.
All of the narratives are compelling:
■ LeBron to the Bulls. This one titillates the “LeBron vs. Jordan” crowd. Can LeBron ever be known as the greatest basketball player of all-time? What would it take? Would LeBron go to Chicago to promote the notion that he can be the best ever? I say no.
The Michael Jordan comparisons would be overwhelming. Jordan won six championships and is generally viewed as the best ever, even though Bill Russell won 11 championships, and even though Wilt Chamberlain averaged 50 points in a single season and forced numerous rules changes designed to stifle his indomitable skills and physicality.
Wilt won only two championships and claimed, “Nobody roots for Goliath.’’
At this stage of his career, LeBron’s image and résumé are more Chamberlainesque than Jordanesque. LeBron can never be Jordan. Why go to Chicago?
■ LeBron to the Clippers. You have to love this one. Here we have LeBron going to Los Angeles because he loves Doc Rivers and Chris Paul. He gets to take his talents to Hermosa Beach or (more likely) Malibu. He gets to win a championship for the team that was forever owned by Donald Sterling.
■ LeBron to the Lakers. In this scenario, LeBron goes to the place where Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar went to cement their legacies. He can earn a statue outside the Staples Center alongside Magic Johnson, Kareem, and Chick Hearn. He can go Showtime and Hollywood. And we all know Mrs. LeBron loves LA.
■ LeBron to the Knicks. This is too perfect to be true, so it’ll never happen. Can you imagine LeBron and overrated ball-hog Carmelo Anthony together with the Phil Jackson Knicks? It would be like the days of George Steinbrenner, Billy Martin, and Reggie Jackson with the Yankees. It would be a field day for the glorious New York tabloids. It would fulfill the haters’ image of LeBron as basketball’s A-Rod.
■ LeBron to the Rockets. Houston? Really? I don’t think so. Playing alongside Dwight Howard and James Harden has its appeal, but Houston is simply not glitzy enough for LeBron James. You don’t leave South Beach for NASA. The Urban Cowboy is dead. The Astrodome is dark. Houston is simply over.
■ LeBron to the Cavaliers. The ultimate Redemption Tour. LeBron back in Cleveland closes the loop. Certainly Cleveland is potentially more dismal than Houston, but LeBron’s history makes this a logical move. It takes him back to his Akron roots and gives him a chance to win a championship with the team and the region he jilted. Art Modell couldn’t come back to Cleveland, but LeBron can.
This is a fun time in the NBA. The draft is Thursday night and the stars are opting out, and anything and everything is possible.
Count me as a guy who likes LeBron. The hate he generates is not commensurate with his deeds. The “Decision” was bad, but I’ve never seen LeBron disrespect his teammates, opponents, or other folks’ jobs. He’s a good passer and a good defender. Haven’t seen him on any police blotters. There is no trail of reckless behavior.
If you don’t think LeBron is clutch, go look at the tape of his 45-point performance in the New Garden when the Heat came to Boston trailing the Celtics, three games to two, in 2012.
The rush to crush LeBron when his leg cramped at the end of Game 1 of this year’s Finals was a nifty demonstration of fans’ illogical hatred for this superstar.
LeBron James is the latter-day Wilt Chamberlain. Nobody loves Goliath, but LeBron is easily the best player of his generation, one of the best of all-time, and it’s going to be fascinating to see where he lands at the end of this NBA summer.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Shaughnessy.