I never considered myself a certifiable hater of LeBron James, though I was definitely made to assume the role among my peers, simply because I wasn’t as adamant to “king” LeBron over the likes of my favorite player(s) at the time as it seemed so many were prepared to do.
Unfortunately, the reality of our modern NBA fandom era is this — it’s your guy against mine, and absolutely anyway there is to denigrate yours to uplift mine has to be used, abused, and exploited.
I’m a Kobe fan. I came to that conclusion right around 2007 when it was time for me to definitively choose (by the way, I’m 25 years old). With this being the case, I’ve had to take great and terrible pride in nitpicking at LeBron’s inconsistencies, flaws, and failures to support my pro-Kobe bravado over the years.
But especially at this point in time, after LeBron showed us one of the most impressive individual efforts in NBA Finals history this past June, it really doesn’t matter who ‘your guy’ is, and frankly it doesn’t even matter that he just lost his fourth Finals series, because now is simply the worst of times for anyone who still claims to hate LeBron James.
LeBron James in the 2015 Finals. G1: 44 p 8 r 6 a G2: 39 p 16 r 11 a G3: 40 p 12 r 8 a G4: 20 p 12 r 8 a G5: 40 p 12 r 8 a G6: 32 p 18 r 9 a
— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) June 17, 2015
Without going too far into it, let me explain why I could never get down with LeBron as my favorite player in the first place. What I’ve admired most is his IQ, unselfishness, and the ability to set the table for his teammates better than anyone I’ve ever seen. His cosmic feel and mastery of the game are unreal.
What bothered me about LeBron was I didn’t always see the comfortability, consistency, or creativity when it came to being a versatile scorer himself. His scoring repertoire can be, in my opinion, too often predictable — void of the necessary pivots, counters, and instinctual elements that make one truly unstoppable when it’s time to be so. I’ve seen him contained by defenders who have the presence of mind to give him a step and have the quickness to cut him off on the drive.
I don’t want my favorite player to be predictable, and definitely not limited.
I’m not the only one who’s made these observations. I remember reading Wright Thompson’s amazing feature on Michael Jordan back in 2013 when Thompson was watching one of LeBron’s games on television with Jordan:
The announcers gush about LeBron, mentioning him in the same sentence with Jordan, who hears every word. Those words have an effect on him. He stares at the TV and points out a flaw in LeBron’s game.
“I study him,” he says.
When LeBron goes right, he usually drives; when he goes left, he usually shoots a jumper. It has to do with his mechanics and how he loads the ball for release. “So if I have to guard him,” Jordan says, “I’m gonna push him left so nine times out of 10, he’s gonna shoot a jump shot. If he goes right, he’s going to the hole and I can’t stop him. So I ain’t letting him go right.”
For the rest of the game, when LeBron gets the ball and starts his move, Jordan will call out some variation of “drive” or “shoot.” It’s not just LeBron. He sees fouls the officials miss, and the replays prove him right. When someone shoots, he knows immediately whether it’s going in. He calls out what guys are going to do before they do it, more plugged into the flow of the game than some of the players on the court. He’s answering texts, buried in his phone, when the play-by-play guy announces a LeBron jump shot. Without looking up, Jordan says, “Left?”
As someone who admittedly took on the role of a LeBron ‘hater’, no matter for my own obligatory Kobe-fan-driven reasons, there have been commanding episodes when LeBron forced us all to fall back — such as that fourth quarter against the Pistons in 2007, that Game 6 against the Celtics in 2012, and that Game 7 in the 2013 Finals against the Spurs, when LeBron took the most shots outside of the paint (20) he had ever taken in a Heat uniform, hitting nine of them, including five three-pointers.
LeBron has been one of those guys that when he hits a jump shot, or hits a few in a row, the broadcaster on call usually says something along the lines of, “When he’s hitting that, you can forget about it”, because when you can’t stop him from getting to the basket and you can’t dare him to shoot, then and only then, in my estimation, are we looking at arguably the best player of all time.
LeBron didn’t necessarily take another giant step as a jump shooter in the 2015 NBA Finals, and I still don’t give him the best of all time, but by God, he showed us the most comfortable, assured, and dominant version of himself this past June. He even confirmed that notion, and you could see it in his demeanor. You could see his Finals experience and mindfulness of the stage and situation guiding his decision-making. Nothing was second-guessed. The jump shots he did take were released with full conviction. His improved post game wasn’t just on display, it was the lifeline of the Cavaliers offense.
Granted, LeBron had to face a marathoning Warriors team without his two best teammates, which did have an impact on how he had to play, but as a result, it brought something out that maybe not even he thought he had in him.
Teammates and associates have been telling LeBron not to worry about FG%. Just “empty the clip,” as one put it.
— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) June 8, 2015
With Kevin Love out of the equation, I was positive that LeBron would have to average at least 40 for the Cavs to actually beat the Warriors in the Finals. When Kyrie Irving went down at the end of Game 1, I was convinced that no scenario would pan out for Cleveland, but LeBron brought them convincingly close to defying all conventional basketball wisdom. It got to a point, particularly when the Cavs gained a 2-1 series lead, where it seemed like LeBron was just too good and too determined and too prepared to do what his team needed to be denied.
The pendulum shifted back to Golden State in Game 4, but if you were rooting against LeBron, for whatever reason, there was nothing but fear and anxiety coursing through you every single time he isolated, posted up, or galloped up the court with the ball in his hands.
If it is to be that LeBron tapped into another pedestal of his game and personal confidence, then none of us might be ready for the next level he reaches.
Criticize his game, challenge his legacy, question where he stands as an all-time player, and do the things that we love to do in this generation of sports fandom. By all means, keep doing those things.
But as far as the hate that LeBron James has inherited throughout his career, now is simply the worst time for it.