Culture of Hoops

Why It’s OK to Be a LeBron “Hater”

Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.

Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.


I’d like to start this piece by telling you a story about an athlete. This athlete at a young age was ordained to be one of the greatest in his sport and at the age of 18 he provided immediate impact, set records, and helped his team to the playoffs. After capturing the imagination of his fans, he embarked upon a much anticipated free agency period. He spurned his fans and signed with a team he claimed gave him the best chance of winning. After having his most productive seasons with that team he engineered, to mass approval, leaving that team for another. He is constantly being nagged with not winning enough titles, and often is the subject of inane drama in the media. I refer, of course, to Alex Rodriguez.

What’s Alex Rodriguez doing in a piece about LeBron James? Everything.

A-Rod’s first few seasons in New York had hearty defenders urging haters to put aside his centaur portraits and beef with Derek Jeter to just bask in the luminescence of his greatness. Prior to the Biogenesis Scandal A-Rod did not inspire wide-spread enmity. His career is littered with stupid scandals created by his own activity.

Best example: Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS. As A-Rod runs down the line he slaps the ball out of Bronson Arroyo’s hand and strolls into 2nd base. He represents the tying run but instead is called out for slapping the ball. His expression is one of incredulity and he begins to demonstrate his running motion – all while knowing what he did was wrong. In the offseason, he starts giving quotes about how “the umpires said I should have run over Brandon” (his go-to move in 2004 was referring to Arroyo as Brandon instead of Bronson) alternating with claims that it was indeed his running motion.

Sort of like how LeBron cryptically tweets about “fitting in instead of fitting out”, claims it’s not about Kevin Love, then in the offseason says it was about Love. Yet his denials are tinged with his trademark incredulity about making such a claim.

Make no mistake – denying the greatness of A-Rod and LeBron is a fool’s errand. A-Rod will forever lose out to steroid claims, but there’s no denying his natural talent.

LeBron James is one of the three greatest basketball players ever. The other two are Michael Jordan and Bill Russell. There’s no plausible way to diminish his basketball brilliance, and I would not endanger my credibility doing so.

What I will do is explain why I can’t stand LeBron, and revel in watching him lose on the grandest of stages despite his best efforts.

Just like I enjoy watching Isiah Thomas lose, Michael Jordan’s Wizards days, all that is A-Rod, and why I feel robbed that Floyd Mayweather never lost in the boxing ring.

And, before you accuse me of being a “hater” or being the contrarian, some of my favorite athletes are Muhammad Ali, Charles Barkley, Allen Iverson, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and lately, Hassan Whiteside.

All of these athletes are not considered “good citizens” and their conduct on the field of play could be described as “sketchy.”

The Honest Heel

Until 2010, I enjoyed LeBron. He brought out the best in my Celtics and Paul Pierce. The LeBron fan would argue I didn’t mind LeBron because my team consistently beat LeBron. True – you never really HATE the guy you beat all the time, unless they are constantly annoying about it. LeBron’s heel turn began in the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals when he appeared to quit on his team.

Those Cavs were overrated and couldn’t beat a well-coached Celtics team on an ill-fated mission from God.

We know the history. He leaves Cleveland, and takes his talents to South Beach.

This is where my antipathy began. Who needs a damned televised special to announce you’re changing jobs? But, he brought attention and money to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Northeastern Ohio and that’s a good thing.

Except, he didn’t have the courtesy to inform the Cavs of his decision. That’s just wrong.

Then the Championship Parade. Not 1. Not 2. Not 3… you know where I’m going.

If you’re going to do the heel turn – embrace it! He spent the year publicly befuddled at why he became the most loathed player in the NBA.

Remember A-Rod being befuddled when Mariners’ fans threw money on the field at the first visit by the Rangers? Same idea.

Understand, LeBron can make a living wherever he wants. And – if we’re going to allow ourselves a true moment of honesty – leaving Cleveland for Miami is a brilliant decision simply based on the quality of each city.

LeBron’s ham-handed departure justifies none of the bile spewed by Cleveland and Dan Gilbert.

He never owned leaving the way he did. That’s wrong.

The worst part of that season for me was when the Heat defeated the Celtics. The Heat buried Boston remarkably ruthlessly. Watching LeBron preen and pop his jersey like he won the NBA Finals was absurd and disrespectful. He tried to play it as if beating the Celtics equated Jordan finally getting past the Pistons, but who’s he fooling? The Super-Friends destroying a hobbled Boston team is hardly notable.

Be honest – say that you were preening because Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett didn’t just beat you on the court but reveled in it. They’re my guys, but I know who they are – KG and Pierce are not likable on the court and don’t bother with pleasantries. They’re assholes who fully own their assholishness.

Except LeBron always appears to want to loved. He couldn’t be quoted saying “I was preening because Pierce and KG are two of the most annoying people to play against and I wanted to rub it in their face.” Listen, Boston already hated LeBron, so why not just go all the way. If anything, it juices the ratings!

But wait, there’s more!

The rest of the Heat years will be covered later, but fast forward to these past two years in Cleveland. LeBron’s social media makes for a boring follow until he subtweets and unfollows.

Anyone with two eyes and sporadically acute cognitive skills noticed last year that Kevin Love doesn’t fit in Cleveland. Love’s famous “fitting out” quote was used by LeBron as a ploy to call him out about buying in.

Again – I’m all for that! If you’re on a team, and an important guy is doing his own thing you need to pull him in. Own that you called him out! Let him know in no uncertain terms that you’re willing to be the bad guy in order for the greater good of team unity to be birthed.

Instead LeBron does the passive aggressive move of denying it was specific and instead talks about it generally. Give me a break! EVERYONE knew the context of the tweet. Then coming out in the summer and showing peacock feathers about the tweet furthers this narrative of passive aggressive nonsense.

This season LeBron’s been on a roll. Unfollowing the Cavs and claiming to not know about it. Orchestrating the firing of David Blatt and not being honest about the incompatibility. Flagrantly flopping when your own teammate brushes against your chin. Stepping over Draymond Green and claiming you didn’t know he was there – even after looking at the fallen Green, processing the information and stepping over, then haranguing the NBA to ban Green because he called you a dirty word.


I’d respect and even enjoy LeBron if he offered something like the following quotes:

“I unfollowed the Cavs account because we’re playing horribly and I don’t want to associate myself with that poor of a product.”

“Coach Blatt is a good man but the Cavs are paying me a lot more than him. If he can’t work with me then we need someone who can.”

“My goal is to win games. I saw an opportunity to earn a couple extra shots for our team and I took it.”

“I wanted to send Draymond and the Warriors a message. I figured he’d retaliate and earn a flagrant foul and weaken his team for the next game. Winning happens in the margins. I can control myself, he can’t.”

In pro wrestling, there is no such thing as the Face/Heel. As fans we’re binary. I couldn’t stand Isiah Thomas when he claimed he wasn’t disrespecting Larry Bird by agreeing with Rodman’s foolish “If Bird were black” argument or the walking off the court. His passive aggression and “What? Me?!” routine seem to be copied by LeBron.


America is rife with workplaces where the best performers get the most perks. Jimmy Johnson once described treating all his players the same by treating them different and talked about how if Troy Aikman and the 3rd string QB were sleeping during a film session, he’d subtly wake Troy and cut the 3rd string QB.

Aikman earned his entitlement.

LeBron is underpaid. His value to Cleveland and Miami far exceeds his compensation. He deserves perks because of what he brings to the table.

But how much is too much? It isn’t right for employees to run the team – and I say this as a staunch supporter of labor!

LeBron’s Heat career is rife with behind the scenes stories of trying to oust Erik Spoelstra, get paid jobs for his friends, and ultimately usurp Pat Riley as Heat GM.

It’s not reckless to speculate that he’s in Cleveland BECAUSE the Cavs allowed him to be GM and Riley wouldn’t.

The job of a basketball player is to play basketball. LeBron executes his professional functions better than anyone else in the game. That doesn’t earn the ability to write a letter indicating who should be traded and playing alongside him. Notice in The Letter a key name omitted: Andrew Wiggins. LeBron never mentioned Wiggins and it’s a shame, because the Cavs would be better with him.

The coach firings are troubling. Mostly because of the passive aggression employed. LeBron’s actions are indicative of someone unwilling to work through disagreement. Though he and Spoelstra never threw each other under the bus yet acknowledged difficulty it remains that going above your supervisor’s head to get them fired is dirty pool.

LeBron’s final meeting with Riley was a great example of entitlement gone astray.

Count 1: LeBron by all accounts made his decision prior to Riley flying to Vegas.

Count 2: LeBron forces Riley to wait for him while he enjoys time with his friends.

Count 3: Riley then pitches a disinterested LeBron, and flies back to Miami not knowing his decision.

Verdict: Inflated sense of entitlement!

Allen Iverson routinely was castigated about his clashes with Larry Brown and utter refusal to practice. Except The Answer didn’t pull the LeBron move by doing his work behind the scenes. Iverson did not possess an inflated sense of entitlement joined at the hip with a lack of honest accounting.

It’s also similar to Floyd Mayweather believing he could deny journalists credentials to cover his fights because they’re critical of his domestic violence history.

Get Over It! He’s Great

Indeed, LeBron is the best basketball player I have ever watched. But the beauty of sports is there’s always a next one.

Recently I’ve had the pleasure of arguing my anti-LeBron stance against The BMF’s unabashed pro-LeBron columnist Sonny Giuliano. He did a great job forcing me to really think about LeBron’s legacy and whether or not I can appreciate it.

Here’s where we part company – he believes greatness should be admired despite these particular unpalatable warts. The unpalatable warts cause me to concede I’m watching greatness, but not enjoy it.

Sonny loves LeBron and is cognizant that LeBron’s time is coming to an end. I am looking forward the next great player. Both of us agree that LeBron is a great player.

There’s no resolution to this argument because it’s the essence of sports. I love Allen Iverson because AI never strayed from the flawed person he is. Others can’t stand him because of his run-ins with the police and refusal to practice. Both appreciate how great a player he was.

Charles Barkley routinely was out of shape and didn’t really care if you admired how he carried himself. I love that authenticity. Others believe that Chuck should have been more considerate of young people watching him play and toned it down while being in shape. Both appreciate how great a player he was.

Hassan Whiteside plays way too intense and doesn’t consider his actions very well while claiming he’s not the source of the team’s troubles because “I get the ball and I dunk it.” Hassan being Hassan is so much fun to watch. Others don’t like that 3 coaches on the Miami bench are on full-time Whiteside duty. Both appreciate how great a player he is.

Paul Pierce routinely engages in trash talk, fights with other players, and plays with too much pride sometimes. Pierce’s brash brand of basketball is off-putting for many. I love his unyielding confidence. Both appreciate why he is The Truth.

Kevin Garnett is the most intense, foul-mouthed and inappropriate player in the NBA. He instigates scuffles and pointlessly swats after-whistle shots. His comments about Charlie Villanueva and Carmelo Anthony’s wife turn off many fans. KG’s intensity and desire are beyond laudable. Both appreciate KG’s greatness.

Muhammad Ali once said, “I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me.”

I love Ali because there’s no back down in him.

Others are off-put by Ali because he rejected his birth name and refused the draft.

Both acknowledge his in-ring prowess is unparalleled.

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