I will never understand the pure hatred for LeBron James.
How one player can go from loved to hated simply by relocating to a better situation is beyond me, but just as the animosity for LeBron continues to rise, so does my admiration for the best basketball player on the planet.
Coming into the league, expectations of LeBron were higher than the NBA had ever seen for one player. As the face of the new generation of pro basketball, James flourished as a fan favorite during his time in Cleveland.
But once he told the world that he planned to "take his talents to South Beach," basketball fans across the country totally changed their opinion on LeBron.
By signing with the Miami Heat and joining forces with NBA All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, James was accused of being "nothing more than a sidekick," and he was slapped with labels such as "selfish," "arrogant," and "traitor."
Simply by relocating to a new city to do his job, LeBron James went from being a fan favorite to the villain of the NBA.
For some reason, fans seemed to assume that LeBron should be required to play his entire career in Cleveland. James played his first seven seasons with the Cavaliers, earned two MVPs, and led Cleveland to its first NBA Finals appearance in franchise history.
But he left town, so he's a "traitor."
The Cavaliers went just 17-65 in the 2002-03 season, and they were "awarded" with the best odds (22.5 percent) to win the first pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. When the ping pong balls bounced their way, the Cavaliers got the first pick. General manager Gordon Gund didn't take long after to make his intentions public.
Cleveland would be selecting the hometown hero, LeBron James.
LeBron grew up in Akron, just 40 miles outside of Cleveland. Already deemed "The Chosen One," James gave hope to the Cavaliers, a team who had historically been a perennial bottom-dweller in the league.
In 2003, things went the right way for Cleveland on the night of the NBA Draft lottery, but those ping pong balls have been known to have a mind of their own.
What if Cleveland hadn't "won" the first overall pick, and LeBron had left a different team to go play in Miami?
Would he still be a "traitor" or would it simply be considered a business decision?
The thought that LeBron owed his entire career to the Cavaliers and the city of Cleveland is ludicrous.
LeBron James is a professional basketball player. It's his job, it's his career. Just like with any other job in this country, a person reserves the right to relocate to new opportunities wherever he or she wants and whenever he or she chooses.
That's your right, it's my right, and LeBron is no different.
If a heart surgeon had put in seven years of hard work at a hospital in Fargo, North Dakota, and a better opportunity to advance his career presented itself in San Diego, California, wouldn't he pack his bags and move west?
I can already hear the response from Cleveland fans, and frankly, it's like nails on a chalkboard.
"Yeah, but Marques, it's not that he left. It's how he left."
If James would have went on television and said he'd be staying in Cleveland, you can be certain that Cavaliers fans wouldn't have the slightest problem with "how" he handled his decision.
If he would have stayed, it would have been fine. But he left, so Cavs fans hate him.
Since he had clearly already decided that he'd be signing with Miami, should he have informed Cleveland of his intentions before going on television? Sure, that would have been the nice thing to do.
But this business isn't about being nice.
It wasn't as if LeBron was quitting his job with the Cavaliers to join the Heat. LeBron was no longer under contract with his previous employer; therefore, James had no reason, legal or otherwise, to inform Cleveland of his eventual relocation to Miami.
The Cavaliers' organization would find out LeBron's next destination just like everyone watching at home—via the infamous and highly-criticized ESPN broadcast, "The Decision."
It didn't take an expert in facial expression analysis to see that James was clearly nervous and uncomfortable during the nationally-televised broadcast. He knew that, following his announcement, things would never be the way they once were.
They certainly were not.
LeBron was subject to immediate criticism following "The Decision." His No. 23 Cleveland jerseys were burned, as was his public image. It didn't sit well with people that one guy could have the audacity to have an hour-long special just to announce where he'd be playing basketball the following season.
This is the same sports-crazed country that, on National Signing Day, televises 17 and 18-year-old kids putting on a school's hat and announcing where they'll be playing college football.
It's acceptable for high school kids to go on TV and announce their intentions, but it's an outrage for a former NBA Rookie of the Year and two-time league MVP to do the same thing? That simply doesn't make sense.
I'm a fan of LeBron because I'm a fan of good basketball. The NBA, more than any other major professional sport, is about its star players more so than the coach or franchise. Of all the league's star players, you won't find one that gives more effort on both sides of the ball than LeBron James.
You see Carmelo Anthony hit a jumper, and he follows it up with his usual "matador" defense. Dwight Howard blocks a shot and gets the rebound, and you need a calendar to time how long it takes him to get down the floor and play offense.
LeBron is one of the most physically gifted athletes the world has ever seen. In today's defensively deficient league, it's refreshing to see a player of his caliber work just as hard when defending another star player as he does with the ball in his hands.
People criticize him for not taking the last shot in games, and this is valid criticism. He doesn't always take the last shot, but he finds the best one.
In last year's NBA Finals, there was no excuse for LeBron's recurring late-game disappearing act. Watching him and hoping he'd win his first championship, his frustration and feeling of helplessness could be felt through the television.
LeBron was the scared sophomore who was seeing his first action on the varsity team in the playoffs; he was afraid to shoot, and he looked like he was playing "hot potato" with the basketball.
LeBron was a fish out of water, and his performance in the finals left a sour taste in the mouths of his fans while validating the opinions of his biggest critics.
The constant scrutiny and microscope that the public puts on LeBron James is overwhelming, and it's unlike anything I've ever seen in sports. If former defensive standout Bruce Bowen were to shut down Derrick Rose in the clutch during a playoff game, people would rave about what a terrific defender Bowen is.
But not LeBron. That's not enough.
If Kobe Bryant were to pass the ball to Matt Barnes, and Barnes were to hit the game-winning shot, people would rave about Kobe's unselfishness.
But not LeBron. Udonis Haslem missed the open shot.
Each and every time Miami loses a game and LeBron is anything short of spectacular in the clutch, it gives people another opportunity to say "I told you so" about LeBron James. Never before has there been so much attention focused on one player's lack of a championship ring.
That tells me one thing—people, even his biggest critics, realize that LeBron is one of the most talented players to ever play in the NBA.
If and when LeBron and the Heat win an NBA championship together, LeBron's fans and supporters will have the chance to tell the critics exactly what they've been saying to them all these years—"I told you so."