LeBron James wasn't handling the hate.
Twenty months ago, James sat in a blue suit, beside his Miami Heat teammate Dwyane Wade, following the loss of the 2011 NBA Finals to the Dallas Mavericks.
With an unmasked smugness, James verbalized a defensiveness against the fans that had rooted against him:
“At the end of the day,” James said. “all the people that was rootin' on me to fail, they gotta wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today. They got the same personal problems they had today. I am going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things I want to do and be happy with that.”
The league's greatest player was also its biggest villain.
Cynics were not able to forgive him for how he managed the publicity around his decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Somehow, the nation was—gasp!— shocked that the same kid who had his high school games televised and appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated might actually crave the spotlight.
Crazy, right? The kid who was friends with Jay-Z before dancing at his prom wasn't able to handle his ultimate moment of media-craze with fake humility.
If he wasn't bashed for how he handled leaving, the critics went after him for joining forces with other greats, Wade and Chris Bosh.
After pumping up fans at a season-ticket rally with thoughts of not one, but multiple championships, and then losing in the finals in his first attempt, he became the punchline to every joke about superstars whom can't win a title.
But that's not where we are now.
Now, James is a champion. Now, James is the guy who will tackle a fan in delight after a half-court promotion. Now, James is starting to win back fans.
There's nothing left to complain about.
James is part of one of many NBA super teams. He has no holes in his game to attack. He has few PR blemishes. He wants to be liked.
James wasn't meant to be the villain and his approval rating is beginning to shift back to liked.