This is difficult for me because LeBron James is currently my favorite athlete, but I felt compelled to write this. I try my hardest to follow what I learned from my father regarding opinions: Do your best to be objective, have some knowledge on what you are commenting on, and don’t be a hypocrite.
Well, I have long criticized the classless Bad Boy Pistons (nine of the 12 players) for walking off the court with 14 seconds left in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals as they were being swept by the Chicago Bulls (check out YouTube if you are too young to have watched it).
Like LeBron, they did not shake the opposing team’s hands after losing the series to them.
In 1991, only John Salley stayed on the court to congratulate the Bulls, although reportedly Joe Dumars and Vinnie Johnson shook some of the Bulls hands before walking off the court.
Considering that the Bulls shook hands three-straight frustrating years with the dirtiest team in NBA in history (sorry Pistons fans) after they were eliminated by them, I found this to be a classless, unsportsmanlike act (no apology this time Pistons fans).
Isiah Thomas, who was the captain of the Pistons at the time, was interviewed by Bob Costas years later about the incident, and replied, (I’m paraphrasing) “If I had known that I was going to receive so much criticism, I would have shook their hands.”
Thomas, who I always thought was a bit of a jerk (for lack of a better word), still didn’t get it years later. You don’t shake the opponent’s hands after a series ends to avoid criticism—you shake their hands because it is good sportsmanship and the right thing to do.
What LeBron did was not quite as bad as what the Pistons did, since it did not seem to be done in such a defiant, in-your-face manner, but still was clearly wrong and unsportsmanlike. While only 24, LeBron is smart enough and certainly mature enough to have known better.
He let frustration and disappointment affect his behavior at the heat of the moment. Unlike Thomas, however, I suspect LeBron will realize that what he did was unacceptable behavior, apologize, and never do it again.
I think that LeBron, like Kobe Bryant, is highly driven to be the best player ever, and knows that without numerous rings, he has no chance of surpassing Michael Jordan (who, as you know, has six) for that title.
The Cavaliers had the best record in the league this year and, after two sweeps in the first two rounds of the playoffs, were heavily favored (rightly or wrongly—apparently most of us, including me, were wrong) to beat the Magic and, at the very least, make it to the finals to have a shot at the title.
When the bubble unexpectedly burst on his chance for his first championship and they were eliminated, he lost it for a moment.
But, that is no excuse—what he did was wrong, and I am confident he knows it. While not as bad, perhaps he should have shown up for the press conference. After all, he always showed up when he won. I love LeBron, but his postgame behavior was as unacceptable as it was surprising. Let’s hope he does not surprise us again in this way.