LeBron James: No Grace in Cavaliers Defeat

Todd FlemingAnalyst IMay 31, 2009

ORLANDO, FL - MAY 30:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts after a play against the Orlando Magic in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2009 Playoffs at Amway Arena on May 30, 2009 in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

A person’s true character tends to become much more visible when things aren’t going their way. Grace does not reveal itself in victory. It reveals itself in how a person handles adversity.

That is why LeBron James’ decision to march off the court without congratulating the Orlando Magic players was so damaging. It was the ultimate showing of poor sportsmanship; a snub not only to the Magic, but to his own team who, despite their shortcomings, played alongside him in the series and gave their best effort.

The single act will likely hound James for the rest of his career despite the attempt by many in the sports media to dismiss and excuse it. And, he didn’t help himself when asked about it.

The first thing a man stuck in a pit should do is stop digging.

James, when given the opportunity to start climbing out, grabbed for the biggest shovel. He proclaimed himself a winner and said he wasn’t going to go congratulate someone who just beat him up. That was an absurd statement.

It is one thing to be a winner and quite another to declare yourself one. How would he have felt if after the Cavaliers had won, the Magic all turned their back on him without offering congratulations?

The initial reaction of the sports media was to express disappointment but attempt to contextualize it. I don’t have a problem with providing context, as long as it isn’t being used to attempt to excuse behavior that most of us wouldn’t accept out of our own kids.

Losing is hard. Losing a big playoff series you are expected to win is even harder. There is no denying that. Players work so hard to put themselves in a position to win a championship, and in the snap of a finger, that dream comes crashing down.

But, it happens all the time. Only one team in each sport ever finishes the season holding the trophy, meaning that plenty of teams and players have to face a bitter end to their hopes. But, rarely do you see anything as outrageous as what you saw out of James.

LeBron James hates to lose. Okay, we get it. Everyone hates to lose. And hating to lose is not a bad thing. In fact, it is admirable in its own right.

But, disrespecting the winner is never acceptable.

After a hard fought hockey series between the Penguins and Capitals, everyone was watching to see if Alexander Ovechkin would congratulate rival Sidney Crosby. There is no love lost between either player or their teams. He did. And both teams lined up to congratulate one another, with the losers offering words of encouragement to the team that was advancing.

That is one of the great traditions in hockey, the on-ice handshake following each playoff series, and it is something that fans of both teams look forward to seeing.

It is not unique to hockey. It is one of the great moments in sports when, after a bitterly fought series or game, the two teams come together to shake hands and congratulate one another. We instill it in our kids, forcing them to congratulate the little league team that just hammered them.

That was the tradition that James, as a role model, poisoned.

After each service academy football game played between Army, Navy, and Air Force, the two teams come together and sing each other’s service song together.

It is an act of respect that is all the more profound since they recognize that while they may have been rivals on the field, they will one day stand together in defense of the nation. Even after a tough loss, it is hard not to feel good in watching this tradition unfold. And, there is a lot on the line in those games.

Army-Navy remains one of the biggest rivalries in all of sports despite the fact that the teams are not national powers.

The winner of the service academy series between the three teams gets an invite to the White House, where they are presented the Commander in Chief’s trophy by the President. Still, it doesn’t matter that the losing team is disappointed or that the fans are disappointed.

The teams respect each other and come together after each game. That is how it should be in all sports.

LeBron James is an incredibly gifted player, possibly the best basketball player of this generation. He is the face of the NBA.

And his actions have consequences. Plenty of kids are looking up to him. And they just watched their biggest hero explain, with both actions and words, that winning is all that matters and that losing gracefully is for losers.

Nice message.

James should immediately apologize for his outrageous behavior to the Orlando magic and the people of Orlando. He should come clean, explaining in no uncertain terms that his actions were reprehensible.

I’m not talking about a, “I regret that my actions might have caused blah blah blah” type of apology that is becoming the norm in today’s society.

He needs to clearly say that what he did was wrong, he is sorry he did it, and will make amends for it. That would go a long way in repairing his battered reputation.

Anything less than that is an affront to his team, the Magic, the league, his fans, and ultimately, to himself.