Playing the Villian: What Tiger Woods Can Learn from LeBron James

Peter BukowskiSenior Analyst IApril 12, 2011

AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 10:  Tiger Woods hits his tee shot on the 12th hole during the final round of the 2011 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 10, 2011 in Augusta, Georgia.  (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
David Cannon/Getty Images

Let's make one thing very clear: Tiger Woods doesn't owe you anything.

The same is true of the media, fans, casual onlookers, and Sunday channel-surfers as far as what they owe Woods. The answer is nothing.

The majestic beauty of fandom is the subjectivity of it. I love the Packers because I just do, because I always have, and because I always will. You don't have to, that's fine. That's fans.

He's a liar, an adulterer, and an arrogant and condescending scumbag. Jack Nicklaus had more class in his little finger than Tiger Woods has, and golf is all about integrity right?

Okay, let's not get carried away. 

Off the course? Sure, he's a jerk. In the interview room? Ok, he could be nicer.

But between the ropeswhere it mattershe's focused, determined, creative, artistic, destructive, competitive to the utmost, dramatic, and sublimely talented. 

Tiger Woods is one other very important thing: the best.

We don't have to argue Jack Nicklaus against Tiger, or Woods' competition against guys like Palmer and Player. Right now, if you need to win a tournament to save your life, there's no way you pick Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, or Phil Mickelsonall of whom are ahead of Tiger in the world rankings.

Woods has 71 PGA Tour wins and 149 total in just 14 full seasons as a pro. His average margin of victory in 14 major wins is 5.27 strokes.

No one else in the field even comes close.

In 2008, Woods won a U.S. Open on one leg following a grueling weekend, and another 18 holes in a playoff with Rocco Mediate. Before that, he'd finished second at the Masters and won the PGA championship to close a FedEx Championship 2007 season.

He'd won six majors from 2005 through half of 2008, and finished second four times. He was also third and fourth at two other majors over that span.

He was playing the best golf of his career. I don't need to tell you what happened next; that's common knowledge by now.

Tiger Woods, following his embarrassing 2009 Thanksgiving midnight run-in with his landscaping, and the resulting discovery of his adulterous escapades, fell from the pedestal he'd stood on for the better part of the last decade. The pedestal of the best and most beloved athlete in sports. 

He was more revered than LeBron; more than Kobe, Federer, Brady, Jeter, or any other name you can think of. It seemed, at times to be more than all of those athletes combined.

He was better, more popular, and more marketable.

Woods hemorrhaged sponsorship deals almost as badly as he started losing on the golf course. He hasn't won since on the golf course, or in the court of public opinionbut that's starting to change.

The characteristics that made Woods revered when he was winninghis focus, determination, confidence (arrogance), and will to winare the same characteristics that made him reviled after the scandal.

When we look at his actions in retrospect, the choices he made are, in fact, quite unsurprising.

But Woods remains, above all of those other things, the best. He reminded us of that when he shot a back nine 31 on Friday. He reminded us of that when he shot a front nine 31 on Sunday to make a charge into the lead for a short time.

Woods, at Augusta, three-putted six times. Six.

No one in the history of golf not named Nicklaus could have been in the lead at the most competitive Masters ever (and that's not hyperbole), with six three-putts.

It's somewhat ironic.

LeBron James had the opportunity to be the next Tiger Woods. He wasn't winning the way Tiger was, but his celebrity and talent were comparable, and we talked about James the same way we talked about Woods.

Both were young superstars; both were "the next great" players in their sport. The next Nicklaus. The next MJ.

LeBron's epic public relations disaster, "The Decision," turned him from hero to villain. From hometown hero to cowardly and spineless. Fittingly, it was Tiger's decisions that put him in a similar position.

Still supremely talented, Woods has become, in some ways, the villain.

His saltiness with reporters precludes Woods from regaining his footing as a media darling, much the in the same way James' arrogance has cast him out of the glow of media love.

But like James, if Tiger wins the U.S. Openhell, if he wins your neighborhood country club tournamentall (or at least most) will be forgiven.

If you don't like him, don't buy his video game (one of the best-selling games of the year, despite his fall from sports fans' good graces).

Don't watch him. Don't cheer for him. That's fine with me and trust me, that's fine with Tiger. It can be fine for the PGA Tour too, as long as Tiger is Tiger.

At this point in his life, he doesn't need the money from his fourth place Masters tournament, much less the revenue he gets from his video games. He also doesn't need your fan support to be the best individual sport athlete of the last half century. 

Tiger Woods doesn't need anything from you, but you also aren't owed anything from him.

He doesn't owe a reporter the answer he wants; nor does he owe you a smile, or a vocabulary with fewer four-letter words on the golf course.

Tiger Woods was great for the game of golf as a hero. He could be just as great playing the villain.

The NBA has its highest ratings ever, and its best player was booed every time he touched the ball in every city except Miami early in the season.

Now James' dunks, blocks, and no-look passes get cheers and standing ovations. He's on the cusp of making a potentially historic playoff run and over the next few years and is one of the most polarizing figures in sports.

He's potentially the most famous villain in sports history, and could still be the most successful. Remember, he's the best player on one of the best teams and remains the face of the NBA.

Who cares if you hate Tiger Woods? He's the reason to watch whether you love him or hate him.

Sports fans love a hero.The only thing they love more? Hating the villain.


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