After watching how LeBron James' image was consistently mutilated in the media throughout last year’s summer, conjoined with this past NBA season, my mind began wandering to places that it never had before when considering the ups and downs of the perception of an athlete.
What were we truly accusing him of?
Did he commit some type of unforgivable heinous crime? Did he spit in the face of his opponent? Did he toss a homophobic slur at a game official on national television? Did he take some type of performance-enhancing drug and had us fooled all this time into thinking he was working off of "natural ability?"
None of these things are brought to the light in the case of LeBron James v. The Public, so it leads me to believe that there is some type of well-pronounced hypocrisy being displayed, as some of the athletes who have committed some of the aforementioned grievances are dealt slaps on the back of their hand and a few words of encouragement.
James’ most recent press conference where his words seemed to echo the likes of “I am better than you, richer than you and even though I lost in the Finals, you will still be living your pathetic life,” has the hammer falling down directly on his head while others are walking around scot-free with public image and support still intact.
It is embarrassing to think that we have become too targeted when it comes to placing the blame. Even when there are greater candidates for our disdain, we look over them because they were not the primary concern.
When Kobe Bryant shouted the homophobic slur towards referee Bennie Adams during a game against the San Antonio Spurs, sure he was fined $100,000, but how much was his image affected during those moments? Just because of the fact that he won five championship rings, Bryant is allotted the benefit of the doubt when it comes to doing things that are frowned upon in everyday society.
Even dating back to the stages of his life where he was considered selfish on the court and during his feuds with Shaquille O’Neal, Bryant’s legacy never lost its luster.
It was solely because of the fact that he won. He made no bones about his aggressive personality during spaces of time with the media and still does not. Bryant says things to reporters that may be out of the way, however, the public backlash is never as strong as it is for James. People like to refer to the quote, “Winning cures everything” when it comes to professional sports and the public’s perception of star athletes.
It stands truer today than anyone is ready to admit.
Kobe Bryant was the aggressor in rape allegations and to this day is one of the strongest marketing tools for anyone’s business or corporation.
People like to bring Michael Jordan’s days as an active athlete back to light when discussing how the game should be played and how players in today’s age of the league are too into grandstanding and showing off.
Am I the only one who remembers how Jordan truly played the game?
Does no one else understand how much Jordan used to taunt his opponents during plays at the beginning, middle and end of games? What about his infamous shrug after hitting his sixth three-pointer in the 1992 NBA Finals against the Portland Trail Blazers—on their court? No one would have jumped out of their seat shouting obscenities at him because he was celebrating in the first half of the game.
People praised his on-court efforts and bowed down even more to his ways of dominating his opponents with a huge ego. Fans were not only used to seeing him grandstand in that manner, but were somewhat waiting for him to do so. The excitement his attitude added to the game was unsubstantiated but always understood.
When we see either Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh or LeBron James celebrating after shots that they make, in the first or the fourth quarter of games, fans and the media like to complain about how flashy and unsportsmanlike they are acting when it is time to be professional. We must get something straight.
When you speak of being professional, we are not talking about in an 8x8 cubicle answering a black phone with a bunch of buttons you have no use for.
Professionalism in sports speaks of shaking the hands of those who you just defeated, or those who defeated you. It speaks to the tone of not throwing the Gatorade cooler around the floor after you just lost or were tossed out of the game. It speaks to remaining on the bench when one of your teammates is in a shoving match with an opposing player.
Nowhere in that definition does it say that you cannot be congratulatory of yourself or your teammates after hitting a hard basket or scoring points that put your team on a streak. Some people choose to and some people do not. Those are their personal decisions and they should not be criticized for them.
Were people shouting “Blasphemy!” after Jason Terry seemingly took flight on the court after his many threes this season?
Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined forces in Boston and won the championship their first year. But, at no point in the regular season were they bombarded with questions about the validity of their individual talents.
Neither was looked down upon because they could not accomplish winning an NBA title on their own. They were held up on a pedestal and crowned the ones to beat in the Eastern Conference. Even as threatening as Garnett can be at times, no one has ever downplayed his efforts on the court just because of the fact that he runs his mouth.
It amazes me that people can take a few quotes from James and end his career 10 years earlier than it should be, while rooting for Garnett to win after he was accused of calling Charlie Villanueva "a Cancer patient."
Shaquille O’Neal was rumored to have cheated on his wife and possibly hire some Los Angeles gang members to beat up a man who was said to have a sex tape of O’Neal. Not saying that either of these allegations is true, but they were highly touted throughout headlines for months. He even took to the stage to hurl a couple of insults in Kobe Bryant’s direction, repeating the lyrics “Kobe, how does my a** taste?”
Yet, as he retires, he is said to be one of the most positive and polarizing figures in sports to date. People are remembering the cool and comedic moments in his career rather than those that made fans take a step back and look at him a bit sideways. O’Neal will remain highly regarded because of his teddy bear personality, a majority of the time, and his openness with the media that remained solid right up until his retirement while he called a huge press conference at his home that was open to all media members.
No one is throwing salt in his direction because is a proven winner at the highest level, even as recent as the 2006 Finals where he and Dwyane Wade led the Miami Heat to a ring over the Dallas Mavericks. He won, so no harm no foul.
LeBron James is hated for what everyday human beings are guilty of doing. People think that he holds a superior mentality when considering those around him and watching him on TV.
However, how often can we accuse ourselves of that very same thing? How many times have you caught yourself passing judgment on those sitting on the corners begging for food or change? No one can say that they have never seen someone not dressed as expensive or trendy as them and commented on it to their friends.
There are moments where I have listened to the things that he says and they are blown way out of proportion for two reasons:
- Everyone can see and hear it.
- He left the Cleveland Cavaliers and they suffered heavily from it.
No matter what statements he makes to the public, there will never be the option to repair the damage that he has done to his image by simply saying the words, “I will be taking my talents to South Beach.”
Still, fans need to understand that there are far more people deserving of their silence and hatred than a man still shaping his legacy in the NBA. There are athletes who have crossed that line of moral understanding many times before him but have been able to go days without seeing someone stomping all over their name. LeBron James deserves the same, if not more respect than some of the players that people praise.
For someone who preached that the Miami Heat were “classless," DeShawn Stevenson showed more than enough that he was also irresponsible and childish by not only wearing a shirt that says, “How does my Dirk taste?” but also being arrested for public intoxication.
Have you ever seen any reports like that for LeBron James?