How Can America Hate LeBron James but Support Kobe Bryant?

Danny Flynn@FlynnceptionSenior Analyst IJune 18, 2011

Bust, failure, loser, diva, overrated, coward, cheater, kitten killer.

In the week following the Miami Heat’s Game 6 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, LeBron James has been called nearly every derogatory and vilifying term the human mind can fathom.

Shockingly, the Miami Heat weren’t all that well liked by NBA fans outside of Dade County.

LeBron may have failed to win his first NBA title this year, but he did end up winning a title of a different sort.

He now holds the honor of being the biggest villain in sports.

Since The Decision last July, LeBron has been hit with wave after wave of backlash and negative publicity, and no cute commercial or late apology will ever be able to fully salvage his image.

LeBron’s been tainted.

Gone are the days of watching the 18-year-old bull methodically power his way through 5’8’’ forwards at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School.

LeBron’s a man now—one that has to be responsible and accountable for his actions. He has to realize that he’s now put himself on a platform where every one of those actions will be scrutinized and analyzed with an agenda.

With a few simple words, the self-appointed chosen one managed to break an entire city’s spirit, turn a whole country against him and steal the sanity of sports fans and analysts from coast to coast.

Radio shows, TV shows, Internet shows, you name it, this week they have all been filled with celebratory angst against the player America despises for no real good reason.

Once the beacon of light as a young up-and-coming star for his home state team, LeBron James has now been blacklisted.

He joins other star athletes like Tiger Woods, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Mike Vick and the rest of sports' fallen heroes who went from good guys to heels and never switched back.

Yet the difference between them and LeBron is, all LeBron did was trot a few kids out onto a stage and answer a few questions.

He didn’t violently slaughter pit bulls, he didn’t cheat on his wife with porn stars, he didn’t stick syringes in his ass.

All he did was sit nervously on the stage with an equally anxious Jim Gray and told the country the answer to the question they had been endlessly debating about for two full years.

You wanted to know what his decision was and he told it to you.

What’s the big deal?

Sure, it was all way too "showboatish," but it was an exciting moment for a city and a sports fanbase that has been forced to get excited about the Florida Marlins for the past decade.

It was OK to celebrate a little.

Let it slide.

And as for the "he took the easy way out and couldn’t do it by himself" argument.

Um, who hasn’t?

That's life. People need help and support from other people in order to get things done.

Didn’t the Boston Celtics pretty much do the exact same thing as the Heat, only in a less boisterous and much less criticized manner?

Honestly, if I gave you the option of playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers or the Miami Heat back on the day of The Decision, where would you have headed?

Miami was the most sensible option by a mile.

The hometown loyalty thing is nice in theory (even though LeBron’s hometown is actually Akron, not Cleveland), but sometimes your home state just can't offer you what you need to feel fulfilled professionally.

Did LeBron want to be the guy who never tried to make it outside of Ohio?

Staying in the same area for your whole life suits certain people, but it’s not the kind of lifestyle that a budding global phenom can lead.

That's just the day and age we live in.

If you're a star NBA player, Cleveland ranks down there with Milwaukee and Indiana as the places that don't even exist on your mental map.

Cleveland is terrible.

Have you ever taken a vacation to Cleveland?

Do you wish you could at least spend a weekend in South Beach?

Case closed.

The players on that Cavs bench in that silly "LeBron Returns to Cleveland" game all had the same look on their faces: LeBron, we wish you took us with you.

Cleveland stinks, no athlete wants to live in or play in Cleveland.

It’s an ugly city with an inferiority complex-type of sports energy.

It’s like a much less successful Boston.

Sure, there are plenty of good, honest people and fans living there, and they definitely didn’t deserve to be nationally insulted like that. But so what, life goes on.

You can cry and whine about it, which we saw them do all throughout the summer and during the "LeBron Returns" game, or you can move on and get over it.

It seems strange that people are holding on to such malicious feelings for LeBron because he made a decision to move to a situation that would better allow him to do the same thing we hope all pro athletes desire, which is compete for a championship.

Did he move to Miami so he could defer the late-game pressure and let Dwyane Wade take over?

So many people are saying that, but I don’t know, it looked to me like LeBron hit a few pretty big shots and made some pressure-packed, game-changing plays in that Chicago series when Wade was basically in a basketball coma.

Just saying.

It’s hard to come up with a reasoning that explains why sports fans continually kill LeBron James for the same thing for which they give Kobe Bryant a public pass.

Did everyone conveniently forget about Bryant’s “I'll go play on Pluto” comment after asking to be traded from Los Angeles a few years ago?

Yup that’s right, back in the summer of 2007, Mr. Laker didn’t want to be a Laker anymore and he had no problem expressing it.


Because Kobe had no help.

Shaq was gone, the supporting cast around him was mediocre and you could tell Bryant was fed up with having to take on the majority of the burden.

Kobe needed help and he got it with Pau Gasol, a reliable second option who was capable of being a perfect complement to a star scorer.

Kobe knew he couldn’t win a championship by himself because he knows basketball and basketball history and he realized no one player ever takes down the entire NBA gauntlet by himself.

The Cleveland version of LeBron was one of the few who came close.

Kobe dominated with the help of surrounding stars like Shaq, but Bryant also has had his fair share of shortcomings in big spots.

Just ask the Detroit Pistons.

They shut Kobe down in the 2004 Finals.

After that debacle, Shaq asked out of town because he hated Kobe, Phil Jackson left because he hated Kobe and the team failed to find the same type of success over the next few years, because like Shaq and Phil, most of Kobe’s teammates hated him.

Have you ever heard that about LeBron?

No, his teammates love him because, as the numbers show, he makes everyone on the floor with him better.

When it comes to personality and likability, there’s no comparing the two.

LeBron’s most serious scandal was the suspicious and somewhat expensive car he drove in high school.

Kobe Bryant’s most serious scandal was a sexual assault accusation.

Imagine, for a second, if LeBron James was caught using a gay slur during an NBA telecast.

The result.

The Internet would completely shut down, the stock market would go haywire for no real reason, America’s streets would look like Vancouver and Harold Camping would re-emerge.

It would be pure anarchy.

Kobe’s gay slur incident earned him a monetary fine that cost Mrs. Bryant her daily earrings purchase, and a two-minute debate on each one of ESPN’s 657 daily discussion shows.

It’s a shame that people have wasted so much time trying to crush LeBron’s image instead of celebrating Dirk Nowitzki, Mark Cuban and the rest of the Dallas Mavericks. 

If the roles were reversed, and if Dirk had failed to deliver in the Finals again, would people have spent all this time verbally destroying him instead of discussing LeBron’s legacy?

Give Dirk his moment; talk about LeBron over the summer.

This Mavericks team had the makings of a true champion.

They thoroughly embarrassed Kobe’s Lakers, proved to be too savvy for a young Thunder team and then found their stride when they needed it most in the Finals.

Dirk was historically good during this playoff run and he deserved to enjoy the great reward at the end of a long, grueling journey.

He made up for the failed Finals of 2006 and you have to expect that one day soon, LeBron will have a similar opportunity to atone for this series.

Hopefully, a championship could change LeBron’s current title of most hated man in basketball.

Alex Rodriguez is the most hated player in baseball.

Mike Vick is the most hated player in the NFL.

And in hockey, well all right, we know nobody watches hockey before the Stanley Cup starts.

Point being, we’ve seen sports fans turn on numerous successful stars in years past, so it’s not as if there isn’t a precedent for this.

Every sport has villains but there is now a special VIP section for LeBron and his Miami posse.

But for how long will the many Miami critics be able to bask in the glorious failures of the hated Heat?

I have to ask all of you LeBron haters, if LeBron James sucks so much, then how bad is Derrick Rose, the so-called MVP who was made to look like a seventh-grade CYO player by the bigger, stronger and superior James throughout the Eastern Conference finals.

Remember, one series does not make or break a legacy, whether it involves a dominant performance or a fizzling bow out.

If it did, the majority of those 50 Greatest Players in NBA History lists would look a lot different.

Consider this, Michael Jordan was 28 when he won his first ring.

LeBron James is 26.


LeBron is a part of a team that is built to be the powerful favorites of the NBA for the next five to six years.

He’s going to have his opportunities to win titles in the future.

The hostility surely won’t end until LeBron wins at least one ring, but even then, it won’t change the fact that he’s been permanently tainted.

LeBron James has become the guy to root against because he did the same exact thing that fan favorites like Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony did, and what Dwight Howard and Chris Paul are presumably going to do.

He wanted a better situation and he got it, but it just didn’t happen to be a prefect fit.

LeBron and the Heat worked out their kinks and took plenty of lumps this season and it can either strengthen them as a group, which will admittedly be very scary, or it could ultimately tear them apart.

Let’s let time tell that story, though.

There’s no need to jump the gun and bring up words like failure after one single season.

I know one thing—if the rest of the Heat saga is as interesting as the opening scene, then we should be in store for a ton of entertainment over the next few years.


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