Let me begin with a concession—LeBron James is indeed an egotistical, self-aggrandizing person.
Now for the question—what made him this way?
From the moment he entered the public consciousness, the media and the public have been obsessed with LeBron James in ways I have never seen them obsess over any other sports figure in my lifetime.
As a 17-year-old, he was put on the cover of Sports Illustrated and dubbed “The Chosen One.” People marveled at his superhuman athleticism, and Nike and Adidas argued over whose shoes he was going to get to wear for millions of dollars a year while he was still taking seventh period math quizzes.
He was declared the best player in the NBA by some before he ever even stepped on the court. When he virtually single-handedly led a Cleveland Cavaliers team full of misfits to the 2007 NBA Finals, we cheered for him to take his rightful place at the top. The people of Cleveland dubbed him “King James” (although many would later try to claim that James gave this moniker to himself) and we all accepted his title, allowing him to bask in the glory of being the best.
We waited with our eyes glued to the screen for the moment when he would prove, once and for all, that he was the greatest of all-time. It could only be a matter of time.
Yet years went by and the King became frustrated with his inability to get the one thing he truly wanted: a ring.
Still, we remained as obsessed and enamored with him as we ever were. He was the savior of Cleveland! And after all, it had taken Jordan seven years to win a championship. LeBron would get there soon enough. He had to.
Then came the free-agency frenzy. Every sports publication, channel and website devoted nearly round-the-clock coverage to LeBron speculation. It seemed for a while that no one cared about anything else. We all trusted the King to make the noble choice.
And then it happened.
So instant, so sudden a fall from grace was LeBron’s that I could barely believe what I was seeing.
Sure, I had figured Cavs fans would be furious with his departure, and understandably so, but the entire country? How could this turn the man that we had obsessed over, that we had rooted for, and that we had believed in so deeply into a man whose failure we openly cheered, virtually overnight?
It was because he had abandoned the Cavaliers rather than work to turn the team around, some said, but Shaq had done the same thing years before in Orlando, with nowhere close to the same response. A more often-cited rationale was that it was not the departure itself but the self-celebrating way he handled it, with his one-hour TV special and preseason spectacular in Miami, that made people despise him.
The real problem, of course, was expectations.
We did then, we did when he was a teenager and we likely always will expect too much from LeBron James.
We expected him to win championships, to prove he was as good as the sainted Jordan, but when he took what he thought was the best step to make this happen, we turned on him, called him a traitor to the city to which he had donated seven precious years of his career and millions of dollars of his own money.
Because we also expected him to be a shining beacon of moral fortitude who would stick by his floundering team to the death, who would not be conceited enough to stage a show on ESPN that, I may add, was openly promoted by the network and the media and that we all chose to watch of our own volition. We literally expected him to single-handedly turn the city of Cleveland’s economic woes around.
Time and again, we have asked way too much of LeBron, and when we comes up short, we crucify him.
So who made LeBron who is today?
We turned him into the arrogant, grandstanding person who staged that TV special and participated in that premature rally because we have treated him like a god since he was a junior in high school. And then we forced him into the role of villain because we just could not deal with him openly acknowledging that he was something special. We could not stand him recognizing the indisputable fact that people cared about him more than they did about the average player.
We say we hate LeBron because he thinks he is better than he really is, but whose fault is that?
Go back and watch any interview with him in high school, and you will realize he was not always so full of himself. He’s not the one who dubbed himself the "Chosen One"—he just got the tattoo—and he’s not the one who claimed he was the greatest, he just believed the hype.
At the end of the day, despite his inflated ego and silly comments, LeBron is not the one who is responsible for his turn to the dark side.