In July 2010, LeBron James was the star of an hour-long ESPN production called “The Decision” where he revealed to the world which team would be blessed with his talents. As we all know, King James decided to take his talents to South Beach where he joined forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to form the most dominant trio in the NBA. The backlash against this decision was tremendous, including a scathing letter from the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers. LeBron instantly became the most hated sports figure in recent history. His transformation into a villain was akin to Hulk Hogan turning his back on the Hulkamaniacs and forming the n.W.o. in 1996.
Admittedly, some of the criticism towards LeBron for his decision to sign with Miami was hypocritical. The public vilifies athletes who just go for the money and have no desire to win. However, LeBron left millions of dollars on the table by signing with Miami because his incumbent team, the Cavaliers, could have given him more money. Instead, he signed with Miami bringing Chris Bosh with him to join Wade’s team. This decision would give James the best chance to win a championship, or so he thought. The consensus amongst NBA fans and the general public was that LeBron was taking a shortcut to win a title. At this point, the NBA Universe wanted nothing more than any other team to win the championship.
It took awhile for the Heat to click as a team, but once they got rolling they didn’ty stop. They entered the playoffs with some speculation that they could get picked off by Boston or Chicago, but that never came to fruition. In fact. LeBron was a monster in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Bulls. It sure looked like nothing was going to stop him from fulfilling his destiny. The comparisons to Michael Jordan would be warranted as James would get his first of many rings to decorate his fingers.
But then the NBA Finals started pitting the Heat against the Dallas Mavericks in a rematch of the 2006 Finals. In that series, the Mavericks went up 2-0 and proceeded to collapse giving Dwyane Wade his championship that LeBron so badly wanted for himself. He had a national stage to showcase his talents and prove to the world that he belonged in the same realm as Michael Jordan. Unfortunately, all he did was prove that he should never be mentioned in the same sentence or paragraph as Jordan.
It was amazing to watch LeBron literally choke during the Finals. He froze up in crunch time and avoided getting the ball when it mattered most. Even on defense, he stood around watching his teammates and opponents play their hearts out. It was disturbing and inexplicable. Last year, he had a horrendous game against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals allegedly because he had found out his teammate, Delonte West, was sleeping with his mother. I guess one can understand why he wouldn’t be focused on that particular night. But there is no rational or logical explanation for his performance in these Finals outside of the fact that LeBron suffers from a crisis of confidence and fear of failure.
We as fans can only speculate about a professional athlete’s state of mind when playing in a game. It is easy to sit back and criticize when watching on TV or in the stands at the game. The truth is that these athletes are under a tremendous amount of pressure to perform at a high level all the time. But LeBron is a self-annointed King and so badly wants to be revered in the same manner as Jordan. He created the expectations when he signed with Miami and he had the sole burden of proving that he has the mettle, desire and passion to win under any circumstances. And he failed to meet that burden.
No matter what the circumstances of the game were, Michael Jordan never would have stood around and watch the game go by him. He never would have avoided the ball or passed up opportunities to take the game into his own hands. LeBron James ran away from every opportunity he had to become a champion. And he probably will win a championship someday given the talent the Heat have on their roster and the genius that is Pat Riley running the organization. But no matter how many rings LeBron ends up getting in his career, he can never be compared to Michael Jordan again. He can’t even be compared to Kobe Bryant. He will never be able to make up for the colossal failure that was the 2011 NBA Finals because it is firmly entrenched in the annals of NBA history that LeBron James choked big time and lacked the heart necessary to be a champion. If the Heat win a title going forward, it will more be a testament to Dwyane Wade’s greatness than LeBron’s “talents.”
Even more damaging to LeBron’s legacy and reputation was his reactions and responses after the game. We know he heard all of the criticism and we know he is aware of his own shortcomings, so in a way I can be mildly empathetic towards him for being the recipient of such profound and constant abuse. But his remarks about g-d not wanting this to be his time now, or that everyone else will wake up the next morning with their own lives and problems while he will wake up a millionairre, just make LeBron look like a spiteful and spoiled jackass.
All of this has solidified LeBron’s status as the most hated man in sports. It is hard to imagine a way for him to rehabilitate his reputation and legacy without some major changes in his personality, demeanor, attitude and performance. The fact that the Governor of Ohio made the Dallas Mavericks honorary Ohioans for a day speaks volumes about how much this man is despised. I made the comparison earlier between LeBron’s villainy and Hulk Hogan’s heel turn to the n.W.o. However, the difference is that Hulk Hogan was able to regain his Hulkamaniacs by putting the yellow and red back on and training, saying his prayers, and eating his vitamins. Unfortunately for LeBron, he seems to be eternally entrenched as the bad guy. And he doesn’t even have a ring to show for it.