Anything but a Royal Childhood
In December of 1984, an African-American boy was born into a single family home. He lived in large Victorian style home on Hickory Street with his mother and his grandmother. But when he was just three years old, the young boy’s grandmother passed away of a massive heart attack on Christmas morning.
Upon his grandmother’s death, the Hickory Street home became more and more difficult to maintain. Eventually, “the city came in, served several eviction notices, and ultimately condemned it and bulldozed it to the ground.” Between the ages of five and eight, the young boy packed his bag to move on twelve separate occasions. At age nine he was sent off to live with the Walkers. Not because his mother no longer cared for him. No. But because she couldn’t afford to provide her child with the lifestyle he deserved.
Throughout the next several years, the young boy was forced to mature so quickly. He was never really given the opportunity to experience a righteous childhood. He lived with the Walkers for quite some time. And then he lived with the Walkers during the week and reunited with his mother on weekends. And when she was able to work out her financial situation, the young boy rejoined his mother in her home. Two different families. Two completely different worlds. And such a young boy with such maturity that he never once complained.
Then, after joining four of his African-American friends at a mostly-white Catholic high school, the young boy was thrust into the spotlight. Regarded as the Chosen One while still in high school would be a rather difficult predicament for any sixteen year old kid. Forget everything else he had already been through. LeBron James gave himself the nickname “King James” before he was snatched with the first pick in the 2003 NBA Draft.
He was an immediate leader for the Cleveland franchise and quickly became the face of the city of Cleveland, then the entire state of Ohio.
And the Haters Are Born
It was in the midst of all this hatred regarding LeBron’s number change that I began to wonder, “What in the world did LeBron James do to deserve such animosity?” A troubled boy growing up to become a superstar just miles from where he grew up; a story typically relished by Americans. But not for LeBron James.
From the moment he entered the league in 2003, James has been hated by a vast majority of fans across the nation. Why? Maybe because he doesn’t perform in a large market city like Los Angeles. Or maybe because there have been very few guys before him who have completely dominated the game of basketball like LeBron James.
It has somehow become acceptable for someone (such as, say, Kobe Bryant) to be accused of sexual assault and to be an admitted cheater outside the game of basketball. We have dismissed the fact that he let his ego drive the game’s most dominate force out of town – possibly costing himself a handful of rings. No. None of that matters because Kobe Bryant has won an NBA Championship and has handled his business on the floor without demeaning an opponent. Oh really? The same Kobe Bryant that throws unnecessary elbows when a defender wants to play him physically? The same Kobe Bryant that poses for the camera with his stupid looking scowl after he hits a shot? Or how about the Kobe Bryant that whines and complains every time a foul is called against him or not called for him (while I do agree LeBron is guilty of this as well)?
LeBron is attacked for posing for “pregame pictures” with his teammates and dancing on the sideline during a game. Writers across the country write pieces about the Cavaliers and their pregame antics and King James not shaking hands after getting outplayed in the Eastern Conference Finals. And they blow it up because “it’s bad for the game.” Again, really? Though he very clearly resembles a super hero on the floor, LeBron James is a human being first. He hates to lose so he walked off the court after a season-ending loss. He’s not the first to do it and, by golly, he won’t be the last. As well, the Cleveland Cavaliers organization is an extremely laid back community. The team likes to have fun and, above all else, the game of basketball is just that: a game. And if it’s not a game, then it’s entertainment. And what Cleveland fan doesn’t enjoy turning on the TV and watching a bunch of guys have fun?
From 23 to 6
Like I said before, it was through reading all the hateful comments about LeBron regarding his jersey change that brought about the idea for this piece. The internet is full of people that say, “He’s not doing it to honor MJ. He’s doing it to make money.” Maybe. Maybe not. That’s a moot point.
The fact of the matter is that there were no articles written when Kobe changed his number from 8 to 24 that said, “Oh, it’s just a marketing ploy.” Kobe didn’t come out and claim that he was honoring Vinny Del Negro because, quite frankly, that would be foolish. No, Kobe Bryant took a different approach and claimed that the number 24 was going to signify the new Kobe Bryant. While I suppose that’s not a direct lie simply because it did signify a new Kobe – a much richer Kobe – the point is that Bryant didn’t come right out and say, “I want to make more money” because that may be frowned upon.
Besides, NBA players don’t directly reap the benefits of higher jersey sales. The NBA gets all of that money and distributes the money based on seniority. So, in essence, Jason Kidd gets a big, fat check courtesy of his buddy LeBron.
My point is this: If nobody had a problem with Kobe Bryant flat out lying to the media about why he was changing his number, what beef do they have with LeBron about “lying” to the media about changing his?
The Great Debate
-In his career, James is averaging 27.8 points, 6.9 assists and 7.0 rebounds while shooting 47.4% from the field, 33% from three point and (an unimpressive) 74.3% from the charity stripe. He snatches up 1.8 steals and blocks 0.9 shots per game.
-Kobe Bryant is averaging 25.3 points, 4.7 assists and 5.3 rebounds while shooting 45.5% from the field, 34% from three point, and 83.9% from the free throw line. He accounts for 1.5 steals and 0.6 blocks per game for the Lakers.
Kobe Bryant shoots a better percentage from the three point line (barely) and is significantly better from the free throw line than LeBron James. In every other statistical category, LeBron James is better. Better on offense. And better on defense.
(And before we get into this, let’s throw out the argument that LeBron has not won a Championship. No kidding. But let’s not forget that Michael Jordan didn’t win a Championship until his seventh season in the league (this is LeBron’s seventh season) and was 28 (LeBron is now 26) when that occurred.)
The most impressive part about it all is that, even though LeBron averages more points than Kobe, he doesn’t need nearly as many shots to get his points. Last season alone, LeBron scored over a hundred more points (2,304 to 2,201) than Kobe while throwing up more than 100 less shot attempts (1,613 to 1,712). And you mean to tell me that Kobe Bryant is a better basketball player? I think not. You mean to tell me that Kobe Bryant is a better person than LeBron James? Certainly not.
LeBron James has the ability to make everyone around him a better player simply because he will find them if they’re open. He is a willing passer and is not as much concerned with his individual performance as he is with winning the game. For that reason, James has been able to take a team full of no-name players (Drew Gooden, Larry Hughes, etc) deep into the playoffs. Did he do it all on his own? No, he certainly did not. But he didn’t have to because he put his teammates in the position to succeed. Kobe Bryant needed a second superstar (a la Shaquille O’Neal/Pau Gasol) in order to take his team to the Finals.
Verdict: LeBron James > Kobe Bryant
If/when LeBron takes home the Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of this season, critics won’t be silenced. It will always be LeBron and the city of Cleveland against the world. But that’s OK. Because, in the end, there’s no better story than tracing the steps from a troubled child to the hometown hero.