NBA media and fans are amongst the biggest knee jerking, flip floppers in all of sports.
Fans can be forgiven for being this way because they are a highly emotive being and something that is likely to overreact when given an outlet to do so. But in my 16 year sport obsession, I have never seen people of influential power that are so unbelievably inconsistent in what they say than I have with the NBA media. It baffles me that not only are these people employed by the biggest outlets in sport, but that they are so respected in their business. So many of them have no credibility to me.
Nonetheless, the image transformation of LeBron James over the past 2 months is unbelievable. If you cast your mind back to game 3 of the Indiana series or even game 5 of the Boston series, the entire league, the entire country and a lot of the world were jumping on LeBron, calling him a choker, saying he would never win a championship, that he couldn’t carry a team and that he was eminently unlikeable.
Fast forward to now, with a Championship, a Finals MVP and just about as good a playoff run as you will ever see under his belt, in addition to his taking control of the Olympic team, LeBron James is quickly returning to the status he held in his earlier days in Cleveland.
ESPN’s most recent poll asked “do you want LeBron James taking the final shot for Team USA”, with ‘yes’ holding a staggering 70% of the votes.
Had this question been asked during the Indiana series, or the Boston series, or even before he and his Heat annihilated the Thunder in Game 5 of The Finals, the results would have been a resounding no.
Did LeBron James really become the significantly better player these numbers would suggest, over the period of a couple of weeks? Of course he didn’t. The fact is, other than a 3 game stretch during the Dallas series in last year’s Finals, LeBron James has always been a very good fourth quarter player. He led the league in fourth quarter scoring for the majority of his career in Cleveland. Whilst he may not have hit as many buzzer beaters as Kobe, James certainly has hit as many game winners or made as many game winning plays.
Because of the hate that was generated around his departure from Cleveland, people were looking for something to fester upon to justify not only their hatred, but to find a fatal flaw in him as a person and/or a player which they could turn to without any real creativity. The leader of this brigade of cowards and the uninformed is, of course, Skip Bayless. So when LeBron, and I will not hide the fact, failed in The Finals last year, Bayless the world finally had it’s hinge. Even though it was a very small sample that went up against a career of work, that did not change the minds of the hugely knee jerky, flip floppy media and fans of the NBA.
Sure there has been other times when he has missed big shots, but if Kobe Bryant for his career shoots 25% in the final 10 seconds of games (real stat), then show me a player that is perfect in these situations. It’s impossible.
You hear people talk about how championships change everything, but this is just ridiculous. LeBron James wakes up the morning of Game 5 and is still a choker, he is still LeBrick, he can’t carry a team, he doesn’t have a killer instinct, he’s worse than Durant and Kobe and Wade and Alonzo Gee and about anyone else in the league, he should never take the last shot, he has no clutch gene, blah blah blah you get the point, and as soon as that buzzer sounds a few hours later, he is the complete opposite of everything I just said.
I guarantee you this much. Should LeBron James carry Team USA to the Gold Medal, as he did against Brazil the other night and as he did the Miami Heat to the NBA Championship, LeBron James will enter most arenas next season to the forgotten sounds of cheers. He will not be booed every time he touches the ball, he will not be compared to Art Modell, no one will burn his jersey, no one will seethe his very existence and very few will hate. Of course there will still be that petty minority who hate simply to be haters, and that probably covers a majority of Cleveland, but the image he held just a few weeks ago will never be seen again by him and likely never again in the NBA.
Don’t get me wrong, I am delighted to see a guy that is truly one of the nicest, most down to earth superstars in professional sports be loved again. For someone that never committed a crime, never turned down an autograph nor ever meant to cause harm, to receive the unrelenting hate he experienced, it honestly hurt me and you know it hurt him. There was a reason everyone fell in love with him in high school and stayed in love with him through his first half decade in the league. He is still that same guy, except now he plays in a holiday destination and will soon wear a big shiny, golden, championship ring.
But for all those people who put him through what he, nor no one deserves, those of you that have had your minds changed because of a piece of jewellery, I hope you are a little less hasty with your other life choices. It’s never too late to jump aboard a bandwagon, and this one is an absolute freight train. We knew you’d come around, but know that because of your actions and words, your stature vanished with James’ critics.