I will always remember when I saw Ken Griffey Jr. play in Yankee Stadium. To this day, I have never seen a better athlete in person than The Kid. Even at a young age I knew I was watching something special, just by the way he carried himself on the field. Watching him tracking down deep fly balls to make them look routine, whacking a double down the left field line without a hitch in his swing, and playing the game with a true love that made you want to get out there and join him is something that I will never forget. Someday I will say to my kids, “Ken Griffey Jr. was the best athlete I ever saw in person.”
But what will I tell them about LeBron James?
Before bolting for Miami I thought LeBron was everything we wanted our athletes to be. Now, with two rings added to his collection, and two inches removed from his hairline, he is still everything we want our athletes to be. James has never been involved with any trouble in the law. He doesn’t have a ton of illegitimate children running around. He contributes money to charities every year. He respects the history of the game. Still, after “The Decision,” I, along with most of the country, developed a deep dislike for him.
Following Miami’s Game Seven win over the San Antonio Spurs I began to ask myself, why is it that I dislike LeBron so much? Here is a guy who just stepped up in the biggest moment of the game and drilled a jump shot without hesitation. There was no second-guessing himself. No wondering what Michael Jordan would have done. No thinking about what people would say if he missed. LeBron just stepped up and absolutely splashed a jumper to clinch his second ring. For the briefest of moments I thought that maybe my illogical, irrational disdain for this man had finally fallen away. Finally, I thought, I will be able to enjoy LeBron for what he truly is: the best basketball player I have ever seen.
And then he spoke.
What hampers so many of us from simply allowing ourselves to marvel in James’ dominance is his personality and the way he always seems to put his foot in his mouth, along with a number of other factors. In his self-glorifying post game speech he said, “I’m LeBron James from Akron, Ohio, from the inner city. I’m not even supposed to be here.” Along with half the country I replied, “Well, that’s because you should be in Cleveland.”
For some, it’s the way he flops. For some, it’s the way he complains about every single call that doesn’t go his way. For others, it might be how he dresses. Maybe it’s the way that he always has to chime in on social media whenever something is happening in sports. Maybe it’s the products he chooses to endorse. It could be that he was anointed “The King” before ever winning an NBA Title. It might just simply be the fact that he is not Michael Jordan. But how do any of these things diminish his greatness as a basketball player?
Anyone who hates LeBron James as a person really does not have a leg to stand on, and anyone who hates him as a player is just jealous that he is not winning championships for their hometown teams. I know that the LeBron Hate is a completely nonsensical notion without much clout and without much reason or rhyme. Yet, for some reason, I just can’t get away from it. I am a 22-year-old college graduate, and I am caught up in one of the most childish things there could be: disliking someone for no reason.
I would love to be able to sit down and watch the two-time Finals MVP dominate in the post without seething. I’d be delighted to marvel at how dominant he can be as a defender (Just ask Tiago Splitter). It would be especially nice to be able to check Twitter without seeing everyone and their mother critiquing every single imperfect act he performs on the court.
Those wrapped up in LeBron Hate who were not alive during Jordan’s reign are missing out on one the most significant sports eras of their lifetime. Sadly, I am included in this category. Years down the road, after LeBron has written the final chapter in his wonderful career, I wonder what people are going to say. Are we ever going to get over “The Decision”? Or will we never truly grasp just how special James is?
Perhaps one day I will grow up and allow myself to watch James without opinion, without judgment, and just thank God that I am getting to witness one of the best athletes to ever walk the planet. Until then, my kids will just have to prepare themselves for a future of hearing about The Kid, because I simply don’t know what to tell them about The King.