He started out as a teenage phenom drafted straight out of high school. He was compared to the god of basketball, Michael Jordan, before he had even played an NBA game. Size, athleticism, and basketball ability appeared to have brilliantly combined in the Akron native, LeBron James—an undeniably amazing physical specimen.
In the beginning, he managed to fulfill these incredible expectations. Drafted in 2003 (arguably one of the best draft classes in basketball history) as the number one overall pick by the perennially terrible Cleveland Cavaliers, he averaged better than 20-5-5 in his rookie year. This stat line has been matched by only two rookies prior to James, one named Michael Jordan. To top it off, the Cavaliers win total improved by a staggering 18 games. Endorsements flew to James, notably Nike. The now infamous “We Are All Witnesses,” became a tag line for the basketball player who had “The Chosen One” tattooed on his back.
Inevitably, there were people that hated James. But as with any great player comes fans who are jealous, prefer the underdog, or simply root for rival/other teams. I can say I was not one of them. I respected the relatively quiet LeBron James, a basketball player who stayed with the Cleveland Cavaliers for seven years. Yes, he never won a ring, but he made a 17-65 team a legitimate championship contender (2007 vs. the Spurs) virtually single-handedly.
The infamous and much anticipated summer of 2010 changed everything. As an unrestricted free agent, James had led his hometown Ohio fans toward believing he would stay, and followed it up with the televised ESPN hour simply titled The Decision.
The title alone is repulsive. The Decision? As if he was the be all and end all. The entire basketball world—and more—was watching to see where he would go, wasn’t that enough? James proceeded, with a crowd of children at his feet and the nation watching, to announce after an insincere “this is tough” that “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach.” Can you imagine how a diehard Cavaliers fan felt, slapped on national TV? It was an extremely classless thing to do. The jersey burnings in Ohio that followed James’ announcement sum it up.
So how does “The Chosen One” do in Miami? First, he receives a grand, excessive welcoming party. In the words of Howard Beck, a New York Times writer, “Everyone saw something: greatness, arrogance, self-indulgence, boldness, cowardice, pride, friendship, collusion, joy, cynicism, heroes, mercenaries.” LeBron James was shoving the tattoo on his back in the face of the public, and to the dismay and disgust of Cleveland fans.
Numbers don’t lie, and LeBron put up great ones in his first year in South Beach. He nearly grabbed the league scoring title and combined with Dwyane Wade to score over 4,000 points – nearly 50 a game. But in the playoffs and Finals, LeBron became LeChoke. His 8.9 PPG drop from regular season to the Finals was the greatest in history. Losing to a well-rounded Mavs team with Dirk leading the way was only the beginning of the justified criticism that followed LeBron. He gave up what seemed like every big shot.
The player compared to Kobe and MJ, who made “The” Decision just a summer ago decides to forfeit the ball in crunch time to Wade and relative no names.
In order to be the greatest, you need to have that killer instinct. Jordan had it. Kobe has it. They are assassins. You knew they were coming for you at the end of the game and you simply couldn’t stop it. With LeBron, that simply wasn’t the case, and I was disappointed. I watched the 2011 Finals hoping to see a player deserving to be in the same sentence as MJ and Kobe. I was excited to see him perform at the NBA’s grandest stage, and he didn’t show up. It was his time not only to shine, but also redeem himself and justify The Decision. Quite simply, he failed. And let’s not forget his mocking of Nowitzki’s illness before Game 5…which was still won by the Mavericks.
So how do we feel now? I’d argue just as mixed as before. Personally, I still manage to give him the benefit of the doubt. As much as I despised The Decision, the tattoo on his back, and his attitude toward Dirk (among other things), I find myself rooting for LeBron. It’s a combination of multiple reasons. Sports are entertainment and I, and many Americans, want to be entertained by the best athletes. Like we knew when he was in high school, LeBron is a once in a generational type player, something we all should enjoy to be witnesses of. But perhaps the main reason for continued support the controversial superstar is because America is a land of second, third, and fourth chances. It’s hard not to be after baseball’s steroid era and the doping allegations with Lance Armstrong and other international icons. Maybe as a result of how American sports culture has conditioned me, I will probably be rooting for him the next time he makes it to the Finals. Plus, he’s a monster in NBA 2K12.