Public opinion is a fickle thing. One day, LeBron James is the Prince that was Promised and everybody wants to see him win his first NBA title. The next day, after choosing to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat, he becomes the most hated athlete in the NBA, making Kobe Bryant look lovable.
This isn’t the situation at the moment. It seems that as he takes small steps towards his first NBA title, which is still two very hard wins to get away from him, the reasons as to why he was so unpopular for two years have slowly been forgotten. Maybe it was time he was forgiven for whatever wrong he did. Or maybe it’s just the fact that he’s earned the success he’s achieved and yet to achieve.
For some reason, in a sports system that breed no loyalty from players to their clubs, and is a business more than anything else, LeBron James became the bad guy. Rewinding to 2007, when the Boston Celtics, after doing a whole lot of tanking, with Paul Pierce looking all frustrated and bitchy on the bench, with Doc Rivers taking shots from left and right, became a team everyone wanted to see lift the NBA title.
Forget the fact that they’re a mean team; Not exactly the Pistons’ Bad Boys, but this is a semi-dirty team, with players like Rondo and Garnett who act bullishly and arrogantly on the court, while they have Paul Pierce, who’s on the same side of flop-town like Manu Ginobili, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and LeBron James who take much more heat for their exaggerations than Pierce does.
Bringing Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to form a big three and title contenders out of nothing was the right thing to do in everyone’s eye. Because Kevin Garnett didn’t make a big spectacle of it, and it’s impossible to dislike Ray Allen. The overall notion was that Paul Pierce was getting the teammates he deserved, and the team did win the NBA title nearly a year later. This core group nearly took out the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals two weeks ago. Maybe it’s the effect of the dominance of the Boston media. Maybe it’s just about lavishness and humility. There’s nothing humble about Garnett these days. Not about Rondo as well. But the Celtics didn’t make the same noise Miami did nearly two years ago.
You finish high school, and you can go play for any college you want across the nation. You finish college, and you’re thrown into a draft, a pool of players, a national pool, which takes high school kids from Chicago, Illinois to play College Ball in Lexington, Kentucky before becoming a pro, an NBA player, with the Bobcats in Charlotte, North Carolina.
LeBron James was Mr. Ohio. He didn’t leave for more money. He left to play with two friends and teammates from the Olympics. He even took less money than he would have and could have gotten with the Cavs or anywhere else (New York, Chicago). Somehow, that made him a bad guy in the eyes of many. A Villain. The Decision was probably his biggest mistake. Making a show of his new team. Laughing in the face of his former team’s fans. Vanity is always avenged.
James had a great first season, suddenly hearing boos in places not called the TD Garden, where there was never any love for James. A memorable night in Portland, with James embracing the boos and jeers, scoring 44 points and slapping his behind after making a big three to further entice the crowd. He didn’t win the MVP partially as punishment for what many considered being ‘taking the easy way out’. James had a harder time in the NBA finals. Crumbling under the pressure. Under-performing his way to losing three straight games and a quiet exit into a long summer.
James opened up recently about everything that’s happened last summer. How he’s changed, and his game. You can see the result this year with the Miami Heat. More composed, and less panicky when a losing streak comes along. Even after losing three straight against the Celtics, on the verge of elimination, didn’t push him and his team off the cliff. He just stopped smiling and went into what Seahawks fans call ‘Beast Mode’ when referring to Marshawn Lynch.
Facing Kevin Durant always makes you look less good. Durant is the new golden boy for the NBA. James is finishing his 9th season in the league. A true veteran, and old man nearly. The Thunder are the next great thing, right here, right now. Even before the Heat got to cement their legacy. They still might.
But James and the Heat aren’t public enemy number one anymore. People love success stories as much as they love tearing great ones down. James, despite everything he’s done in this league, especially the three MVP awards, isn’t a real success until he’s won that title ring. At least that’s how too many people see it. By showing that he won’t be the reason for the Heat missing out on a title this year, James’ vindication is nearly finished. Just need two more wins to be done.