Sure, there are flaws to the game. His free throw shooting is a little dicey. He's prone to turnovers. He can defer too much, especially in late and close situations, possibly due to the free throw worries. But there's no more versatile player, no one better in the open court, no one better on defense, no one more durable or athletic or talented.
He doesn't play for a noxious fan base, or for a franchise that wins so often as to be intolerable. He's never been convicted of a crime, crashed a car, been the cause of romantic distractions or the laundry list of things that lesser lights and intellects have done. He's not even playing, at least so far in this NBA Playoff season, teams that are particularly lovable, or underdoggish, or elegant. He plays for his country in the international games, putting his body and livelihood at risk for minimal money. He plays hard -- maybe too hard -- throughout the game. He pules for calls at a usual rate of NBA superstar, and he does not thug, despite having more than enough opportunity to do so. When he scores, it's not like Shaq in his prime, with borderline rule violations, or Karl Malone who benefited immensely from a great point guard, or
Today, he became the second guy in NBA playoff history to post a 40-18-9 line. Good Lord.
And yet, of course, when he triumphs... it satisfies no one, outside of his regional fan base.
Tonight, the lead for the Heat is how Dwyane Wade hit 11 straight shots, how he's bounced back from the awful Game 3, how Juwan Howard enforced in pre-game and Udonis Haslem made shots and...
Um, people? James just played one of the best playoff games ever. And the Heat want to try and spin this as a team win.
This bothers me, actually.
You see, I try, very hard, to keep my appreciation of sports between the lines. The outside stuff is for dramatists and amateur psychologists, people for whom Game is not enough. And well, Game is enough for me. It really is. The other stuff is good for site traffic and snarkiness, but there's a reason why you see hundreds of takeaways from every NBA playoff game I can see, and similar levels of coverage when it comes to NFL and MLB playoff games.
I like to watch Game, and James is better at that than anyone.
What James did to the people of Cleveland, your opinion of his level of hubris, your irritation with the championship guarantees or the previous playoff failures... well, they shouldn't matter as much as they do.
And yet, of course, they do. And will, and always will.
The Heat could go on a 10-0 run to close out these playoffs and get James his first NBA championship. (Um, they won't. Rest easy, haters.) He could stomp a mud hole through the most hated teams in the Association (i.e., Celtics next round, Lakers in the Finals, though there's a lot of Spurs' dislike out there, too)... and the dominant theme will be how well other guys on the team played, how underrated a coach Erik Spoelstra is, how gritty Chris Bosh might be for coming back, how nice it is for Shane Battier, how Pat Riley can go out with another title and, last and not least, how many people hate the NBA because James finally has a ring.
It is, I think, roughly akin to how people must have reacted to watching Wilt Chamberlain in the day, and more or less unique in the modern era of sports.
LeBron James is, and always will be, punished for doing what he was allowed to do in a capitalistic society. For a decision that a vast majority of people would have made in their own career. In his mid-20s, when lots of people are tone-deaf at best for how they are perceived.
And I realize, of course, that I've changed no one's mind with this, and if my Sixers are lucky enough to get to a third round against the Heat... I'm going to be right with you on the hate.
Because, as Chamberlain himself said, no one loves Goliath. Or, well, LeBron James...