A wave of misguided rage

By Israel Gutierrez
Updated: August 20, 2010
LeBron James speaks to the crowd before the start of his Family Foundation, King for Kids Bike-a-thon, in Akron, Ohio back on August 7th.

LeBron James speaks to the crowd before the start of his Family Foundation, King for Kids Bike-a-thon, in Akron, Ohio back on August 7th.

MIAMI — OK, let’s try to examine this because the snowball of disgust for LeBron James is growing so large that it seems everyone outside of his new city is rolling along with it without a full understanding of what’s at the source.

Here is a logical list of why James has gone from wildly popular to violently reviled:

• He left the Cavaliers, and with it the opportunity to prove himself as one of the best players in the history of the game because he joined two fellow All-Stars and therefore has forever skewed the ability to measure his individual greatness. And he did it following his two greatest playoff failures, which gives the impression that he has bailed on that effort.

• He left the Cavaliers in a manner that was considered rather classless because he gave the team literally minutes of warning, essentially blindsiding the only franchise he has known for seven years.

• His hour-long ESPN telecast to announce his free agency choice, his constant references to himself in the third person and quotes such as this one from the recent GQ story — “Even my family gets spoiled at times watching me doing things that I do, on and off the court” — continue to display a narcissistic quality that is obviously off-putting.

That’s all understandable. Reasonable even.

Reasonable if the response is you have lost some respect for James because he: might not care as much as others about his individual standing in the game; didn’t show very much concern for a franchise that appeared to do everything possible to make him happy for seven years; or doesn’t exactly understand the concept of good public relations despite the fact he’s a worldwide icon and probably should know better by now.

However, if the response is that James is now a true villain, or that James deserves no respect at all or that James is simply the most hated man in sports, then that’s a reaction that doesn’t match the supposed crime.

And, sadly, that’s the type of response that has become most common — one that should be expected from the scorned fans in Cleveland, but hardly makes sense for the rest of the world to feel because in the grand scheme he has done very little wrong here.

Almost immediately, James was lumped in with athletes with shattered images such as Tiger Woods, Ben Roethlisberger and Alex Rodriguez. And in some opinions, he has inexplicably surpassed them.

One website, thebleacherreport.com, put together a list of the 10 most hated athletes in sports. That list includes Barry Bonds, who is assumed to have tainted the most recognizable record in sports by using performance-enhancing drugs to break it, at No. 10.

It features Rodriguez, who admitted to having used steroids and plays for the previously most hated team in sports (the Heat has apparently overtaken the Yankees in that department). It has Michael Vick, dog-fighter; Woods, adulterer; and Roethlisberger, twice accused of sexual assault, all on the list before James.

Yes, James is deemed more hated than Roger Clemens, Terrell Owens and Donte’ Stallworth. And the reasoning almost is contradictory: He’s hated because he’s so full of himself that he wanted to share his stage with other great players. Huh?

Obviously, the Bleacher Report list was playful and hardly scientific, but it does offer a true look at how James has been perceived since that July 8 announcement.

“He’s supposed to be the best player and he’s supposed to have these players come to him,” said Hunter Prichard, the author of that list. “It felt kind of weird that he would latch on to somebody else.”

It’s a debate that has been held since the day James made the decision. Was his move genius because he’s now on what arguably could be the best team in NBA history, or cowardly because the unwritten rule in basketball is superstars can’t team together, only beat each other?

But regardless of which stance you take, it’s not nearly enough of a reason to group James in with athletes who have either disgraced themselves or whose wrongdoings involve either cheating their sport, breaking the law or making a mockery of marriage.

The worst thing you can say about James is that he’s an egomaniac who leaves something to be desired in the area of tact. But how many of our superstars aren’t egomaniacs?

And how else would you expect an athlete to respond when he has been elevated to the top of the sports world since he was studying algebra?

And even if that personality trait isn’t excusable, why is it that it’s only being held against him now? Are we only now realizing this about him because it can’t possibly be a trait he picked up over the past couple months?

Or is the hate emanating so powerfully out of Cleveland that the rest of the world, save for his new home, has become infected? Or was Cleveland so insulated from the rest of the country that we all just never got close enough to notice?

Or were we all so hypnotized by his acts that seemingly defy the laws of physics that we didn’t care what he acted like or sounded like and ignored any red flags as long as he kept jumping so high that he could look down through the rim as he dunked?

It just doesn’t make sense that James is the target of this much hostility based on the events of the past six weeks. So maybe his moniker should be changed to Drama King James. He could be, and others are, a lot worse.