When LeBron James was revealed as the sixth most reviled athlete in sports this week, it was a startling reminder of just how far he’s fallen. When an athlete makes a decision (as opposed to “The Decision”), the backlash is usually introduced as isolated pockets. How Boston feels about Roger Clemens, for example. Or how animal lovers feel about Michael Vick (unfortunately, there are a lot of us animal lovers out there, though that number seems to be plummeting in Philly lately).
But James tapped into something at the moral center of our cultural Tootsie Roll, and it’s left him as one of the more ill-considered people in all of athletic competition. This despite him having broken no laws, nor skirted the edge of what we consider moral behavior in our society (outside of our traditional value of loyalty, often which we bend in protection of a perceived self-interest).
Quite simply, dude screwed up.
And so it is with that in mind that ProBasketballTalk.com introduces The LeBron Hate Index, a measure designed to track exactly how much people hate the best player in the NBA (see what I did there? Just by giving him that title I’ve increased his basketball purist hate by another five degrees). It’s important for posterity that we note James’ career arc through the lens of popular opinion, so that somewhere, way down the line, we can get a feel for how distaste of him has grown or dwindled as his championship aspirations are either fulfilled or dropped into the void.
A Quick Legend:
1 (Blue)= “It’s all good, LeBron! Do what you got to, young fella!”
2 (Blue-Yellow)= “You’re more like elevator music. I can handle you, but only ten seconds.”
3 (Yellow)= “I don’t wish you ill, but I do laugh at your misfortune.”
4 (Yellow-Red)= “Peace? I hate the word. As I hate hell, Hugh Jackman, and thee.”
5 (Red)= “I’m not saying you are Satan, I’m just saying we should run some tests. As long as I don’t have to touch you and it involves a lot of pain for you.”
6 (Unofficial, Very Edge Of Red)= “I live in Cleveland.”
You’ll notice our five points of reference, Cleveland, The Stilted, The General Public, Basketball Purists, and the ever-so-hypocritical, we the Media.
Cleveland is quite obvious, and you can expect his honker to stay right in that dark red for the foreseeable future.
The Stilted refers to those who James elected not to join this summer, after visits in consideration thereof. Those fans continue to speak ill of James, despite the fact that had he donned their brilliant colors, they’d be defending him just as Heat fans now do (and Heat fans would surely have joined their ranks had he taken his talents elsewhere).
The General Public refers to those outside of the basketball-obsessed world, the vast majority of that 13 million strong viewing public.
Basketball Purists relate to those who look back to a purer, simpler time. You know, the one when players didn’t leave their teams (mostly because the ownership power was so great as to negate that possibility and free agency was in its infancy), and players were more humble and had more respect for the game (as illustrated by their rampant drug use or creation of their own shoe brands).
And then, of course, there’s us. The media. You may recognize us by the bold, brash headlines about how James wants too much attention (“READ ALL ABOUT IT HERE”). You may also identify us by our cutesy terminology for James and his actions (or our cute nicknames: “See, we call him LeCon, because he conned everyone. And his name is LeBron. It rhymes, you see. I learned that in journalism school, right after ‘Blame Everyone Else For The Downfall Of Our Profession’ 101.”)
In our first edition, you’ll notice Cleveland holding strong in the “Hope You Burn In The Fiery Flames Of Hell” category. The Shunned have peeled off some since “The Decision” and have begun the heady process of talking themselves into believing they can legitimately compete against the Heat (recognizable by such phrases as “Carlos Boozer is really underrated” and “Anthony Randolph could revolutionize the (insert position here).”)
How about those purists? There’s a healthy, steady hate for James being ridden by these noble beasts, primarily as they watch Michael Jordan average X assists, while lauding Scottie Pippen for being one of the greatest players of his generation in a role entirely enveloped by supporting teammates. The competition factor is the motor for these wanderers of ESPN Classic (just as they believe Satan is LeBron’s motor). After all, who would want to team up with your competitors when you can seek to destroy them in a vindictive and hyper-competitive manner that’s driven solely by vengeance and resentment rather than a quest to play the best basketball and live the best life you can?
The media? Oh, no, we’re not letting go of this cash cow. Do you realize how much money we’ve made off of the idea that LeBron James sucks? Do you know how many ad impressions we’ve garnered from the construct of talking about James bombarding the public with his life and image? We can’t let this thing go. It’s perfect! We get to dismiss, degrade, and make up cute nicknames for a 25-year-old for his immense ego while simultaneously racking up the accolades for our work talking about him. Hey, if we keep this up, we may even be able to get better jobs! Maybe in nicer locales, working with our friends! … Wait…
All this cheekery isn’t to suggest that James didn’t deserve all this. If he wanted to stay in everyone’s good graces, he should have stayed in Cleveland, watching Mo Williams chuck 15 footers while Kevin Garnett drains hook shot after hook shot over Antawn Jamison. Again, it may seem absurd, but that’s the fact, LeJack (“See? I did it again! It’s genius!”). James gets to live in a beautiful place, with beautiful people, playing alongside two of his best friends who are also two of the best players in the game, make more money, and compete for a championship. The dude doesn’t exactly have it rough. B
ut he’s got to pay the price for those privileges, and his price is the public’s bounty on his head. You make decisions, and you live with them.
So there you have the first LeBron Hate Index. We’ll keep tabs on this all season long for you, to give you a sense of what the big picture of the reigning MVP’s basketball public image is. Rest assured, we in the media will continue to do what we do best. Tearing down those who want attention by calling for lots of attention.