LeBron James

LeBron James: ‘I’m the easiest target that we have in sports.’


LeBron James might face the most criticism – in both its width and depth – of any athlete who has won a championship at the highest level of his sport.

If not, he’s almost definitely the most criticized athlete with two titles.

Nothing guarantees widespread support, but a championship comes closest.

Except for LeBron – and he knows it.

LeBron in an interview with ESPN’s Michael Wilbon:

I’m the easiest target that we have in sports.

Jeez, LeBron is so narcissistic. He thinks everyone is always talking about him.

Because they often are.

LeBron might be narcissistic, though his millions of dollars and adoring fans certainly predispose him to that mindset. That LeBron isn’t more self-centered is something of a miracle.

Of course, LeBron brought a lot of the criticism on himself. The Decision TV special was poorly considered. The gaudy press conference upon arriving in Miami – including, “not two, not three…” – further showcased LeBron’s arrogance. He held an entitlement he hadn’t yet earned.

But since, he’s earned it. He led the Heat to two straight championships – titles that were not at all handed to him. Miami’s loss to the Mavericks in the 2011 Finals should prove that.

LeBron has a good supporting cast. But even with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, it isn’t the best ever assembled. LeBron has earned his rings.

Yet, widespread respect has curiously eluded him.

Does that motivate him?

I can’t play the game of basketball or live my life on what other people expect me to do or what they think I should do. That doesn’t make me happy. What makes me happy is being able to make plays for my teammates, to be able to represent the name on the back of my jersey. That’s what makes me happy. What everybody else thinks, that doesn’t really matter to me.

I don’t really believe that. LeBron’s pre-Finals mind games show he cares what people think – and there’s nothing wrong with that. Most people do.

LeBron just didn’t need to imagine slights to motive himself. If he looked a little harder, real critics surrounded him.

It took only one game to get reminded of that.

PBT Extra: Who has upper hand in NBA Finals now?

James Harden: “I am the best player in the league. I believe that.”

James Harden, Stephen Curry
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James Harden was the MVP last season — if you ask his fellow NBA players.

The traditional award (based on a media vote) went to Stephen Curry (in the closest vote in four years), and that was the right call (in my mind). But from the time it happened Harden did not buy it. And he still doesn’t buy it. In the least — and he’s using that as fuel for this season. That’s what he told Fran Blinebury over at NBA.com.

“I am the best player in the league. I believe that,” he said. “I thought I was last year, too.”

Well, it’s a more realistic claim than Paul George’s.

“But that award means most valuable to your team. We finished second in the West, which nobody thought we were going to do at the beginning of the year even when everybody was healthy. We were near the top in having the most injuries. We won our division in a division where every single team made the playoffs.

“There’s so many factors. I led the league in total points scored, minutes played. Like I said, I’m not taking anything away from Steph, but I felt I deserved the Most Valuable Player. That stays with me.”

That’s very Kobe Bryant of you to turn that into fuel. Defining the MVP Award is an annual discussion that nobody agrees on.

I could get into how Harden was the old-school, traditional stats MVP, how that ignores how Steve Kerr used Curry, and how that opened up the Warriors’ offense to championship levels. Curry put up numbers, but he was also the distraction, the bright star that Kerr used to open up looks for Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and others. Curry’s strength was not just what he did with the ball in his hands, but his gravity to draw defenders even when he didn’t. Did the Warriors stay healthier than the Rockets? No doubt. Should Curry be penalized for that?

It’s simple for Harden — if he can put up those numbers again, if he can be the fulcrum of a top offense, he will be in the discussion for MVP again. And, if he can lead the Rockets beyond the conference finals, nobody will talk about that MVP snub anyway.