Introducing the LeBron James Hate Index

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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.

Lebron James HateIndex 1y.jpgA 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. 

Deron Williams and Jerry Sloan finally buried the hatchet

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Deron Williams or Chris Paul? That was the conversation in the NBA just a decade ago, a conversation that now seems practically ridiculous. I never personally thought it was very close between the two, being an adamant Paul supporter. Now, CP3 is with the Houston Rockets and Williams is out of the league, despite Paul being just 200 days younger than the former Utah Jazz star (but having played more games).

Williams was part of a two-man attack, along with Carlos Boozer, that helped fuel the Jazz during the first decade of this century as they churned through the Western Conference. But Williams played just five-and-a-half seasons in Salt Lake City, traded after a blow-up with former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.

Things were unsteady between the two during the 2010-11 season, and Sloan famously decided to retire after a game in February of 2011 in which the Jazz lost to the Chicago Bulls. During halftime of that game, there was a disagreement between Sloan and Williams that apparently pushed the legendary head coach to his tipping point.

Sloan retired and Williams was traded on February 23rd.

Now, it appears that the two have at least made amends. In a story of appearing on UtahJazz.com, Williams recently went to Sloan’s house to talk about the divide between the two and what happened some seven years ago.

Via UtahJazz.com:

“He doesn’t forget a lot of things, instances where I pissed him off, things I did to upset him,” Williams said. “He definitely told me about that—and rightfully so. He was great about some other things. It was kind of typical Coach Sloan, really. If you know him, he’s never been one to shy away from telling you the truth and how he feels.”

“Eventually, I think Jerry came around,” [Jazz CEO Greg] Miller said. “He never really said, ‘Let’s put it behind us’ or anything, but maybe in Sloan speak he did.”

“Two strong men said what they needed to say, shook hands and are now moving forward,” [Jazz president Steve] Starks said.

Sloan, 76, is living with Parkinson’s and reportedly not in the best of health. It’s good to hear that Williams was remorseful about how he acted, and that the two great sportsmen were able to come together and at least see each other’s point of view as a sort of armistice.

Masai Ujiri on Kawhi Leonard: ‘He is happy. There is no maintenance with him’

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No doubt there are big expectations for the Toronto Raptors this year after trading franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan for disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. Ever an enigma (and coming off of one of the worst-managed exits from a team in recent memory) Leonard has fans in Ontario biting their nails about whether he will return healthy this season, and happy for the next.

According to Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, Leonard is giving them every indication that he is ready to go heading into the 2018-19 NBA season. Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Ujiri said that Leonard is happy.

Via Sportsnet:

“He is happy. From what everybody has told me he is healthy. He spends a lot of time with our coaches,” said Ujiri. “He went to L.A. to meet our guys out there. He will be here shortly.”

“He is just quiet … that’s his nature. We can’t all be the same kind of people. But he is as engaging as he would want to be and he’s very interesting. There is no maintenance with him. There’s nothing. It’s remarkable … His (focus) is on basketball which is what you want. He is a basketball junkie … once you just start to talk about basketball his eyes change.”

We have heard rumors that Leonard has purchased a home in Toronto instead of merely renting. We’ve also seen photos of Leonard happy and working out with players like Kobe Bryant, nearly even smiling. And Ujiri is doing his part here, trying to ease any sentiment around Leonard.

The PR machine is in sixth gear in Toronto, but you can’t really blame them. It’s the first good public relations move we’ve seen from Leonard’s enclave in more than a year, and it helps bolster the team if things go south.

Do I believe anything that is reported about Leonard anymore? No. Not after last season. Unfortunately, the issue with Leonard remains the fact that we will have to simply sit to wait and see what he chooses to do next year.

Raptors fans, who are dedicated and passionate, should be hoping that they finally make a Finals run this year. Just in case.

Report: 76ers rookie Zhaire Smith expected to return around Christmas

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76ers first-rounder Zhaire Smith suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot last month, leaving plenty of uncertainty about when he’d return.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

The 76ers expect injured rookie Zhaire Smith to be available to play in a game around Christmas, league sources say.

A rookie on a team with legitimate aspirations of deep-playoff advancement, Smith was already unlikely to crack Philadelphia’s rotation this season. All this lost developmental time makes it even less likely.

But the sooner Smith returns, the better for him and Philadelphia. The No. 16 pick impresses with his athleticism and motor, but he needs time to develop his perimeter skills.

Kevin Love launches “Love Fund” to bring more focus to mental health issues

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The NBA is not shying away from the issue of the mental health of its players.

In the wake of All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love coming forward about their mental health challenges, the league and the players’ union combined to tell players to speak out on the issue and take advantage of the services offered.

Kevin Love is doing more than just that, he has formed the Kevin Love Fund to help change the stigma around mental health issues. The fund has partners such as Headspace, with the focus being on prioritizing mental health awareness. He went on the Today Show on NBC to talk about it.

Love has become a leader and spokesman around the issue. Love came forward near the end of last season to talk about his battles with anxiety and depression. That opened the door for others around the NBA to step forward as well, such as Kelly Oubre and Paul Pierce.