There is something different about LeBron James today — he is an NBA champion. He has a chip. Nobody can ever take that away from him.
But s that really going to change how people feel about him?
“In the information age, reputations are made and broken down more cheaply than they used to be,” the Heat’s Shane Battier said. “I don’t know (if the perception of him changes). I don’t know.”
People are going to think what they are going to think — as is their right. I’m not going to tell you how to feel about LeBron or anyone else. But I’ve grown weary of the back-and-forth, black-or-white with no middle ground about what he is and isn’t. You don’t have to be a LeBron lover or hater, you can be someone who sees him as a tremendous talent on an interesting path that has had ups and downs. But that nuance has been lost in the LeBron discussion the last two years.
For some — particularly people in Cleveland — this title changes nothing. Some of LeBron’s critics will never forgive him for what is seen as a selfish, poorly-handled betrayal of his hometown.
But on a national level, winning a ring will have some fans who didn’t like what happened with Cleveland willing to give him a second chance. His play this postseason blew up what had become tired and oversimplified stereotypes of him and his game — he was not selfish, he played big at the biggest times on the biggest of stages, he had a signature moment in Game 4 and a triple-double when it was a closeout game.
But simply winning instead of losing was not the biggest change for LeBron this playoffs.
He was different.
“The best thing that happened to me last year was us losing in the finals, you know, and me playing the way I played,” LeBron said. “It was the best thing to every happen to me in my career because basically I got back to the basics. It humbled me. I knew what it was going to have to take and I was going to have to change as a basketball player, and I was going to have to change as a person to get what I wanted.”
LeBron was more comfortable, more mature. If you change your perceptions of him, it should be because he changed not because of the ring — the title is simply a byproduct of the other changes he went through. To me a ring isn’t a perquisite of greatness — Karl Malone is one of the great power forwards ever to play the game, his legacy should not be tarnished because he was in the NBA when Jordan owned it. LeBron has grown and evolved as a player and that is what should be celebrated.
The best thing I read in the wake of the finals came from Kevin Arnovitz at ESPN, basically saying that now we can just talk about LeBron as a basketball player. He said what I said above far more eloquently. He sees LeBron a guy who has had failures on the court that he needed to go through to reach the mountaintop. Again, nuance. LeBron (and politics and everything else) doesn’t have to be love or hate, black or white. Everything doesn’t have to be extreme.
It’s okay to just appreciate him as a great basketball player. We shouldn’t have needed a ring to do that.