06.21.12

LeBron James Deserves to Be Crowned King of the NBA

He’s one of the greatest—and most hated—athletes ever. As ‘The Decision’ fades, it’s finally time for LeBron James to win a championship—and erase the asterisk next to his name. By Buzz Bissinger.

For those of you who have given up food, sex, and work in the meaningless hatred of LeBron James, I have some terrible news.

In roughly 17 hours, you are about to melt into a pool of your overwrought spittle.

I imagine most you will eventually let go, realizing that LeBron may well be the most complete player ever to touch a basketball. Although it may take some time in detox, you will kick the habit of anti-Lebronism, purging yourself of the drugs that no longer work—he chokes in the clutch, he’s afraid of the ball with the game on the line, he’s not even as good as Jeremy Whatever-the-Hell-His-Name-Is, he was a meanie to poor Cleveland. Just as I imagine some of you will continue to act like the Japanese soldiers who refused to believe World War II was over and lived in caves.

That’s cool. Stay in your basement holes of beer and dirty socks and 146-inch flat screens. Keep on wearing those unwashed t-shirts that say “FUK LBJ.” Because the moment for King James and the Miami Heat is at hand. 

They didn’t like him as a senior in high school driving around in a decked-out Hummer with a television set in which it took him about five minutes to have an accident.

It’s coming tonight against an Oklahoma City Thunder team that is outmatched, chokes in the final minutes, makes the mental errors of youth, and is intimidated. Somewhere around midnight, the Heat will win the National Basketball Association Championship. LeBron will turn in a performance that has become customary during the Heat’s playoff run, on the cusp of a triple double in points, rebounds, and assists. He has come close already, in the fourth game of the Eastern Conference semi-finals against the Indiana Pacers with 40 points, 18 rebounds and 9 assists; in the fifth game against the Pacers with 30 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists, and most recently on Tuesday in the NBA Finals against the Thunder in a 104-98 win with 26 points, 12 assists and 9 rebounds to give the Heat a 3-1 series lead. His statistics in 20 playoff games so far—30.5 points a game, 9.5 rebounds, 5.3 assists.

Video screenshot

During the postgame press conference, James will have every right to laugh at those who scorned him. But he won’t. Because contrary to a reputation that has never existed, he is not a man who is vengeful, confrontational, and thrives on fractiousness. Instead, because of his difficult upbringing in the projects of Akron with a mother who often left him alone when he was as young as two, there are two values essential to James—getting along and always being around other people. I don’t know him well personally, but I did do a book with him, and I spoke to dozens of his closest friends who do know him.

It is true that LeBron is largely responsible for the explosion of misunderstanding that surrounded him. The decision he made to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers in July of 2010 to go to the Miami Heat, or THE DECISION as he insisted on thinking of it, was beyond badly botched. Instead of holding a thirty-second press conference, he prolonged THE DECISION for what seemed like decades. He showed terrible arrogance. It was a side of him I had not seen before, to the degree that I wondered if he had duped me in a book that was lousy enough already. I dished out criticism of him in projectile spurts. He deserved it. When he finally made THE DECISION during an interminable hour-long show on ESPN, uttering that now-infamous line that “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach” and thanked the fans of Cleveland as if the Percocet was kicking in, he only fell further into the well.

He became the most hated athlete in America overnight; to this day there is still a residual impact and some idiot out there will always maintain a website called Ihatelebronjames.com.  But he didn’t kill anybody, or shoot anybody, or knife anybody, or punch out anybody. As I wrote last year in the Beast, enough was enough.

But fans, like the predators they often are, were lying in wait for LeBron long before The DECISION. It went back almost a decade earlier to high school at St. Vincent-St. Mary in Akron where he garnered more attention than any professional athlete. They didn’t like the headline on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 2002 anointing him as “The Chosen One” with the puffed-up look of bad-boy invincibility. They didn’t like the tattoos up and down his arms and the way he referred to himself as “King James.” They didn’t like him as a senior in high school driving around in a decked-out Hummer with a television set in which it took him about five minutes to have an accident.

He personified in their eyes the uppity black basketball player with a scowl and no scruples, another thug during an era of the game beset by bad behavior—members of the Indiana Pacers going into the stands to attack fans, the implementation of a dress code by NBA commissioner David Stern to counter the hip-hop influence of Allen Iverson.

The predators were terribly disappointed when James went to Cleveland and was exemplary on the court and off for seven years. Until THE DECISION when their festering hate for him finally became justified. See, he is an arrogant black thug like too many of ‘em.

I would like to think I so intensely disliked LeBron in the aftermath of THE DECISION for the legitimate reason that he did act like he owned the game of basketball. But since I am white, race was a factor, since race is a factor in everything in American life no matter how much people howl.

I think, or at least I hope, that many of us now realize, and regret, our overreaction to what James did—leaving a team to play for another one with a far greater chance of winning the championship. It is something pro players have only done a thousand times before. He could have handled it better. But all of us can handle moments in life better.

He is the most beautiful athlete in the world to watch, a combination of skills from the heavens, grace, strength, disarming quickness, one of the best passers in the history of the game. It should be appreciated for its singular purity. He is also an honest athlete, actually willing to admit culpability for the hatred against him last year during the Heat’s loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA finals.

“Last year after game six, after losing once again, I was very frustrated,” LeBron told the media Wednesday. “I was very hurt that I let my teammates down, and I was very immature…it just felt like more pressure, felt like it was more people here, felt like you guys (in the media) not only brought yourselves but brought your relatives all to Dallas.” 

James was wrong. Members of the media simply brought along their mail-order replica kit of Dexter scalpels and cutting blades to draw and quarter him.

But it doesn’t matter now. There is no surgical procedure that will work.

James will no longer be the greatest athlete in the world with the biggest asterisk attached to his name….

He can’t win the big one.

Miami 98. Thunder 93.

LeBron James will be the king of the court.

And he deserves it.