If Mike and Mike live up to their promise, then they will be discussing the Miami Heat’s championship again Monday morning. (Update: They did.)
That’s right, Friday’s show was not enough to dedicate to LeBron James’ feat. The weekend was not enough to dim ESPN’s enthusiasm for the accomplishment.
And this over-the-top feting of James is just one reason that some fans have had trouble embracing him.
Another ESPN host, Colin Cowherd, has asked that we have a more nuanced view of James, that we see him for all his strengths and all his faults. However, in return, the least the folks Cowherd dismisses as “haters” have the right to expect in return is a nuanced view of their grievances.
It’s not that LeBron James left Cleveland. This particular claim or some form of it has been warmed up and served as leftovers again and again and again. It’s not that he left. It’s not how he left. It’s that for years he cultivated the image of being the hometown hero who would never want to leave, and he profited from that image. Cleveland fans only feel betrayed because they feel misled.
It’s that all the analysts predicted multiple championships for “The Big Three” of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. It wasn’t only LeBron foreseeing not one, not two, not three titles. It was like the experts suddenly forgot it’s a five-on-five game. What about the role of the role players? Most of us go through life as role players, and we don’t mind that we’re not the stars…but we do mind being told that we don’t matter at all.
Oh, and so many of the “role players don’t matter” crowd were quick to blame the role players every time LeBron’s squad came up short this postseason.
It’s easy to imagine David Stern celebrating the Heat’s win while lounging in a leather chair while nursing a brandy in one hand and stroking a cat with the other. And like it or not, there’s something off-putting these days about the powerful promoting the powerful. The titans of Wall Street tanked the economy. The leaders in the Catholic church and those at Penn State looked out for their own interest, and in doing so, failed to protect the weakest and most vulnerable. Legislators in Congress would rather dither and filibuster than actually do good for their country.
Along those same lines, we keep hearing athletes referred to as competitors, but LeBron didn’t want to compete, he wanted to win. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but again, remember the larger context. So many Americans feel like today the deck is stacked against them, and LeBron is nothing if not a representative of those who refuse to play the game without making sure the odds are in their favor.
And even while he was making sure to make a championship run easier, LeBron’s defenders kept referencing his “struggles.” Was he the subject of criticism? Sure. But let’s not go overboard here. After he won, Stuart Scott asked James, “For all you’ve been through…” Leave aside the fact that he brought some of he “went through” on himself, we should not be talking about LeBron the same way we would a minimum wage slave working two jobs to pay the rent, or a cancer patient fighting to overcome the disease, or a soldier being sent back for numerous tours.
Fox Sports contributor Jen Floyd Engel wrote, “We can’t have it both ways — praising Peyton [Manning] for what he did for Indianapolis and pretending what LeBron did not do for Cleveland does not matter.”
Brad Parker points out that just because he’s talented doesn’t mean you have to root for James. You don’t! Honestly, you don’t. You can recognize his ability and not cheer for him.
And I would add that just because you don’t applaud LeBron, doesn’t mean you hate him.