Keep your talents on the court, LeBron

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It’s been almost six months and 40 games into the 2010-11 NBA season since “the decision” that turned one of sports’ most popular athletes into arguably the most hated.  As LeBron James and the Heat were less than impressive through October and November, posting just a 10-8 record, sports fans and LeBron haters were cheering his downfall as if LBJ would never make the playoffs again.  Since that point, the Heat have lost just two games out of twenty-three and many of those games have been blowout victories.  I imagine that the anti-Miami crowd, and it’s hard to be anti-LeBron without hating the Heat as well, went from joyous, to stunned, to scared (whether or not they admit any of it is another story).  Anyone who thought the Heat would instantly mesh and were shocked when they didn’t probably didn’t have a lot of team based experience.  I think it’s more surprising that they’ve meshed as quickly as they did considering all the new faces and the fact that LeBron and Dwayne Wade essentially played the same role for their respective teams their entire careers.

Analyzing the Haters

In my estimation, there are essentially two types of LeBron James haters: career haters and post-decision haters.  The career haters, for one reason or another, never liked James and never will.  This group finds angles and ways to downplay any of his accomplishments and frequently point out his lack of rings and playoff woes.  The decision was just further fodder used by the career haters to goad the pro-James camp.  The post-decision haters, some of whom used to be fans, will state that the reason they no longer like James is because of the way he handled the decision (like that of a spoiled, attention seeking child).

Now don’t get me wrong, I think that the entire decision was a disaster and came across as selfish and ridiculous.  That being said, are we seriously now going to hate, not dislike, but hate a professional athlete for childish and selfish behavior as if we expected some sort of humble dignitary like actions?  Last time I checked, professional sports are filled with arrogant, self-centered athletes who have egos that quite likely fill the stadiums they perform in.  Did we forget that this is the same guy who has “Chosen 1” tattooed across his back?  While the exact situation of announcing where he would play the next season was a first, it certainly hasn’t been the first time an athlete has made a spectacle out of playing decisions.  Brett Favre has done it, and done it again, then left things in limbo, and after being essentially killed on the football field, is likely done (we hope).  Terrell Owens has done sit-ups for us and also cried over his quarterback, who he subsequently stabbed in the back.  The list could go on for months.

Lost in the shuffle is the fact that LeBron isn’t on the news for awful or even criminal behavior.  He hasn’t gotten drunk and high and killed a pedestrian.  He isn’t out riding around on a motorcycle armed like The Terminator or out in a club shooting himself in the leg.  Just look at the long, and sad, list of professional athletes convicted of a variety of crimes on the Wikipedia page.  Yet people will hate and some even threaten a man for leaving his home state team to play basketball in Miami because he did so in a selfish and childish way?  It’s called perspective.  Show me ten guys who ridiculed LeBron for “the decision” and hated the idea of it, and I’ll show you ten guys who tuned in to watch the full hour special and spent the rest of the evening reading and tweeting about it.  Take it a step further and I’ll show you ten businesses (ahem, ESPN) who knew people would be glued to their TV and put big money on it.  Say what you will about the sincerity of the proceeds going to the Boys and Girls club, but people tuned in and watched, period.

Ignoring the results?

While it may be NBA Championship or bust for this Heat team, at this point the result of “the decision” speaks for itself.  Currently the Miami Heat sit at 30-10.  The Cleveland Cavaliers sit at 8-30.  In each of LeBron’s final two seasons in Cleveland he didn’t lose that many games for the entire season.  Outside of LeBron and Ilgauskus this is essentially the same team LeBron carried to the playoffs year in and out.  LeBron haters tried to convince people that Mo Williams was truly an all star talent in an effort to deny the fact that LeBron played with basically no other offensive help.  When LeBron left some even went as far as to say that it was a good thing for Mo because LeBron’s play hindered that of his teammates.  The stats show otherwise.  Mo’s ppg are down but more telling is how poor his shooting is, and both field goal and three point percentage are at their lowest ever since his rookie year.  Let’s take a closer look at some of the key players from last year’s Cavs team who are still with the team this year and playing significant minutes.

Mo Williams: FG % is down 5% – 3 point % is down 17%

Antawan Jamison: FG% is down 5%

Anderson Varejao: FG % is down 4%

Anthony Parker: FG % is down 5% – 3 point % is down 2.5%

JJ Hickson: FG % is down 12%

There are a few categories where Cav players have improved their numbers, expectedly points as they need to compensate for James’ 30 ppg.  But let’s take a look at the defensive side of the ball.  LeBron’s offensive value can’t be denied but defense has fewer individual player statistics and you have to look at shooting percentages and other categories to get an idea of how well a team is playing defense.

2009-10 Cavaliers Opponent Stats

  • FG % – 44%
  • 3pt % – 35%
  • Offensive RPG – 9.68
  • Defensive RPG – 28.85
  • APG – 20.26
  • PPG – 95.6

2010-11 Cavaliers Opponent Stats (through 38 games)

  • FG % – 48% (+4)
  • 3pt % – 43% (+8)
  • Offensive RPG – 9.61 (-0.07)
  • Defensive RPG – 33.76 (+4.91)
  • APG – 24 (+3.74)
  • PPG – 103.9 (+8.3)

Keep in mind that +’s aren’t good.  Statistically, it’s clear that the Cavs aren’t keeping par on the defensive end either.  Teams are shooting better against them, getting more offensive opportunities (worser Cavalier shooting percentage = more defensive rebounds for the other team = more offensive chances), and they are making more assists and scoring over eight points per game more this year.

“But LeBron wasn’t clutch” is a common argument against LeBron.  If you need to see all the evidence that consistently shows he’s one of the best players in crunch time, just go to www.82games.com .  If clutch to you means last second, game winning shots, then you are on a different page.  I’ll take a player who does a bit of everything in close games consistently over a guy who makes a handful of highlight reel buzzer beaters a year any day.

“LeBron quit against the Celtics and never won a ring so he failed in the playoffs”.  Part true, part how you look at it.  It sure looked like LeBron quit against the Celtics, but the Celtics over the past few years have made a lot of teams and players look awful (see: Kobe Bryant, 2008 NBA Finals; Kobe Bryant, 2010 NBA Finals game 7).  If there was any truth to the rumor about Delonte West and LeBron’s mom, well, how ready would you be to do anything let alone compete against world class athletes after finding out your teammate/friend was shagging your mom?  Not apologizing for LeBron or making excuses, I’m just saying.

As far as considering his time in Cleveland a failure because he didn’t win a ring, I find that hard to agree with considering the supporting cast he had.  You can’t name a single player in the league who could have swapped places with LeBron and won a championship with that cast.  Not Kobe, not Duncan, not anyone.  I always found it amusing that the same people who chastised LeBron for supposed ball hogging were the first to rip on him for passing up typically contests late game shots in favor of open teammates (who inevitably missed).  He couldn’t “win” with the doubters then, and he probably never will.

Now, all that being said, the reason this article is titled the way it is is because LeBron really needs to drop this pseudo-most hated mentality.  You can play with a chip on your shoulder and use it to your advantage, but you sound like a teenage girl when you start talking about “karma” on twitter in reference to your former team.  You look especially foolish when you go out and lose the next night.  Part of the blame has to lie with the media who jump all over anything he says and who seem to still have a stalker like obsession with the decision and his thoughts on it.  LeBron could really learn to use the phrase “next question” and just stop talking about it.  The decision was done in poor taste, as were the many tweets and quips in the news after that.  LeBron will probably never regain the popularity he once had, and maybe that’s not important to him.  But for the sake of the people who still support him or just love to watch him play, his game speaks for itself and he needs to realize that and stop with extra controversies.

Pat Lussenhop - Pat was born and raised in rural Minnesota and is currently living in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He graduated from St. John's University (MN) with a degree in psychology and went on to get his masters in school psychology at the University of Northern Iowa. He's a lifetime sports fan and follows basketball and football the most. His favorite teams include any team that has "Minnesota" in it's name and he enjoys sports statistics and any good sporting debates. - Follow him on Twitter here

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  • Mattaquiline

    My biggest problems with the Decision involved my personal bias against Dwyane Wade, which is based on shady officiating in his Finals, his goofy decision to go double-high socks/arm-sleeve/thigh pads at the Olympics, and other even less rational reasons. http://utahlovesdwade.com/2.html