In my lifetime, I can think of three athletes who, in one poorly timed move, have gone from jovial, beloved figures to despised villains: Andre the Giant, Tiger Woods and LeBron James.
In the case of the Giant, the massive wrestler not only stood up to Russian threats and other various nefarious heels, he also had a charming co-starring role in The Princess Bride. He was a large, loveable personality, which made it all the more shocking when he sided with Bobby “the Brain” Heenan, embraced a villain’s status and took on Hulk Hogan, a wrestler who quite possibly meant more to kids in the late 1980s than any other athlete in the world.
For those of us completely engrossed by the World Wrestling Federation at the time, we watched in horror as the Giant turned into a giant ass. Deep down, though, we knew Andre wasn’t to blame; he was merely a pawn (albeit an immensely large one) being manipulated by the crafty Bobby Heenan. Thus, forgiveness, when it came time, proved easier.
With Tiger, his marital indiscretions eventually led to a hiatus from golf, and the self-righteous in America suddenly decided it was no longer morally acceptable to cheer for a man who couldn’t control his putter. I’m still not convinced people truly began disliking Tiger, but bloggers, sports radio hosts/callers and virtually anyone else with a platform to espouse opinions began tearing him down. Where it was once cool to like Tiger, it now became cooler to bash him.
Still, the vitriol continued to rise, and Tiger continued his decline in the PGA rankings while simultaneously climbing the list of most hated athletes. As we watched this, combined with his body’s apparent breakdown, we knew Tiger himself wasn’t really to blame; he was merely responded to the whims of his penis. Thus, forgiveness, at least from the male-dominated viewing audience, proved easier.
LeBron, however, is another story.
The kid from Akron lived a charmed life for much of his basketball days, right up until the moment last July he uttered the unfortunate phrase of taking his talents to South Beach. He immediately became a punching bag and a punch line, something a man egotistical enough to crown himself “King James” as a 17-year-old had never experienced.
Ah, but great egos often mask even greater insecurities, and as this past NBA season unfolded, I believe more and more we started witnessing the true LeBron. Instead of being this cocksure player with world-class swagger, LeBron’s LeBluster and LeBoasting turned out to be more of a LeFraud. The kid who wanted/needed/desired everyone’s love tried to fool us into believing he could feed off the opposite emotions, but instead, he ended up wilting at the end.
(Note: I wrote about some of this last year immediately after The Decision, and I have to pat myself on the back for being pretty accurate in some of my forecast: Maybe So James.)
Recently, I had a discussion with Cory Graham about what, if anything, LeBron could do to get back in our good graces. We both agreed on the answer: nothing. We’ve completely written him off. He has become completely unlikable, much like Barry Bonds or Nickelback.
So what is it about LeBron that inspires a level of anger so great that he can never be forgiven? It’s easy to immediately point a finger at race, but Tiger somewhat dismisses that notion. I’m not naïve enough to believe that some of the country’s anger toward LeBron isn’t racially motivated, but it doesn’t define it for everyone. LeBron, who as a marketing icon, has transcended many of the regular racial barriers, so this is an area of hatred all to himself.
It’s also worth noting that we forgave Andre the Giant, who was French, and Americans pretty much hate every French person and always will. I think it’s mandated in the Constitution.
It might take years before an accurate analysis of LeBron gives any actual insight in to what has prompted this anger. By then, though, it will be too late for him to rehabilitate any part of his image unless he has made some serious changes. Mostly, this self-serving, undying ego needs to be taken back a few notches, particularly until (and this is kind of important) he actually wins something. In sports, titles turn superstars into gods, and until LeBron reaches that level, he’s just another player with a lot of talent and 10 bare fingers/thumbs.
“Yes. We. Did.? No. You. Didn’t.”
I would suggest he drop the nickname “King James,” but it’s actually kind of fitting. A king never actually has to win anything. They are given the title through birthright without any of the hard work that comes from other people moving up the ladder of success. Sure, LeBron has worked to get to his level of pure physical talent, but unlike Michael Jordan, he doesn’t seem to have the drive to push beyond his own natural talents. So, in that sense, LeBron really is the king – a powerless figurehead – while teammate Dwyane Wade controls things as the Prime Minister (making Chris Bosh, I guess, a high-ranking Parliament member or at least an ambassador).
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what he calls himself if he doesn’t make any actual changes to his behavior and personality. Sports fans crave results. Unfortunately, LeBron has nothing to speak of on his behalf beyond some MVPs, commercials and NBA Finals losses. Sadly, that seems to be enough for him for now. He says things like: “All the people that were rooting for me to fail, at the end of the day they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life they had before. They have the same personal problems they had today. I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things that I want with me and my family and be happy with that.”
If that’s my King, I think it’s time for a revolution.