As a life-long Los Angeles Lakers fan, I’ve had a front row seat to witness what the media and fans can do to a superstar. The amazing way that the two aforementioned groups can build someone up, only to tear them down when the star becomes too big for their liking.
Kobe Bryant was a star. He was the next Michael Jordan. He was going to carry the league on his back. Then, when the media attention was at an all-time high he became the selfish ball-hog and the male diva that ran Shaquille O’Neal out of town. After a few years of losing, he became the underdog, the guy to root for. Now he’s the respected leader with five rings.
Bryant was the same guy, from start to finish. The same driven, narcissistic ego-maniac from his first year in Los Angeles to this past season when he remarked that this latest championship meant that he had “one more than Shaq.” The only thing that changed was how the media reported on him, and how the fans perceived him.
Now the fans and the media have turned their attention to a new target: LeBron James.
For years James was a media darling. The superstar to whom the league would hitch their wagon and ride into a new Jordan-esque era with. He would win multiple championships, and best of all, he would do it with his home town Cleveland Cavaliers.
Then, he made a few ill-advised comments about wanting to be a billionaire. You know, the same goal that every single other superstar has, but never admits to. A steady flow of hate began to trickle, questions like: “Is winning really important to him?” began to be heard. Seven years, one finals appearance and two straight MVP awards later, the trickle turned into a pour.
He’s not a winner.
No, of course not. He only turned a joke of a franchise into a perennial championship favorite year-after-year despite having teammates that the Harlem Globetrotters wouldn’t be able to win with. But sure, it’s his fault, he’s not a winner.
Jordan pre-Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson, now there was a winner. Bryant post-Shaq, there was the definition of a winner. But James, nope, he doesn’t have the winning gene.
Now, we’re at free agency. By now everyone’s heard the story. Two weeks into the NBA’s highly anticipated buy-a-superstar bonanza, James has announced that he will give his decision on what team he will play for in a one-hour special on ESPN.
If you listened to the media and fan reaction, you would think that James officially became the worst person in sports. Worse than the retired football player in New York who had a messy situation with an underage prostitute. Worse than the college kid from Virginia who allegedly murdered his former girlfriend. Worse than the quarterback from Pittsburgh who can’t keep himself out sexual assault cases. Worse than the recovering sex addict who cheated on his wife with two million women, and has yet to recover his stroke on the golf course.
No, the guy who said that he would take the media spectacle that became his decision on what team he would play for, and turn it into a one-hour special with the proceeds going to charity is the ultimate villain.
Quick, someone call Superman. Forget Lex Luthor, the guy donating proceeds from an event that everyone wants to watch is the bad guy.
James been described as the “Champion of Me.” He is the man who believes that the sun rises from his naval, and sets at the top of his head.
What superstar doesn’t?
Are Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, who made a reality TV show about their free agency period this summer while “tweeting” all the way to the bank any better? Is it Peyton Manning, who has had more appearances in different commercials than he’s had playoff victories? Perhaps it is Alex Rodriguez, who bankrupted the Texas Rangers on his way to solidifying his legacy on the New York Yankees.
The media and fans have a sickening habit of picking-and-choosing when to turn on players.
The fact that James is donating proceeds from all advertisements run on the hour-long special to Boys and Girls Clubs is being dismissed as an “an empty gesture.”
It would be great if the fans and media who scoff at the charitable side of what James is doing as not-important went to speak with some of the kids at the charity who will benefit from the money raised. I’d love for the reporters and fans to sit down, face-to-face with those kids, and ask them if they would rather James announce his decision via text to the local Cleveland newspaper, or the way he’s doing it now.
Media and fans like have argued that with this dog-and-pony show that James brought upon himself, the burden to win a championship will be bigger than ever. That his actions “aren’t making James a bigger star with his big-top, but a bigger target.”
So essentially, the guy who has been expected to win a championship to justify his hype since entering the league will need to win a championship to justify his hype. How exactly will this be any different than what’s happened in the past, or what would have happened regardless of how this this free agency period went?
In order for James to be the best of all time, he would have to win championships. Just like Bryant. Just like Wade. Just like any other superstar aiming to have his face on NBA’s Mount Rushmore of legends.
James has been accused of orchestrating the biggest scam in sports history. Of forcing suitors to come to his hometown of Cleveland with presentations that are pointless because his decision was already made. That he wanted people to think there was a tug-of-war going on for him, to make people in Cleveland love him more.
Thank god Bryant never did that when he threatened to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers. Or that Wade never pulled such a stunt, toying the idea of returning to his hometown Chicago Bulls in front of fans before ripping the opportunity of finally having a Jordan-like superstar again away (and taking Bosh with him).
The most recent attempt at tearing down James was using the fact that yesterday, Kevin Durant, quietly re-signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder for five years. It’s almost comical how another player’s decision to do something right is only magnified when it can be used to show what a classless, pathetic jerk James is. Never mind acknowledging Durant for a job well done, instead, let’s end all our sentences with “…he did it the right way.” Would anyone even acknowledge Durant’s decision if he it couldn’t be used as a way to contrast the quiet way of doings thing, with the James way of doing things?
Conveniently forgotten is that James similarly re-signed with the Cavaliers three years ago, with no hoopla, and minimal attention.
At the end of the day, the media has chosen to make a spectacle out of the 2010 NBA free agent class, and fans eagerly tuned in to watch. It was the fans and the media, not James, who created a demand for knowing where James would end up. All the Akron-hero has done, is play with the cards he was given.
In the midst of teams throwing hundreds of millions at under-achieving stars like candy, James has managed to twist the circus into something that could benefit people besides himself. Yet, people still manage to find fault with the man.
Thanks LeBron, if nothing else, you’ve helped us witness that no matter what you do, people will find a reason to dislike you.