Sports

Why I Root For LeBron James … Now.

lenron high school si cover
LeBron James has long been an intriguing celebrity. Very few people know what it’s like to be in the national spotlight as a teenager. Truly, it’s not fair to expect a young man or woman to be mature and media savvy ‎from such a young age because they play a particular sport exceptionally, yet we do all the same. We shove cameras in their face, hang on their every word, and we’re ready to judge them if we don’t like how, or what they have to say. In this regard, LeBron James appears to be as skilled at being human off the court as he is at being inhuman on it.
For the past 15 years we’ve witnessed LeBron James evolve from teenage phenom, to villain, to champion, to social and political activist. ‎ I may not have rooted for James in the past but I ‎certainly do now.

 

Ohio Born and Raised

 LBJ in high school

‎James’ story is unique, being born in Akron, Ohio, the stars aligned to give the Cleveland Cavaliers a generational talent, and homegrown no less. How might the NBA landscape look today had James been drafted by any other team? One might speculate he’d have eventually found his way to the Cavaliers, likely in the twilight of his career. Luckily for Cleveland, the basketball gods had other plans. Although I didn’t root for LeBron, I didn’t root against him. It would have been incredible to see him break the dreaded Cleveland Curse and bring a championship to his native city. Cleveland’s professional teams hadn’t been alluring to ring seekers for decades having not won a championship in any professional sport since 1964.

The Decision

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Easily, this was the one misstep in James’ illustrious career. But what a doozy it was. James’ decision to go to Miami set off a firestorm in the basketball world. Ohioans burned his jersey and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert vowed to win a championship before James.‎ For many people, it was not what he did but how he did it that rubbed them the wrong way. “The Decision‎” was infuriating for two reasons.

One, the idea of players colluding in their prime to create a superteam or big three felt like the antithesis of what sports are supposed to be about. Never before had I seen a superstar free agent embrace an “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” mentality.  I was astounded. To add “insult to injury” Chris Bosh left my beloved Raptors to join in on the Miami fiasco, and the hubris on display at the Miami Heat pre-season pep rally was beyond the pale.

Friends off LeBron.

Secondly, he should never have left Cleveland in the first place. The Cavaliers were on the cusp.  James and the Cavs were a player or two away from making a championship a reality. As far as I was, and still am concerned, one championship for LeBron in Cleveland was worth five anywhere else. James obviously didn’t see it that way and the self-imposed pressure to emulate Michael Jordan’s success propelled him to Florida.

I rooted against him and the Heat.

I took particular schadenfreude in the Heat’s loss to the Dallas Mavericks in their first trip to the NBA Finals.‎ James and the Heat found themselves back in the Finals the next year as victors and won again the following year. In their fourth consecutive trip to the Finals, the Heat got dismantled by a Spurs team that played near perfect team ball.  With the championship “monkey” off James’ back, the stage was set for the prodigal son to return to Cleveland.

Promise Delivered

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LeBron’s declaration of his return to the Cavaliers, once again, sent shock waves throughout the basketball world.  As far Cleveland fans were concerned, all was forgiven. The marketing campaign tugged on the heartstrings, beckoning all Ohio residents to be “all in”.

With Lebron joining forces with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love joining the fray, the Cleveland Cavaliers were once again the favourites to reach the NBA Finals.  It felt as though the NBA was back in equilibrium. It was difficult to not root for LeBron, and he made it even harder with his performance in their first trip back to the Finals. With Irving and Love lost to injuries, James put on a display the likes of which no one had seen.   James averaged 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists over six games, losing to the Golden State Warriors.

Many, including myself, argued for him to win the Finals MVP award despite his team’s  loss, a rarity in the NBA.  The next year would see a rematch in the Finals. The Cavs were underdogs against a Warriors team that had broken the ’95-’96 Chicago Bulls record for most wins in a season (73 wins). James’ play was stellar once again and with Irving and Love available this time, Cleveland prevailed and LeBron delivered on his promise to  bring a championship to Cleveland. His tears of joy certainly melted the hearts of the some of his most fervent haters.

The Activist

Lebron can't breathe

With Donald Trump in the White House, the political atmosphere in the U-S is toxic to put it mildly.  People have drawn their lines in the political sand.  Self-identity politics has divided the country more than ever. Thanks to Colin Kaepernick’s courage to kneel during the national anthem, the topic of police brutality and social injustice came to the forefront of the national conversation.

It’s rare to see an athlete of James’ stature speak so candidly, on what many would deem controversial topics.  Michael Jordan infamously avoided speaking politically, fearing to hurt his shoe sales and appeal to as many Americans as possible.  Famously known for saying “Republicans buy sneakers too.” Jordan towed the line publicly on all things political, much the ire of the black community at large. It’d be fascinating to see how Jordan would navigate today’s political climate.  We don’t have to wonder what LeBron James would do.  He’s lent his voice to causes, wore an “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirt, to show support of Eric Garner‘s family and protest police brutality, and stumped for Hillary Clinton in last year’s election.

lebron and hillary

As the face of the NBA and the most famous athlete on the planet, Jordan “dropped the ball” where social activism is concerned.  In this regard, LeBron James has been exceptional.  Let us not forget the 2016 Espy Awards.

In the wake of the police-related deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, along with the killing of five officers in Dallas, James along with Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade called upon their peers in all sports to use their fame to better the country.  Something Jordan simply would never have done.

“U Bum!”

I’m no fan of Donald Trump. In fact, I detest the man and everything he seems to stand for.  I already had considered Trump to be something of a sideshow clown based on his “The Apprentice” show.  Trump made his mark on the political stage when he outright called for President Barack Obama to show his birth certificate to prove the legitimacy of his citizenship. Trump demanded for over a year that the first African-American President prove he was not born in Kenya.  And followed that with demanding Obama’s college transcripts.  Not only was he a clown, he was a racist clown.  This clown, unfortunately,  would go onto to become President, much to the chagrin of the rest of the world.

There’s been a long standing tradition of championship teams visiting the white house, but now with Trump as the sitting president, what was once a routine event became a political landmine. Going to the white house visit could be interpreted as condoning Trump’s actions, his words and his policies.  Players and team officials had to decide whether or not they would partake in the traditional visit to Washington.  A decision that meant offending half the country one way or the other. Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors admitted publicly he was torn on the subject. He did not want to go but was willing to do whatever the team decided. Trump, being the thin-skinned manchild that he is, made the decision for them.

drumpf tweet at steph

James didn’t hesitate to respond to Trump…

lebron-james-calls-donald-trump-a-bum tweet

Amazing. Simply amazing.

With that tweet to the President, I found myself wholeheartedly in LeBron James’ corner.  Of course I will always want the Toronto Raptors to win, but if they cannot, then let it be LeBron James.  You will rarely see a player of his stature speak so critically of any political official, much less the President, and when given the opportunity, that said player will back track on their words. LeBron James did not.

Put simply, from a basketball purist’s standpoint, Kevin Durant’s repulsive decision to join the already stacked Golden State Warriors, made me root against them.  I’ll be happy to see anyone but the Warriors win the championship. However, this may be the most talented team in the history of the NBA and there are few contenders. LeBron James is a one-man championship contender. Whatever team he happens to be on, that team instantly becomes championship caliber.

LeBron James is a generational talent. In light of that talent, combined with his love for his community and his ever-growing social consciousness;  it’s easy for me to now say, I root for LeBron James.

#DJRF

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