"I know I'm the easiest target that we have in sports, I'm aware of it," James said in an interview with ESPN's Michael Wilbon on Friday. "I really am. I believe it."
If anyone disputes this, find yourself a dial-up modem and peruse the world wide web. As LeBron attempts to capture his third consecutive title, some four years after watching the world burn in response to his poorly-conceived "The Decision" television special, no athlete comes close to him when it comes to outrageous criticism and overwrought dissection.
Alex Rodriguez? People have just about moved on, bored by his blandness.
Derek Jeter? He alternates between receiving embarrassing praise from older sportswriters and snarky blog responses from those writers’ stepsons.
What LeBron did in Game 1 of the NBA Finals was just about unprecedented. Not since Wilt Chamberlain and Butch Van Breda Kolff butted heads in the closing minutes of Game 7 of the 1969 NBA Finals has the best player on the court sat out the defining moments of a Finals game. Yes, Michael Jordan had to sit out with cramps during Game 4 of the 1997 NBA, but he at least returned to finish the game. James, incapacitated and unable to function, had to watch as the Spurs turned a two-point game into a 15-point near blowout win.
Even with the NBA coaching carousel in full swing and with Kevin Love flirting with potential trade partners, the eyes of the league and its followers (both paid and otherwise) had little to do but focus on James’ absence in the hours between Games 1 and 2. And it was during that seemingly unending span of time on Friday that James sat down with Wilbon to discuss the reaction to him sitting down in Game 1:
"I can't play the game of basketball and live my life on what other people expect me to do or what they think I should do, that doesn't make me happy," James said. "What makes me happy is being able to make plays for my teammates, to be able to represent the name on the back of my jersey. That's what makes me happy. What everybody else thinks? That doesn't really matter to me."
This runs both good and bad. It is, perhaps, a good idea to care about what everyone thinks of you following the collective audible gagging that was heard worldwide in response to "The Decision."
In response to being criticized for being unable to overcome an injury? Yeah, don’t listen to those guys. Those guys are the reasons I actually opened about a third of my emails between Games 1 and 2, and became rather block-happy on Twitter. And I’m just a guy that had to write about that game.
It’s hard to find an NBA follower (non-Heat supporter) – again, paid or otherwise – that is actually rooting for Miami to win these Finals. The idea that the Heat and Spurs could split a pair of expertly-played NBA championship rounds in consecutive years, with the Spurs coming all the way back to best the team that downed them in 2013 (to say nearly nothing about one final ring for the Spurs’ aging core) is too tidy and wonderful a storyline to want to rain on. That would probably be the case for any other team coming out of the East, but the last frustration from "The Decision" and relative ennui with a team that has been in the Finals for four straight seasons tends to amp these things up a bit more.
One can root against someone, however, while still appreciating how damn good they are. And this may come as a shock to your typical LeBron-bashing knucklehead, but you can still root against someone without losing your senses. Or level of tact, presuming one was there in the first place.
For these sorts of doofuses to be turning LeBron and company – remember, the group that conspired to all go to the same team during free agency, celebrating the arrangement with a near-championship parade some 22 months before they even won a championship – into sympathetic figures? It’s astonishing to note, but in a lot of ways and for a fair amount of people, it’s actually happening. If the Heat were attempting to down a more staid storyline than San Antonio’s, you might see a different brand of allegiance.
“Might.” The Heat still wear the black hat proudly, but unlike in 2010-11 it doesn’t stem from insecurity and it’s not nearly as annoying. They, as is the case with the Spurs, are merely comfortable in their own skin. And LeBron James outing himself as sports’ “easiest target” isn’t James attempting to draw attention to himself or deflect blame, it’s just straight up accuracy.
We should all attempt to get things as correctly, when it comes to the NBA’s best player.
(Still … go Spurs.)
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