On Monday the New York Daily News decided to coin Lebron James as the NBA's #1 "Villain". Last week Alex Rodriguez announced that he is cheering for Miami in the NBA Finals because he understands how it feels to be labelled a "villain", just like Lebron James does. Villain? Really?
Granted "The Decision" was the most self-indulgent, disrespectful, and over-the-top spectacle in the NBA since Rodman retired, but are we really listing Lebron James alongside the likes of the Penguin, Joker, and the bad guys from Transformers?
It's fun to hate Lebron, but there are plenty of other NBA superstars on James' level (or in one case above it) who have done far worse things than James has ever done without being deemed a villain.
Let's review some past and current NBA superstars who, while sometimes unpopular, were never tagged with such a label:
We all loved Michael Jordan! Far from being a villain, Michael was a super-hero. He even had his own Saturday morning cartoon show "Pro-Stars" where he teamed up with other sports super heroes: Wayne Gretzky and Bo Jackson (wait, Bo Jackson?) and fought crime. We didn't even care that Michael could have been called for carrying the ball on every single play, we just loved him so much. Many dynasties are universally hated, but in the 90s, unless your team was playing them, you loved MJ's Chicago Bulls. But Jordan committed more violations than just carrying the ball. I'm not saying Jordan should have been labelled a villain, but let's see how his villainous activities compare against Lebron's:
Lebron: Insulted the whole city of Cleveland by publicly breaking up with them on national TV.
Jordan: Insulted coaches, teammates, opposing players and anyone who ever may have "wronged him" in a harsh, negative toned and oddly bitter-for-such-a-successful guy hall of fame acceptance speech.
Lebron: Was accused of performing poorly in big game situations.
Jordan: Was accused of performing poorly in night time casino situations. Specifically when Michael was spotted gambling in an Atlantic City casino just before 3 a.m. when he had a playoff game in New York the next day. Jordan apparently blew five grand that night at blackjack, contributing to the $57,000 in gambling losses he admitted to that year.
Lebron: Once wore a Yankees hat at a Cleveland Indians home playoff game.
Michael: Has offended more than just Cleveland area sports fans with his wardrobe and just might be the most poorly dressed athlete ever, with entire websites dedicated to his terrible sense of fashion.
I'd say it's a tie.
Isiah did a lot for the Detroit Pistons franchise, the New York Knicks on the other hand weren't so lucky. In 2006 Anucha Browne Sanders, the Knicks' former senior vice president of marketing and business operations sued Isiah Thomas (then President of Basketball Operations for the Knicks) and the New York Knicks alleging that she had been repeatedly sexually harassed by Thomas. The result? A judge found in favor of Sanders to the tune of $11.6 million dollars.
Wilt Chamberlain has always been celebrated as one of the best basketball players of all time. He also was quick to criticize teammates, coaches, and even the NBA itself in a 1965 Sports Illustrated article oddly titled "My Life in the Bush League".
Other than his 100 point game, Wilt is probably best known for the claim he made in his 1991 biography that he has slept with over 20,000 women. Despite that this would mean he slept with an average of 1.2 women a day from the time he was 15 up until the book's publication, the claim in and of itself is not as troubling as the fact that some of those women were teenagers while Wilt was in his 40s.
Kevin Garnett is still playing the game today. He certainly isn't labelled as the NBA's biggest villain. But then again why would he? What has KG ever done that hit below the belt? Oh that's right, he regularly hits other players below the belt, or at least that was the claim of an anonymous NBA player who called him out through the media for it. Also this incident seems to point to the validity of the claim.
Let's not forget that another current player, who is not labelled as the NBA's biggest villain, legally changed his last name to "World Peace" and has been suspended numerous times for violently throwing elbows, destroying a tv camera, and once for running into the stands to punch some fans.
Lebron James was 25 when "The Decision" aired, and he was 22 when he wore the Yankees hat to the Indians game. While being in your early 20s means you are responsible for your actions and have to take full blame for anything you do wrong, it also means that you are still fairly prone to doing some pretty dumb things. If you are over 25 and reading this think back to some of the stuff you did back when you were that age, you did some dumb stuff back then didn't you? If you are 25 right now take a look at some of the stuff you do, some of it is pretty dumb isn't it? And if you are under 25 and reading this there is a good chance that you just finished doing something dumb and are just about to do something equally as dumb. The difference is that when you or I do something less than intelligent it doesn't impact a whole city of sports fans and get broadcast to millions of people worldwide. When I was 25 I didn't realize there was a difference between dish detergent and dish soap, when I put the latter in my dishwasher I didn't catch on until my kitchen was entirely enveloped in a bubble bath. Now when I did that it didn't impact the whole city of Cleveland and it wasn't broadcast out to the world like Lebron's actions were, but I was operating on the same level of stupidity.
Lebron "the Villain" James is also the biggest supporter of charities in the league and was the only NBA player to make Parade Magazine's list of the most charitable athletes. He started the Lebron James Family Foundation to raise money to support single parent families in the Ohio area. Oh and the proceeds from that over the top, self-indulgent, and disrespectful spectacle "The Decision"? Everything he made went to the Boys and Girls Club of America, all 2.5 million dollars worth.
No suspensions, no outlandish on court behavior, he's never been charged with a criminal offense, or found guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs, and yet he is the league's "bad guy". Why? Because it's fun. It's just as fun to cheer against Lebron as it was to cheer for MJ, and "The Decision" gave us the perfect opportunity to get emotionally invested in the guy, albeit in a negative way. He might be the NBA's "Bad Guy" but despite two bad decisions that he made without malice, he has given us no reason to label him as a villain... but let's still cheer against him, it's more fun that way.
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