LeBron James’ relatively short career has been pretty much spotless. He’s proven himself to be the ideal young superstar of his generation; ridiculously talented, approachable, affable, intelligent and savvy. He’s at the forefront of a new generation of NBA stars that seem to understand the “game” of public relations better than their immediate forbears. Guys like James, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade have pretty much navigated the murky waters of basketball fame and the white-hot glare of the spotlight without major controversies. This is made all the more remarkable when you compare them to players that arrived in the league in the mid-‘90s cornrowed, tatted up, and scary as hell to middle America. That generation was determined to reshape the league in its own image, and as a result, many older NBA fans were turned off.
But James and his peers have been a resurrection of all that we love in sports. And LBJ himself has become the personification of everything the NBA wants to be — marketing-wise, anyway. But, on Saturday night, after losing in six games to the Orlando Magic and their dominating big man Dwight Howard, LeBron made the first big PR misstep of his pro career. As confetti streamed down and assorted Magic players and fans celebrated, “King” James skulked sullenly off the court, refusing to acknowledge Orlando’s team or shake Howard’s hand. He later gave the feeble excuse that it’s hard to congratulate someone that has just beaten you.
That’s very true, LeBron — it is hard. You should do it anyway. Doing what’s hard shows character, and, in your case, leadership. Your teammates are just as deflated as you are — what does it say to them when you act like a sore loser? And you’ve shown that you can handle it better than you did last weekend — here’s the proof:
“We went up against a better team … we know the Spurs are definitely the better team in this series.”
That was James after getting swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the 2007 NBA Finals. If you hate congratulating someone who just “beat you up,” why were you so gracious back then? What’s worse than being swept?
Maybe the truth is that James, after working all year to have home court advantage throughout the playoffs, going almost undefeated at home throughout the season, dominating Detroit and Atlanta in the first two rounds, earning a runaway MVP award, and witnessing an endless amount of LeBron vs. Kobe hype, began to believe that he was entitled to a trip to the 2009 NBA Finals. Maybe he truly believed that this was obviously his time to go up against the erstwhile “best player on the planet.” If so, this loss should serve him well — kind of like Kobe’s early career failures. But let’s hope that he understands that being the “King” means showing some class, and acknowledging when the better team just flat-out dethroned you. –todd williams