Heavy is the Crown for King James
We’re all witnesses… to the first chink in the King’s armor.
For the past year, things have been golden for LeBron James. But after the Cleveland Cavaliers’ unceremonious departure from the NBA Playoffs was followed by James walking out without congratulating the opposing Orlando Magic, speaking to the media or staying to talk to his teammates, it appears that for the first time in his NBA career a bit of the shine has worn off the King’s crown.
The moment would normally be dismissed if not for the fact that James is widely known as one of the most accessible and down to Earth players in the game. In his defeat we weren’t witnesses to any of that. We were instead treated to a rare instance in which James was human.
“It’s hard for me to congratulate somebody after you just lose to them. I’m a winner. It’s not being a poor sport or anything like that. If somebody beats you up, you’re not going to congratulate them. That doesn’t make sense to me. I’m a competitor. That’s what I do. It doesn’t make sense for me to go over and shake somebody’s hand.”
That was how James inexplicably tried to justify his bad attitude to the media the day after the Game 6 loss when a simple, “I was disappointed in losing. I should have congratulated the Magic and my teammates for a great season. Even Nike LeBron puppet knows that,” would have gone a long way toward saving face. And wearing an all-white Yankees hat while he did it? Very nice touch. But at least he sent Dwight Howard a congratulatory email, because that makes everything better. Doesn’t he know Superman is a Twitter fan?
James may be on his way to claiming the title of best player since His Airness, but he has a lot to learn when it comes to the unwritten rules of the game, namely that you always congratulate your opponent whether you win or lose. They teach you that at YMCA camps. In one fell swoop, LeBron gave an excuse for other ballers to punk out after a game. Somewhere a high school player that can jump out of the gym is saying, “If The Chosen One won’t give a hand pound, why should I?” And don’t come at me with the Charles Barkley “Athletes aren’t role models” arguments. When you watch the Denver Nuggets play and look in the seats to see children with fauxhawks and imitation tattoos on their arms in honor of Chris Andersen, the look and attitude of these players absolutely has influence on those that admire them.
That’s something James forgot this weekend. He represents more than just himself. Everything is being set in place for LeBron to be the face of this franchise and the NBA. That face can’t only appear when the Sun is out. Anybody can do campy choreographed stunts with teammates when you’re running through the League in the regular season, but how you respond in the face of adversity is when you truly show your character. The future $1 billion face of the Association can’t afford to use up his social currency with fans or teammates. Don’t be surprised if David Stern politely reminds him of this with a phone call.
And they won’t admit it, but there is no doubt that James’ act of silence hurt his teammates. Of course they won’t crack on the man who almost carried them to the NBA Finals. It’s understood that you don’t bite the hand that feeds you the rock. But you win and lose as a team, and not staying after the Game 6 loss only added to the pain that the team was feeling after such a stunning defeat. It also may have tainted the chemistry that was built in a season that is to be remembered, all things considered. If you are claiming to be the franchise player and team leader, you do not turn your back and let Boobie Gibson have to take the podium to answer questions about the end of your team’s season. Yes there are some people that will say, “Well his teammates should be under the magnifying glass. They’re the cats who let him down in the biggest series of the season, not vice versa.” It doesn’t work that way. If Kobe loses in the NBA Finals, he can’t put his headphones on, pat Adam Morrison on the back and say, “You step up and field these questions, Big Moustache.”
To top it all off, the Orlando Magic deserved better for their accomplishment. They exposed the Cavs for what they were and showed the world they were the superior team. Kobe did the same thing to the Denver Nuggets and Carmelo Anthony, who has been ripped before for his lack of leadership, shined by sharing congratulatory words and a hug with Bryant after the game. Even if Anthony never wins a ring, he showed how a true winner behaves in defeat.
Maybe LeBron should go watch some ESPN Instant Classic videos of the games between the Detroit Pistons and L.A. Lakers. Isiah Thomas and Magic Johnson always made sure to keep it cool with each other, even if they probably wanted to kill one another when the ball was in the air. On second thought, maybe we don’t need to go as far as those two did in pre-game salutes. Kisses aren’t necessary, but LeBron could have at least given the Magic players a handshake for their worthy accomplishment.
Isiah’s actually seen both ends of the sportsman’s spectrum and could tell you that it’s a bad idea to walk away without congratulating the victor. He learned that the hard way after pulling the “I’m taking my ball and going home” move when the Chicago Bulls swept Detroit in the Eastern Conference Finals. It should go without saying it but I will anyway. LeBron, you do not want your name in the same sentence as Zeke.
James can’t be so naive to act like he’s above the rules of sportsmanship. No great player before him has gone their career without a heartbreaking defeat. Jordan had them against the Pistons and Celtics. Kobe did as well against the same organizations in the NBA Finals and both players had enough respect for others to swallow their pride and accept their defeat with class. If hockey players can shake hands after literally throwing down their gloves and pounding each other in a game, you can be cool enough to be a good sport on the hardwood.
Don’t get the misconception that I’m asking for James to step down from his throne. All he needs to do is like Kanye said, occasionally bow in the presence of greatness, which is exactly what anyone on Orlando would have done if they had lost to Cleveland. There’s hardly anything to dislike about LeBron James. He loves and respects the history of the NBA. His game will carry him to the Hall of Fame and he will have plenty of banners to hang in the rafters, whether it’s in Cleveland or New York. In his play and through his charity work, he has proven to be as selfless a person as there is in the game. But he’s no Superman. The caped one will be playing in the NBA Finals Thursday against L.A. That isn’t what matters though. What does is that no matter how he tries to spin it, LeBron will never truly be a winner until he learns how to lose.