Hating the Best: LeBron James

LeBron James opted out of his contract with the Miami Heat last week. I’m a big NBA fan but not particularly a James fan. I’ve watched the commentary from journalists as well as paid attention to what people are saying on social media, attempting to figure out why exactly people hate LeBron James so much.

(If you’re not a basketball fan, ignore the first section and you might still appreciate the main point in the second section.)

The Bad Arguments Against

The Decision was stupid. I don’t think anybody is debating that one, even if it did come from a good place of using his fame for charity. It’s not like there wouldn’t have been an hour of ESPN coverage even if he didn’t announce the decision, instead letting it leak out from the team or his agent. May as well make some money for charity from it. I understand his thinking, but even at the time I think everyone just saw it as hubris.

That tied into a discussion of him having a big brand in general. I’m not entirely sure why this is different than any other star, though. Of course he’s doing endorsements. Of course he has an arrogant nickname, in my opinion still less arrogant than some others like The Answer (Allen Iverson) or The Big Ticket (Kevin Garnett). So I don’t really see why this is a problem either. His “not 1, not 2, not 3…” quote is often cited, but watching the video it is clear he is having fun at a pep rally, not actually claiming that he is that good. Michael Jordan was and still is much more arrogant and we praise him for that “competitive spirit.”

The only other factor cited against him is that he changed teams after 7 years giving everything he had to the team that drafted him, including 1 Finals appearance and always contending despite virtually no supporting cast. That isn’t to mention his amazing stats or his MVP’s or the millions if not billions of dollars he brought the franchise. Now he may change teams again (he may still resign with Miami), for only the second time after 11 years in the league, which I feel comfortable assuming is less movement than the average player. No, Jordan did not change teams, Duncan has not changed teams, but most stars have changed teams.

If he wants to move, he has that freedom just like I have the freedom to move jobs. He isn’t a slave of Miami, although I have seen it pointed out how the NBA structure is more or less a plantation model: rich white people getting richer off of mostly-black labourers. Just as when I have options between jobs, James has to decide what is best for him and his family. If that’s Miami, great! If it isn’t, that’s fine too. Being the best player in the world does not bind him to only play for one team his entire life.

The Bullying Instinct

I think it really all goes back to a deeper instinct: the impulse to knock down people we perceive as better than us to make ourselves feel better. It’s bullying. I’m sure we’ve all done it many times in our lives. Maybe it’s being physically stronger that I use to knock them down a peg, maybe it’s name-dropping connections, maybe it’s pointing out a weight gain, maybe it is claiming they lack any sense of loyalty for changing jobs, etc.

Because James is a celebrity, we don’t really think of it this way. Celebrities aren’t really people. Maybe if we’re generous, they are technically people but they get paid so well that we’re sure they can handle it, as if money cures everything. I know that it comes with the territory of being famous, but that doesn’t mean it’s any territory I want to be a part of.

Source: http://thedoghousediaries.com/4503

As somebody who is trying to live my life in a way that looks like Jesus, this definitely clashes for me. This is the height of judgement, the opposite of grace. I’m not talking about those who think a different decision would be better, as if we all know his and his family’s priorities. That can largely be fun armchair analysis. I mean those who are full-out attacking his character. Based on what I’ve seen, he’s a pretty good person who works hard for his team, but even if that weren’t true, it’s still my goal as a Christian to treat him as a person who I disagree with. That’s all. He’s not some abstract evil force to be abused for ruining the moral character of my favourite sport.

Now, we’ll see if I’ll be as gracious if Kyle Lowry doesn’t return to Toronto 🙂

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.