Dr. Haterproof: How I Learned to Stop Hating and Love LeBron
As I write this, it’s been a full 48 hours since the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Championship and I still feel as if I’m in the middle of a Twilight Zone-esqe fever dream.
The Cavs completed the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history when they became the first team in NBA history to win the Finals after being down 3–1. They also ended the long and brutal torture of sports fans across Northeast Ohio when they became the first major Cleveland pro sports team to win a championship in 52 years.
But everyone knows that. Everyone has seen the images of LeBron wearing the Ultimate Warrior shirt (also wearing a hat featuring Kermit the Frog sipping tea), Kevin Love chugging two beers while wearing an Austin 3:16 shirt and J.R. Smith not wearing any shirts. Ever. Everyone has seen the pictures and videos of Cavs fans turning the streets of downtown Cleveland into their own massive rage-fest. This isn’t about what everyone has seen; this is about a personal perspective.
I used to be a part of the legion of miserable LeBron haters a few years ago.
It used to not be that way when I was growing up during LeBron’s first tenure in Cleveland (I was eight his rookie year). I was not the biggest fan of the NBA during those years as I was in the developmental stages of my rabid college football fandom. Still yet, I would always see LeBron’s superhuman highlights on SportsCenter, his ads for Nike, Sprite, McDonald’s, etc., and would watch the occasional game. I was aware of LeBron, just not actually appreciating him. I even remember when I first saw the highlights of his incredible performance against the Pistons in the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals and not really thinking much of it (young and ignorant I suppose).
Even after a Finals appearance, multiple MVPs, and a scoring title, I still wasn’t truly drinking in what LeBron was doing. It wasn’t until the 2009–10 season, around the time I really started watching the NBA, that I began to “witness” LeBron’s greatness. Of course that season was when the rumor mill began to churn out gossip about LeBron’s pending free agency during the summer of 2010. Once LeBron frustratingly took off his jersey in the arena tunnel after being eliminated by the Celtics, the countdown was on.
I remember being giddy about “The Decision” like many others were. Once the months of build-up culminated in LeBron announcing that his talents were heading to South Beach, I ran in circles around my room and witnessed the devastating scene in Cleveland via ESPN shortly after. Cavs fans were furious and rightfully so, but the next day when the Heat hosted their celebration party for the signing of the Big Three which included LeBron’s prediction of 9,001 championships is when I first began to see widespread hate for LeBron.
LeBron would go on to later apologize for his handling of his move to Miami, but at the time there was arguably no bigger villain in sports to many people. I watched his first season in Miami with mainly a neutral stance. Once the 2011 Finals began, I, along with the rest of the country, was ready to see if LeBron finally had the championship drive in him. America and I saw the Heat lose in six after leading the series 2–1 and LeBron average only three points in the fourth quarters. The criticism was rampant. During this time I also began to watch more highlights of Michael Jordan’s old games and starting developing a Derrick Rose fandom; so I went through a Bulls bandwagon phase at the time which naturally pitted me against the Heat. Combine me reading countless YouTube comments and message board posts that said how much better MJ was than LeBron with me being turned off by his villain role, and all of the sudden I hated LeBron James.
Now I didn’t exactly have a personal reason for hating him and it certainly wasn’t 100 percent his actions that caused it. When I really think about it, a lot of it was due to the way a lot of LeBron fans acted and how they had the gall to compare him to Jordan. Plus, honestly, to teenage me it seemed like a cool thing to do *shudders*.
I started rooting for LeBron to come up short for no real reason. I started to become a huge fan of Kevin Durant simply because he wasn’t LeBron. So once the 2012 Finals ended and LeBron defeated Durant and won the elusive ring, I was pretty devastated. But even winning a title didn’t silence any haters or make me a believer. If anything, it only fueled the fires of hate.
The hate was still going strong throughout 2012–13 as LeBron had one of the finest seasons in NBA history and captured back-to-back MVP awards. So when he faced the Spurs in the 2013 Finals I found myself rooting hard for San Antonio, a team I had always been indifferent towards, to crush LeBron. However, he once again (with a little help from Ray Allen) came through in a colossal way and won his second straight title. For someone who wasn’t supposed to be clutch, LeBron scored 16 points in the fourth quarter of game six and tied a Finals record for most points in a game seven victory with 37. At this point, I had already accepted that LeBron was one of the greatest to ever touch a basketball, but it didn’t stop me from rooting for failure.
A year later, when the Heat’s bid for a three-peat was crushed by the Spurs in a Finals rematch, I was satisfied and the haters re-emerged once more. While I enjoyed watching Tim Duncan winning likely his final championship and the epic performance by Kawhi Leonard, it was still all about LeBron losing. That all started to change a month later, though.
On July 11, 2014, LeBron announced that he was coming back home to Cleveland. It caused a reaction in the sports world ten-fold that of The Decision. Cleveland fans who burned the jersey of their once hero now took to the same streets to celebrate. It was all anyone talked about for days. During all of the commotion I had the self-realization that I was happy over it. Me, someone who had spent the last three years refusing to enjoy the play of one of the all-time greats due to some unexplainable hating.
All of the sudden I was anticipating what LeBron would do during the NBA season, especially with a much better supporting cast than in his first stint with the Cavs. At the same time, I found myself drawn to the mesmerizing offensive show of Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors. While it was great to see LeBron back in a Cavs jersey, I was paying much more attention to what was going on out on the West Coast. When the Cavs and Warriors met in last year’s Finals I again was subconsciously rooting against LeBron. This time I knew it was mainly because I wanted to see a team with the offensive style of the Warriors reach the pinnacle more than wanting LeBron to fail. While Golden State capped off a great season by winning the series 4–2, LeBron amassed one of the greatest individual performances in Finals history while leading a short-handed Cavs squad.
But still, I didn’t appreciate it.
Fast-forward to this season where LeBron put up great numbers yet again, only to be overshadowed by the historic 73–9 record of Golden State. I, like many others, was fascinated by what Curry and the Warriors pulled off because we had never seen it before. We appreciated it.
But when the Cavs once again faced off with the Warriors and went down 3–1, most assumed that it was all over and Golden State would repeat. LeBron would be 2–5 in the Finals and Cleveland would continue to wallow in sports sorrow. But then the series momentum was flipped upside down once Draymond Green was suspended for Game 5. LeBron, along with Kyrie Irving, went nuclear, tallying 41 points, 16 rebounds and 7 assists. It was after this incredible display when the switch completely flipped for me.
I wanted LeBron to win.
I had gone from casual fan, to neutral, to hater, back to casual fan, to full-fledged fan. After looking at countless stats displaying LeBron’s postseason greatness, including seeing where he led both teams in every major statistical category, I realized just how much great basketball my hate had blinded me from embracing for years. I realized that LeBron is still in his peak years as an elite player and may not have many left.
I needed to enjoy every second of this.
Even after LeBron had another great outing in Game 6, I still doubted that the Cavs could reel off three straight wins over the Warriors when I looked at it objectively. After all, the Cavs had to win a Game 7 on the home court of one of the greatest teams in NBA history, led by the reigning back-to-back MVP with the support of the fanatical Oracle Arena crowd. Even though I knew LeBron would have a tremendous game, I thought it wouldn’t be enough.
Oh how he proved me wrong.
Every time that LeBron would make a big play, there was just a feeling in my soul that he was not going to be denied this time. I began to really feel it once he sunk the three to give the Cavs an 89–87 lead with under five minutes to go. But the feeling engulfed me once he pulled off perhaps the greatest defensive play in Finals history, when he chase-down blocked Andre Iguodala to prevent the Warriors from taking the lead with less than two minutes in the game. I fell in the floor in disbelief. This was really happening.
Perhaps it’s for the best that LeBron was unable to finish his and-1 dunk attempt over Green because the Earth’s core may have spontaneously combusted and killed us all if it would’ve been successful. We wouldn’t have gotten to see LeBron put the series to bed on the ensuing free throw attempts. Once the final buzzer sounded and the mayhem ensued on the Oracle Arena floor, I caught myself having a petrified blank stare at my TV screen. Cleveland did it. LeBron did it. I was trying my best to process it all.
What I could process, though, was that I appreciated what I witnessed.
The greatest player of my generation, the most scrutinized athlete (maybe) of all-time and the most athletically-gifted basketball player ever, carried the weight of an entire suffering city on his back to will his team to be the first to ever win an NBA Championship after being down 3–1 against a team that broke an unbreakable record. A team that is redefining how the game is played, that possesses maybe the greatest shooters we have ever seen.
LeBron James is 31 years old. Who knows how many more years he has left as the best in the world? One thing is for sure and it is that Father Time has never lost; that time may arrive before we know it. So I am going to simply sit back and enjoy what else he has to offer the game of basketball from here on out. While future generations will be able to easily access every highlight in LeBron’s career decades down the road, nothing will ever compare to seeing it in real time.
So for anyone out there that still hates on LeBron James for idiotic reasons, please stop it. Stop wasting your energy and pride being blinded by hate and appreciate one of the greatest icons in the long history of American sports before it’s too late to do so. I know that’s what I’ll be doing.