June 16, 2014 16 Comments
It was a demise that was as quick and painless as it gets. For a team that had reached the finals for three consecutive seasons, it was like going in for surgery, being put under and waking up not being quite sure where you are or whether the doctor actually removed your tonsils. Popovich and the Machines dismantled the Miami Heat in a fashion that few could have prophesized outside of the San Antonio locker room.
As a result, the Spurs have unintentionally fueled another fun-filled calendar year of LeBron James talk show fodder. Off-season speculation of where LeBron might be headed and how it will affect his legacy. MJ vs. Kobe vs. LBJ. And Skip Bayless doing the whole Baylessian ratings whore thing.
Hours will be spent dissecting a man who plays basketball really well for a living. The impossible task of discerning how good LeBron is compared to people he will never have the opportunity to compete against. The more reasonable task of hating on LeBron or attempting to explain why the haters should stuff their one-liners in a sack will be undertaken.
However, when it comes to LeBron’s status in professional sports, there is one explanation that is rarely brought up when attempting to illustrate the reasoning behind the polarizing nature of the King. Even though it is a defining aspect of our everyday non-online, non-twitter related interactions with other humans, there is one factor that we often fail to account for when examining our sports figures.
The likeability factor.
It is a factor that is as intangible as intangibles get. Forgive me for mentioning the man twice in one post, but likeability is almost as undefinable as the intangibles that Skip Bayless drones on about.
There is no rhyme or reason to likeability. Determining likeability is instinctual. We get a feeling of how much we like someone five seconds after meeting them and go from there. First impressions can really be everything. There is often no concrete rationale for liking someone. We just do. It’s human nature that has probably evolved from the time when we were monkeys or gorillas or whatever we were way back when.
Our world is built upon likeability, especially so in the entertainment industry. Similarly to just about any personal quality we possess, it is God-given. People base careers solely off of being likeable. Paul Rudd has been doing it for years.
While professional athletes amaze us with feats of spectacular athleticism and physicality, they are nothing more than entertainers. Most of us watch sports for the same reasons that we go to the movies, see Cirque de Soleil or pay 200 bucks for Britney Spears to lip sync “Oops I did It Again” for the 1335th time in her life. We want to be entertained. An athlete’s personality may not define their livelihood in the same way that traditional entertainers do but public perception of an athlete is an inevitable consequence of the way our primitive animal brains are wired.
Consequently, athletes who are equipped with a character that is unappealing to our animal brains, for whatever variety of reasons, are subject to the cruel reality of the entertainment industry, which is that likeability has the power to trump everything.
This is where LeBron James falters. There is no way to put it other than the man is not likeable. It may be more opinion than fact but it is an opinion that is unquestionably shared by a vast majority of basketball and non-basketball fans alike. He is a tremendously gifted basketball player who is just that. A tremendously gifted basketball player.
LeBron was an ordinary basketball star before ‘The Decision’ rocked our world. The most talented player since Kobe Bryant played in a boring city (sorry, Cleveland!) and wasn’t overwhelmingly adored or despised by fans.
‘The Decision’ was the turning point in LeBron’s career, obviously. It fueled the public’s hatred of LeBron James, many of whom were indifferent to him when he was with the Cavaliers. It showed many a side of him that they didn’t know was there. ‘The Decision’ itself did not cause people to hate LeBron. Rather, it was the gateway for people to see LeBron for the type of superstar that he is. ‘The Decision’ isn’t the type of thing that likeable people do. It’s the type of thing that people who self-proclaim themselves ‘The King” and tattoo ‘Chosen1’ across their back do. No one was going to let LeBron off the hook for this one and his introduction party with partners in crime Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh confirmed that.
Once ‘The Decision’ was made, there was no coming back. The hole was dug too deep for a King who was not worshipped by his subjects. James was revered for his basketball ability alone, which left him vulnerable to the brutality of the court of public opinion. He had nothing to fall back on other than what he does with a basketball. By the time he stepped on the court though, his fate with the public had, for all intents and purposes, been decided.
Athletes become stars because of their physical abilities. The stardom develops into adoration through an unquantifiable mixture of star quality and athletic prowess.
As is the case with many star athletes, LeBron is unable to get away with his mistakes because he lacks the charm and likeability we desire in our entertainers. That is the true difference between Michael and LeBron. People can point to LeBron’s off-court joking, antics and photo-bombing all they want, but that proves nothing. LeBron was blessed with insane physical abilities but cursed with an inability to combine that with superstar charisma. Michael Jordan, however, was blessed with insane physical abilities and combines that with effortless likeability.
Michael Jordan is not a good human being. He is a notorious asshole and story after story proves that. He punched Steve Kerr in the face for disagreeing with him in practice. In his Hall of Fame enshrinement speech, he unnecessarily chewed out everyone from his high school coach to the Hall of Fame itself. He’s a billionaire (according to Forbes) but, apparently, a bad tipper.
Yet, it doesn’t make any difference because he is likeable.
We like Michael Jordan. We built up, and continue to build up, his legendary status because that’s what we do to people we like. We don’t mind that he is a gambling addict. We were enthralled with his decision to take a stab at minor league baseball in favour of going for a 4th straight championship. We omit many of his past failures to support the favourable narrative of a guy we like. The man starred in Space Jam for heaven sakes.
Although Twitter may not be the greatest indicator of public sentiment, not long after the Heat’s loss in game 5, ‘Kobe 5X Champ’ was trending worldwide. Of course, another shot at LeBron’s 2 measly championship rings. Kobe Bryant is no Michael Jordan in the likeability department either but what he has done on the court has been enough to earn the public’s respect.
Throw out all the stats you have. How well or poorly LeBron plays only serves as a gauge for which a good percentage of the public uses to determine how loudly or softly they can lay it on LBJ until the next game. It doesn’t make sense that we heap endless amount of praise on Michael Jordan and find every reason to poke holes in the armour of LeBron. Too bad for LeBron that likeability is a senseless endeavour. Not everyone is going to like you nor is everyone going to hate you. The thing is, there is not a damn thing you can do about it.
There is a reason why George W. Bush served TWO, count ‘em, TWO freaking terms as President of the United States. Why Bill Clinton can get away with an affair to end all affairs.
We still cheer for Tiger Woods (who is also a bad tipper) despite the fact that he cheated on his wife a million times. Most of us don’t even know that Steve Nash cheated on his pregnant, now ex-wife with the woman who is his current girlfriend. Charles Barkley can say anything he wants about the supposed fat women of San Antonio.
We still love them (well, except for George Bush). It may be irrational but likeability is irrational. When you’re 5 years old and you go to your first day of Kindergarten without knowing a single person, you don’t gravitate to the person who becomes your best friend for the next 10 years because you have made a list of pros and cons about their worth as a human being.
It is impossible to try to make sense of it. Unfortunately for LeBron James, he does not possess the magic aura of likeability that sports fans gravitate towards. The hatred is less for LeBron James than it used to be. He’s too good of a basketball player for the 2011 level of animosity to endure.
But LeBron is once again the goat, and not the good kind of GOAT. More of the Charlie Brown kind of goat. He went to Miami to win “not 4, not 5, not 6” championships and has only come up with two in four years. That’s not good enough for someone trying to dethrone the true King of the Hill and all-around superstar.
LeBron wore the number 23 until he got to Miami. He happily invited the comparisons to Michael Jordan because he wanted to be bigger and better than MJ. Little did LBJ know that he was doomed from the very beginning. It was too late before he realized that he did not stand a chance against the larger than life expectations. The pushback was unescapable because we like Michael Jordan too much.
LeBron James. He just doesn’t have…it.
Agree? Disagree? Reply in the comments section below or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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