Andrew Unterberger is the Last Angry Man in the crusade against LeBron James and his not-so-gradual march towards total unassailability. He’ll be checking in with us once a month this NBA season for an update on where he’s at with his LeBron hating, and how his attempts to channel all the world’s negative energy towards one generally well-meaning basketball player are progressing.
You probably will not be surprised to hear that this has been a hard month for a LeBron hater. I wouldn’t have guessed that a streak as obscure as consecutive games with at least 30 points scored and shooting over 60 percent would have been able to capture national attention among sports fans, but I suppose as far as streaks of undeniably good play go, this one was about as indicative of general domination as any. And unlike Rajon Rondo, the player behind the other most weirdly well-publicized streak of the 2010 season with his 37 straight double-digit assist games, LeBron never even seemed like he was trying to hit any benchmarks while playing — he was just playing business-as-usual, and ended up with a streak not even Wilt or MJ had ever matched. Sigh.
The hardest part of this all for a hater might not even be watching LeBron approach the game of basketball like a tenth grader who’s already beaten “Super Mario Bros. 3″ a dozen times or so but thinks “Eh, maybe this time I’ll skip a couple of the secret worlds and see how long I can go getting every single one of the bonus coins.” It might not be the endless stream of all-too-justifiable accolades poured upon LeBron on countless halftime shows, podcasts, and blogs such as this one. It might not even be when it comes at the expense of my own team, as it was when LeBron dismantled the Sixers with a 16-11-10 in barely a half-hour game action, propelling the Heat to a 14-point road victory without working off the calories in a stick of Carefree gum.
Rather, the hardest part probably comes with the wave of anti-haters — those who may or may not have hated LeBron once upon a time, but now espouse an unconditional You Gotta Love LeBron philosophy, feeling all should be grateful to witness his unique brand of greatness. The anti-haters can now count New York Magazine’s Will Leitch among their ranks, as Leitch responded to this very recurring column at the end of January, declaring the crusade against LeBron to be over: “No one feels that way about LeBron anymore, this side of Unterberger,” Leitch writes.
We have other people to hate now: Lance Armstrong. Alex Rodriguez. Hating LeBron takes more effort than we’re willing to put in. Except for lonely, devoted Andrew Unterberger. He keeps the hate alive, to remind us what we once were, to hope that we will all get there again. But watching LeBron fly through the air last night [against the Nets], making the game of basketball look as natural and easy as anything in the world, all that old hate … it all felt, now that we looked at it, kinda dumb.
Leitch is not misguided in his remarks, nor is he alone. The Anti-LeBron bandwagon essentially reached its last stop in the 2012 Finals, and has gone absolutely nowhere since. There’s been very little ammunition lately, very little on or off the court that a hater can point out to others as fuel for their hatred without coming off as petty, delusional and probably a little bit creepy. I won’t deny that in my darker moments, even I have considered joining the YGLL movement, embracing the man and player I have spent so many years rooting against, burying the hate and spending our remaining days together in appreciative awe, basking in the glory of LeBron.
But such moments never last long, and the fleeting insecurities they produce ultimately just make me more fortified in my position. And that’s because I’ll never be able to make the choice to stop hating LeBron since I never even made the choice to start hating him.
Acquiring a sports enemy is like acquiring a nickname — you can’t just give yourself one, you have to get one naturally and organically, over time. That’s what happened with me and LeBron. There was no one thing with him — no, not even “The Decision” — that made me go “Hmm, think I”ll spend the rest of my life wishing ill upon this person.” I was just watching a Cavaliers game one day, after having LeBron in my NBA for some months or years, and realized that every single thing he did and said made my teeth clench. That’s just how it was, and that’s just how it’s been ever since.
And I have not become jaded in my hate. Indeed, the fire burns as strong as ever. In the All-Star Game this year, I should have been rooting for the East, my team of choice being an Eastern Conference one, and represented by my boy Jrue Holiday, in hopefully his first of many All-Star appearances to come. But after the weeks-long LeBronanza that had led up to All-Star Weekend, capped with his absolutely unconscious 39-12-7 performance against the rival Thunder on the Thursday before, I quickly realized that it was more important to me to see LeBron fail –just once, even in a meaningless exhibition game — than to see my team’s conference win. As Kobe stuffed him in several consecutive possessions on defense, I was as gleeful as I would have been had Jrue himself had posted a triple-double on his way to game MVP honors. Love may conquer all, but hate should never be completely counted out.
Sorry, Will. If hating LeBron these days takes you too much effort, I guess I can’t blame you for ceasing to try. But for me, it remains — to borrow your phrase — as natural and easy as anything in the world. If you don’t want to join me back there, that’s cool, just don’t ask me to deny myself by attempting to join you. Maybe one day I’ll look at LeBron and my teeth won’t clench anymore, but until then, this is one NBA fan who don’t Gotta Love LeBron. One who wouldn’t even know how to if he tried.
HATE INDEX: 8/10