Archive for the ‘The LeBron James Hate Index’ Category

lebron-james-mad-trophies

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.

Narrative and Legacy both took a real beating among NBA fans and writers this Finals, particularly as related to LeBron James. That’s fair. People were trying to foist champion narratives on LeBron before it was time to do so, and people still tried to stick choker narratives on LeBron long after it was appropriate, if it ever was in the first place. I still think Narrative and Legacy have a place in NBA discussion, though, even among intelligent fans who also understand the amount of luck and chance and circumstance inherently involved in every game. Without some over-arcing themes — even a couple quasi-forced ones — the NBA is just a bunch of standalone episodes without any connecting series fabric.

However, there’s no denying that in Game 7, LeBron put all of that crap to bed, probably for good. He had an incredible night in arguably the most important game of his career, made the big plays early, middle and late, and was the single biggest reason by a considerable distance that the Heat secured their second straight championship. If there’s a qualifier left for LeBron’s greatness, I’m not smart or cynical enough to figure out what it is. He’s the greatest player of this NBA era, is on the very short list (and always getting shorter) of the greatest players of all-time. You could say that he still needs a third to start talking Bird-Magic, and of course that number six will always stand in the way of him ascending to GOAT status, but today, nobody really cares. He’s the best, he played like it, and he was rewarded for it. For one season, that’s plenty good enough.

Still, next year is another season. It’ll be a long four months for a hater like myself to wait for. Though to be honest, it doesn’t nearly compare to how I felt after his first ring, and really, it doesn’t even much compare to how I felt after Game 6, easily the most gut-wrenching basketball experience I’ve had not involving my own team. But it’s coming. And all I can really hope for is that, come this time next season, there’s more to talk about regarding LeBron’s Legacy and Narrative than “Stop talking about LeBron’s damn Legacy and Narrative and just bask in how great he is.” ‘Cuz that’s all there really is to do right now. The basking.

There’s not much I have to console myself with. LeBron is great and objects in greatness tend to stay in greatness. Nonetheless, in my current world of hurt, I have little choice but to take stock of the few glimmers of hope that maybe linger on the horizon, things that might come in the way of LeBron and the Heatles making Rohit Walia a very rich man. Be merciful, it’s all I have.

1. The Heat lost Game Six.
I mean they did, really. Just because they ended up winning doesn’t mean they didn’t lose that game. Down five with less than half a minute to go, that’s an L at least 95 times out of 100, if not 99. Only a couple lucky bounces on some Spurs free throws and a couple lucky bounces on their own offensive rebounds allowed them to somehow escape with a victory there. That’s not to say that their win was somehow ill-gotten or should have an asterisk or whatever, but just to say that if the Heat can let themselves be down five with 25 seconds to go in an elimination game, they’re clearly not invincible.

Also worth mentioning that LeBron has now been in three Game 7s in his two championship runs, which is one more than MJ had over his entire six title years. I don’t bring this up to imply that MJ is better than Jordan, or has some character strength that LeBron lacks which allows him to avoid such games, just to say that perhaps the disparity between the Heat and the field in the 2010s is smaller than the disparity between the Bulls and the field was in the ’90s, and that getting to six (or even three) for LeBron might be much more of a challenge, for reasons that may be totally beyond his control.

2. The Heat aren’t getting better than this.
The list of Heat players closer to the beginning of their careers than the end is not a long one. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh both clearly took a step back this postseason, Ray Allen is going to be 38, and seemingly all of the Heat’s role players found themselves out of the rotation at one point or another in these playoffs. Wade and Bosh were hurting, sure, but that might be more rule than exception in postseasons to come, and neither is especially young anymore. Meanwhile, there’s no cap space for free agency beyond the minimum mid-level, and trade options are limited beyond the Big Three, and I just can’t see Wade being dealt, or Bosh getting back much of tremendous value. The Heat might not be much worse next season, but it’s hard to see them getting any better. All the talk this postseason was of the Spurs’ championship window closing, but the Heat’s window might not be all that much further ajar.

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lebron-james-looking-sad-with-heat

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.

In my pre-playoffs edition of the LBJ Hate Index, I ranked the 10 most likely obstacles to LeBron winning his second ring this season, taking another step towards basketball’s innerest circle in the process. No. 1, of course, was LeBron himself — as fearful as I am of the man, I always believe him to be the person most in control of his own destiny — and more specifically, “Whatever weird stuff happened with LeBron during his handful of prior playoff meltdowns.” I wrote the following in explanation:

That guy can’t be completely dead and gone, can he? Sure, LeBron seems like he’s “clutch” now, and he’s figured out when to “take over” and all that other nonsense. But there must be a little bit of 2010 LeBron remaining, right? Something that can be triggered, and cause him to act weirdly passive and inert during big games and big moments as his team and the world crumples around him?

Last night, the San Antonio Spurs absolutely steamrolled the Miami Heat, running them off the AT&T Center floor to the tune of a 113-77 final. This isn’t as big a deal as it would be if the Heat hadn’t essentially done the same thing to the Spurs the game before in Miami, rocking them 103-84 in a game that wasn’t even as close as the final 19-point margin would indicate. But it’s still a pretty big deal. It’s by far their biggest loss of the season — they hadn’t lost by more than 20 all year — and more importantly, Miami now trails 2-1 in the series, facing the possibility of the Spurs winning out before the Heat can even make a return trip to South Beach.

This is doubly notable, for both this column and for national news purposes, because LeBron James has not played particularly well over that stretch. Well, by mortal standards, he’s still been fairly boss, going for a triple-double in Game 1 and keying a 33-5 second half run in Game 2 that put the game well out of reach for San Antonio. But he’s been uncharacteristically ineffective when it comes to scoring the ball, going for less than 20 in each of the first three games, shooting under 50 percent in all three, and most stunningly, only getting to the line a combined six times, including a big ol’ bagel in FTAs for Game 3, his first game without a single trip to the charity stripe since 2009. Also worth mentioning: The last time LeBron went three straight games, regular season or playoffs, without scoring 20? Games 3-5 of the 2011 Finals, where the Heat let the series against the Mavs slip through their fingers.

It begs the question, and I certainly doubt that I’ll be the only one asking it today: Is it happening again with LeBron? Is this going to be another playoff series — his third in four years — where we sit around waiting for the Chosen One to flip the switch, put the team on his back, and blow away the inferior competition … only to never have it actually happen? Are we due for another post-elimination press conference where we stare dumbfounded at LeBron, expecting some sort of explanation to make sense of what just happened, but without him giving us any kind of satisfying answers with either his rote responses or stupefyingly blasé demeanor? Is 2010 LeBron alive and well after all?

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lebron-mouthpiece-out
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.

I don’t wanna talk about the winning streak. Yes, it’s incredible. Yes, the Miami Heat are incredible. Yes, LeBron James is incredible. Yes, it’s incredible that a Jeff Green game that redefined what we think of as being a “career night” wasn’t good enough to end it. Yes, it’s incredible that late in the game against the Cavs, I went to get my laundry with Cleveland up 27, and when I got back they were only up nine, and a channel-flip-and-back later LeBron was shooting a three to tie it up. It’s incredible how nostalgic I am now for those months where LeBron actually went under-the-radar with his casual brilliance.

All those nice things that people are saying about how incredible this streak is are true, and then some. It’s incredible.

But all that said, it’s still just the regular season. As discouraging a regular season as this has been for a LeBron Hater, it’s not too late for him to turn it all back around in the postseason, for him to come up short when everyone assumes he’s just gonna cruise to the title. Of course, there’s a reason that everyone now assumes that, and that’s because it seems really, really likely that cruising to the title is exactly what LeBron and the Heat are gonna do. It’s borderline-impossible to beat this team once right now, how the hell could any team possibly be expected to steal four of seven?

At this point, the only thing that concerns me in the Good Fight is finding some shred of hope to latch on to with a team, a player, a cosmic force whose intervention could possibly result in LeBron James not repeating as champion this season. I’ve come up with 10 possibilities, presented from least to most likely to actually get in the way of LeBron getting that second ring.

Win out for the rest of the regular season, LeBron, see if I care. (I will, of course, but not so much, hopefully.) I’ll just be biding my time, hoping one of these 10 opponents (internal or external) results in your eventual downfall.

10. Chicago Bulls (with everyone healthy). Pretty bad bet here, since the Bulls haven’t exactly been playing like contenders lately, it’s not looking super-likely that Derrick Rose will be back in time, and the Heat dispatched them fairly easily a few seasons back when they were basically at full strength. Still, a healthy Bulls team would be about as tough an out as the Heat would be likely to face in the East, and it’s not totally impossible that the return of D-Rose could lift the Bulls (on the court and in the locker room) enough to give them a real series. At this point with LeBron, anything “not totally impossible” is worth discussing.

9. Oklahoma City Thunder. Gotta include them since they faced the Heat in the Finals last year and looked like the better team for about a game and a half. I just don’t see it really happening with the Thunder this year.

8. Jeff Green. He certainly seems to get up for the games against LeBron, playing his best two games of the season (one on each side of the ball) in the Celtics’ last two matchups against the Heat, proving something of a worthy adversary for LBJ. Hard to say if he could keep it up for six or seven games, but the Celtics have always been trouble for LeBron to begin with, and Green’s emergence is a fascinating, fun new wrinkle in the two teams’ rivalry. Real shame about Rondo though.

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lebron-james-mouthguard-out

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.

He continues:

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.

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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.

Perhaps the most complimentary thing a hater, or anyone else for that matter, can say about LeBron James is this: When you watch LeBron play, especially against a team that you’re rooting for, you always feel like he’s singularly in control of the game’s potential outcome. When he loses, it doesn’t feel like he was outsmarted, outplayed or even out-lucked — it feels like he did a cost-benefit analysis and decided that winning the game wasn’t the most important thing at this point in time. That was what always made the postseason meltdowns so incredible to us, because it still felt like he could’ve won those games if he wanted to, but decided not to for some reason, even though it’s hard to imagine what kind of a reason that could have possibly been.

LeBron James could’ve killed the Celtics yesterday afternoon. I don’t just mean he could’ve won the game against them, but I mean he could’ve finished what he started in Game 6 in Boston last year, and what he continued opening night this year in Miami, and put an end to the entire Big Three era of Boston Celtic basketball with one final dagger defeat. With Rajon Rondo out for the game, announced partway through to be undergoing season-ending ACL surgery, with the C’s reeling from an astounding six straight losses, with the team and the Garden crowd behind them so craving a win against their hated rivals that you could practically feel the blood pumping into every possession … I think one final knockout punch from LeBron in that one, and the Celtics don’t get back up.

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If LeBron James’ December was notable for something, it’s that it wasn’t really notable for anything. Take a look at these box score lines from December on — none of them stand out from one another as being particularly good or particularly bad. In every single one up until Christmas, LeBron hoists somewhere between 15 and 25 shots, scores somewhere between 21 and 31 points, hands out between 5 and 11 assists, and turns the ball over five times or fewer. The only semi-exceptional stat lines (26/13/11 in Washington, 31/10/9 against New York, 36/11/8 in Orlando) are basically negated by the fact that they came in rare Miami losses. (Needing OT to beat the Magic while giving up 29 rebounds to Nik Vucevic counts as a loss.) Really, LeBron James has done nothing of interest this month.

Indicative of this fact was the recent Grantland post entitled “A Couple of Things About LeBron James Booster-Rocketing Into Orbit Above Al Horford,” pertaining to a dunk LeBron slammed over the Hawks center. Without reading the article, I watched the video a couple of times and was convinced I had missed something. Not really — this was just a typical LeBron James alley-oop, which while impressive for 99 percent of more mortal-leaning NBA players, was more of a once-a-game thing for LeBron James. Twice, tops. Chris Ryan did an admirable attempt of making the dunk seem like a big deal, but really, aside from Jay-Z and Beyoncé being in attendance, it was simply not a remarkable NBA occurrence.

Had it taken place in, say, December of 2010, it would not have been one of the first 20 LeBron-related subjects demeed article-worthy by Grantland. Maybe not one of the first 50. This month, it was just about all they had, so sparse was the news on the LeBron front that they even ran a sort of “History of LeBron” PTI montage, like a rerun while LBJ was on winter break.

It would appear that a little more than nine seasons into his microscopically analyzed professional career, LeBron James has reached a place few great professional athletes, especially in the NBA, ever dream of reaching: Being boring. Kobe Bryant has managed to play twice as long without EVER being boring for an entire month. Even in the few drama-free moments of his pro hoops tenure, the lack of news was newsworthy enough that people never went in ignorance of it. But without a title to chase, a troublesome teammate or coach to battle, or a facet of his game particularly thriving or lacking, there’s just no drama left in LeBron. He’s so boring now that he can’t stop listening to Wiz Khalifa.

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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.

It didn’t take long for me to round into mid-season LeBron James hate form. I was wondering if after a summer spent in the undesirable position of having to root for LeBron in the Olympics — I may be a hater, but I ain’t no commie — and a relatively quiet offseason quote-and-activity-wise, maybe my stance towards LBJ would soften once his first post-championship season tipped off. Unsurprisingly, half a quarter into the Heat’s first game against the Celtics — a couple brilliant layups and passes, a couple shots of his smiling mug, a couple flashbacks to him collecting his championship ring pregame — and I was pretty much good to go. Hate springs eternal in the NBA.

Helping matters (or not, depending on your perspective) were the commercials. Now, in his nearly decade-long NBA career, LeBron has only ever made two good commercials: that very first one from his rookie year picturing him “freezing” in his debut game against the Kings (a bit surreal in its vision of an NBA never influenced by Danny Biasone, but affecting nonetheless) and the famous “Rise” spot from two years ago, which almost came close to almost coming close to making LeBron seem sympathetic in the post-”Decision” fallout and hopefully won somebody at Nike an extended makeout session with Joan Harris. (I don’t count the LeBron copier-jam “This is SportsCenter” ad, as the brand obviously overwhelmed its star on that one.) Other than that, it’s been an atrocity exhibition of poorly scripted spots that attempted to make LeBron seem relatable (nope), charismatic (nope) or funny (he gone!), and which have probably increased DVR subscriptions by 65 percent among NBA viewers over the course of the last nine seasons.

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