An open letter to Jeff Van Gundy
Dear Jeff Van Gundy,
You do an outstanding job announcing and analyzing NBA games. Your insights are instructive, your opinions well thought out and it's even entertaining -- like when you said Mickael Pietrus should be fined $1 million for that obvious flop late in Boston's Game 5 win over the Heat.
Seriously, it's good stuff.
But early in Game 6, you opined that you really didn't understand why people do not like LeBron James and root against him. You said he's apologized for how he handled things, and that you just don't get the feelings against him.
Perhaps it's a Cleveland thing and you can't understand.
Or perhaps it's just that inside the NBA world it's tough to see why James made himself so dislikeable to so many, in and out of Cleveland.
Let's start, though, by admitting that the dislike does obscure many things about James that are good. He has contributed heavily to his hometown, Akron. He is readily available for interviews. He plays hard, usually plays well and has other-worldly talent. He's a good father. Even his worst move, The Decision, helped the Boys and Girls Clubs. Nobody could ever say James is an intrinsically bad person, but he's done some things that have become the poster image for what is wrong with sports and what is wrong with handling things in a self-centered way.
The hurt Clevelanders feel should go away, you say?
That may be true. Clevelanders, after all, are used to their own moving away. It happens in a town that struggles economically. But this is kind of like a car crash. Somebody might not mean to plow into the passenger side of the car, and they may apologize. But the car is still damaged -- and may never run the same again.
Why do people dislike LeBron James?
---Game 5 against Boston when he was with Cleveland, a blatant non-effort if ever there was one. James quit in that game. Didn't even try. Had teammates saying privately they understood if he was upset about something, but what he did hurt the team. It was an effort that made George Costanza's shrinkage pale. In a key moment, a vital game, a superstar stood in the corner and watched. In front of a home crowd that adored him for seven years.
---The constant cry that there was never enough talent around him in Cleveland. Interesting. After Miami lost Game 5 in these playoffs, some folks were saying the Cavs in 2008 were a better team than the Heat in 2010.
--He has "Chosen One" tattooed on his body, and his Twitter handle is "King James." Nicknames, yes, but he sure takes them seriously. To the point that he called himself "King" in high school. King of what, exactly?
--His statement that he wanted to be a "global icon." Which would be spelled g-l-o-b-a-l-i-c-o-n.
--The way he ripped his shirt off his back when he played his last game for Cleveland, as if the thought of keeping it on would give him cooties or something.
--His comment after that Game 5 fiasco two years ago when he said he had spoiled people for so long.
--The elbow that seemed to magically injure and heal itself repeatedly in James' final playoff season in Cleveland.
--How he invited the Cavs, Bulls, Clippers and Knicks to that dog-and-pony show in downtown Cleveland to make their pitch to have him play there when he knew all along exactly what he was going to do.
--That rally in Miami after The Decision. That self-serving rally with those obnoxious comments and spotlights and fireworks and outrageous statements. Before they had ever played a game, this trio dubbed themselves "arguably the greatest ever to play the game." With forklifts and keys to the city of Miami Beach and Miami. That rally rewarded behavior that should be admonished. Mr. Van Gundy, if you'd care to see how to handle that kind of situation, go back and review the video of how the Celtics handled the acquisition via trade of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to go with Paul Pierce.
--James saying he went to Miami to win "Not one, not two, not three …" yada-yada-yada championships. As Charles Barkley has so eloquently pointed out, winning a championship is hard work. Real hard work. And there have been a lot of guys go through the NBA who gave every ounce of work they had only to see it not happen, including Barkley himself. For James and the other to talk so callously about winning "not five" was an insult to every player that came before them who didn't win.
--That gingham shirt.
--Cleveland gave James nothing but adoration for seven years. He responded not just by walking away, but by saying nothing about his walking away before walking away and by ignoring his team and coach and owner before he walked away. He found time to handle two or three mobile devices at once, but never had the time to return his owners call. Then he rubbed it in the face of the city on national television. It was about as classless a move as has been seen.
--He and his buddies colluded to form a super-team, never mind the NBA's willingness to turn away from the collusion. From the earliest moments of competing, kids pick sides by saying you choose, then I choose. Those who stack the team in their favor are looked on as prima donna bullies.
--The city of Akron held a rally for James at the University of Akron prior to The Decision. It had speakers, bands, the James grandmas, all those folks except James himself, who did not show up at his hometown event until it had ended and people were filing out. Good for him for showing, but there are many who suspect he only showed because the media badgered his PR guy so much he made James drive over.
--His comments that he joined Miami because he wanted to be with a team that would not "shrink in the moment." The smack in the background was his hand bouncing off the face of every one of his former teammates.
--He cried after winning a second-round series over Boston last year. Second round?
--His comment after losing in the Finals a year ago that the folks criticizing him or who didn't like him would return to their same lives and problems. All who heard were surely grateful.
Yes, LeBron James did apologize, did say he could have handled things differently. And yes, LeBron James is an incredible basketball player -- as he showed Thursday (Nice job, by the way, to the Boston "fans" who yelled at him and poured a drink on him as he left ... pure class). He's also been built up by some of the same media that now is tearing him down.
Folks in Cleveland get that, Mr. Van Gundy.
But it's not like LeBron James was an inanimate object the past two years, pushed here and there while he shrugged. He was an active participant, a guy who wanted the fame, the adoration and the multi-millions that go with his ability but not the criticism that goes with it.
The LeBron James of the past two years has earned the dislike with his air of entitlement and self -glorification.
That, Mr. Van Gundy, is why people do not like him.