The Autopsy Report: Lebron James and the Reinvention of Hate

Lebron james 2

I really don’t write about sports, but here goes.

Let me put a few things in full disclosure before I start:

  1. I got the idea of “reinvention” from the homie Kyle Brooks.
  2. I’m from Chicago, and will always rep the home teams.  That is to say, I’m not some super fan of either the Spurs nor the Heat.

Now that that’s done, let’s get started.

The question on the table that was played out on Twitter all last night and the majority of this past week was whether or not the one and only Lebron Raymone James was worth all the hype.  Based on the stats: the triple doubles, the MVP awards, the rings (yes, we can say plural now), the resounding answer is YES, he’s definitely worth all the hype.

I’ll never forget starting my first year of college and hearing about this Lebron James, anointed as King James character in his senior year of high school entering the draft and how everyone really was doing automatic comparisons to him and Michael Jordan.  He got drafted #1 to the Caveliers in 2003 and we all know how that ended.  It ended pretty badly.  The Cavs made it to the playoffs, but it was clear that with the coaching and with the team that James could very well be on that team his whole career and not see a championship.

Without any question, for me, the moment I somewhat cooled on Lebron, as did half the basketball watching public, was when he made The Decision as a free agent in 2010.  For me it wasn’t so much that he left Cleveland, I’m sure deep down people saw it coming, it was how he did it.  Lebron, and the other players of his age represented this new image of the NBA and Lebron’s “decision” rightly, if not uncomfortably, fit into that image.

Allen Iverson
One of today’s NBA players wouldn’t be caught dead wearing oversized jean shorts and oversized baggy white tee. However, one of the #1 hip hop songs in 2005 was “White Tee” by Dem Franchize Boyz

Now before going further, let’s be clear the face of the NBA has changed from when I was a kid.  The game itself has changed obviously from rules changes and now this forced instant review crap, but the face and the image of players has changed.  Still the NBA is around 80% black, but it’s no longer characterized by the personal life struggles the likes of Latrell Sprewell to Allen Iverson to Ron Artest and even Dennis Rodman, but now seen as place replete fashion icons from Russell Westbrook to Dwayne Wade and Lebron James and Dwight Howard.

I grew up in the inner city of Chicago, under the statue of the famous 23 outside of the United Center as just a hallmark for what it meant to be a Chicagoan, and very much the story of Jesus Shuttlesworth in Spike Lee’s “He Got Game” was very much the dominant narrative of how many of the black players arrived in the NBA.  A story like that of Grant Hill was not the story that was considered common.  The likes of black NBA players sporting cornrows to the wild afro of Ben Wallace, prompted David Stern to implement the dress code which was highly controversial of a white guy forcing the mostly black players to dress a certain way.  The likes of AI and Paul Pierce took vocal exception saying it was specifically targeted at the current fashion which was steeped in baggy clothes, oversized throwback jerseys, gold chains, headphones and the like.  Allegedly it was to combat the fallout after the infamous Piston and Pacers brawl where Artest went into the stands and the Pistons fans acted horrid by throwing popcorn and other drinks on the Pacers players.

russell westbrook
Granted, I would wear this outfit, some of Westbrook’s fashion isn’t to my tastes. But note the difference between styles and actual fashion cuts of clothing styled for Westbrook versus Iverson.

Since then, yes, since the dress code, we’ve seen a change in the face of the NBA.  I want to be clear in saying I think it had nothing to do with the dress code implemented by Stern inasmuch as the image of youth and hip hop culture changed in America.  Shortly after 2006, hip hop fashion changed and changed dramatically.  A hard U turn was made from the oversized baggy clothes to the men wearing the slim fit and skinny jeans.  Clothes actually were fitting the body.  Gone were the days of the oversized double breasted suit, or the multi buttoned jacket that would make you think it was the button panel in the elevator of a skyscraper.  Now the 6’5″ plus men were getting European slim fit suits, two or one button mind you, that allowed them to reclaim an image that was their own.

Somewhere around the time we entered the Age of Obama, black culture shifted in the sense that the appearances and the texture of the culture moved.  I still think time will be the only teller of just what that shift really was and be able to pinpoint when it took place, but for the sake of this discourse, circa 2008 give or take a few years, blackness as we previously understood it changed.  And with it, the wider cultural acceptance of blackness changed as well.  When open debates are had on mainstream media about whether or not the President of the United States is black or not, and if he is, how black is he really, then indeed things have changed.

Along with the Age of Obama, the youth culture in the country has changed.  The rise of social media in the past seven years has metastasized and with it the reach of youth in this country dictating social mores and constructing their own matrices of values and ethics.  A black president who was connected on social media, I would argue, would make a difference as to how white suburbanites would view black people who live in the inner city as a whole who don’t often encounter blacks on a day to day basis.  Again, this provides a national stage for the likes of young players like Lebron James to participate in the changing face and image of the NBA.

But also, the 2000s stand as “the decade with no name,” and I would add, one where the “center does not hold” to the point where it was impossible in the past 10 years to figure out what was coming next.  Lebron James, as did many of us, had to navigate our burgeoning adulthood in a time that was bookended by the 9/11 attacks on one end and a economic recession that seemed to somewhat normalize American excess and culture.  This was a decade, much like the Roaring Twenties I may add (yes, this is a The Great Gatsby reference) where were told as youth that we could do and have it all, and all at the same time.  We could have the money, the cars the clothes, even the hoes as Drake once reminded us, and that’s all we need to be successful.

I said all that to say, I get it.

I get what Lebron Raymone James decided to make The Decision.  But that doesn’t mean that I still have to like it.

Since he decided to take his talents to South Beach and join up with Wade and Bosh to form the Big Three, it’s been a relatively easy ride to these two back to back rings.  But fundamentally, personalities aside, what bothered me about it, and I have Average Bro to thank for finding the words for what I was ingloriously ignorant when it came to sports was this:

I have nothing against Lebron James as a person (seems like an awesome family guy) or a player (arguably the best athlete on the planet right now), I simply don’t like the SuperTeam concept that Miami assembled to essentially purchase a title. If the SuperTeam prevails, it’s essentially a death knell for smaller market (ie: The New Orleans Pelicans) or traditionally undesirable (ie: my Washington Wizards) franchises. Good players will have all the leverage and and strongarm their way to a handful of destinations like New York, Miami, and LA. Fans in the rest of the NBA cities will basically be relegated to second tier status unless they somehow managed to draft and retain a once in a generation talent (ie: OKC). [emphasis added]

It’s not so much Lebron as it is the system.  But, since he embodies so much of the system he’s a part of, the target rests on him and not the overall system.  One part of me marvels at the brilliance of Pat Riley to come up with this idea of the SuperTeam and wants to give a big round of applause.  The other part of me is just a general hater because my teams hadn’t thought of it first.

Another part, as I said earlier, is how Lebron did it.  Lebron walked in as the anointed heir to the Greatest of All Time throne of Michael Jordan; to join the ranks of Bill Russell (which he somewhat already has done as of last night), and Julius Irving and the like, but the frustrations of a man who feels and acts and plays like the greatest to be shut out of greatness for those eight long years in Cleveland resulted in him being somewhat of a jerk in the public eye when it came to his interviews and some of his interactions with the press.  Even by his own admission, he’s said he would have handled it differently when it came to The Decision, but he wouldn’t have changed his decision to go to Miami.

The challenge is that The Decision left such a sour taste in the mouths of Clevelanders (or is it Clevelandites) as well as other general NBA fans that it’s still present today three years later.  As a result we NBA fans have had to find ways to reinvent the hate because for all intents and purposes Lebron is a likable guy and is clearly a BEAST on the court.  It seems as though there are more reasons to really like him than there are to hate on him.  Last night some were saying his shaking the dust off of the haters in his small acceptance interview on the floor as he held the Larry O’Brien Trophy in one hand and the Bill Russell MVP trophy in the other was a sign of maturity.

Listen, I can’t worry about what everybody says about me.  I’m LeBron James, from Akron, Ohio, from the inner city. I’m not even supposed to be here. That’s enough. Every night I walk into the locker room, I see a No. 6 with James on the back. I’m blessed. So what everybody says about me off the court, don’t matter. I ain’t got no worries.”

That’s up for debate.  His demeanor said otherwise; he had the look of an entitled king who was finally crowned what he believed was his and destined for no one else.

Therein lies the rub.

My mother always told me the story of a high school teacher who gave her a B on an assignment to which she challenged the teacher.  The teacher responded, “Because you didn’t work as hard as the others.”  Essentially, all of us the haters who are still hating on Lebron James are essentially saying that: you didn’t work as hard to get the rings as the rest of the NBA did.  That’s what I’m saying to Pat Riley and the Heat, you didn’t work as hard as Bulls did since 1998 trying to rebuild a team after falling from the actual top of the game, to the literal bottom shortly after MJ left.

Haters are going to still hate on Lebron, and I would encourage one to turn that disgust to a system, if that’s what you’re really disappointed about.  If you want to call on William Rhoden and discuss the conveyor belt in which these black athletes participate in a slaveocracy as $40 million slaves, then fine, be my guest.    If you want to take issue with the popular culture that allowed Lebron’s “decision” to be such a spectacular event, then again, you’d have my support.  We can even talk about Lebron’s on court whining, his insufferable ability to flop despite the penalty instituted, but I do think the time has come and gone in which it’s okay to hate on Lebron just because he’s that good.

Trust me, Chris Bosh is somewhere smirking and photobombing, he’s an easier target to hate than Lebron.

chris bosh photobomb

And then there’s this.

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully


4 thoughts on “The Autopsy Report: Lebron James and the Reinvention of Hate

  1. Interesting analysis. I don’t disagree with the Superteam critique but the NBA has suffered from this for decades. The 80’s NBA had the Lakers (Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Kareem Adul Jabbar) and the Celtics (Bird, McHale, and Parish). However, the difference is neither organization spent nearly as much money as current teams like the Heat spend to assemble these super teams. I agree there is a lot of unjustified hate of Lebron James but some of the critique is substanitive. For example, he was given and continues to be given a basketball stature that he has not lived up to, but this is not his fault. It is the fault of the business of basketball that sought desperately to revive through Lebron James the very lucrative mega superstar athelete days of the 90’s created by MJ. So Lebron hate may be unfair but its also understandable.

    1. Lebron James, just like the movie He Got Game, was brought in with all of this fanfare, and 11 years into the game, based on the hype he should have been on MJs level by now, and he’s not. I think even if they get a 3 peat, no one’s going to be calling him GOAT, which as I agree with you, isn’t his fault.

  2. As bad as people hate Lebron for “The Decision” they seem to neglect or don’t realize that the special aired by espn raised $2.5M for The Boys and Girls Club of America. Besides, it’s not like the Heat were the first to do it. Boston did it when KG and Ray Allen came and they won a championship their first year together. Karl Malone and Gary Payton went to La in 2004 strictly to try and win a title. Hell even Kareem left milwaukee and went to LA to win more titles (though he did win one with the Bucks). So this whole.super team concept is nothing new. Lebron just brought it to the forefront.

    1. I mean, Chris Paul left the Pelicans (nee the Hornets) in search for a title. I can respect that, I think it was just HOW he did it that bothers me. Moreover, in the 11 years that Lebron has been in the game, I don’t think he’s lived up to the hype at ALL. He came into the league as gunning for MJ’s position of greatness in less than 5 years, it still hasn’t happened yet.

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