Lebron has no public vices. He doesn’t have a gambling problem like Barkley and Jordan did. He’s not out driving drunk like Ty Lawson. He is not punching out staff-members and breaking his hand like Blake Griffin. He doesn’t tear down the freeway at over 100 MPH like Jahlil Okafor. He doesn’t find himself at strip clubs or getting into fights like all-too-many athletes. He’s never been caught with Marijuana in his backpack like Melo. He isn’t getting arrested for domestic violence like Allen Iverson, Dennis Rodman, or Jason Kidd. Instead, Lebron is a supportive and loving husband and father. He spends time going to his sons’ AAU games and hanging out with Warren Buffett, learning how to be smart with his business affairs rather than frittering away his hard-earned money. Yet, Lebron James remains a polarizing figure in NBA circles. No matter what he does, there will be haters.
In the wake of David Blatt being fired as Head Coach of the East-leading Cavs, this week Lebron has faced scrutiny and accusations that he is a coach-killer. Lebron responded with, “What do you guys want me to do, turn my brain off because I have a huge basketball IQ?”
I believe it is in that response that we find the polarizing characteristic of Lebron James. When you look at the disdain some people have for Lebron, much of it began from “taking his talents to South Beach.” Last year in the Finals, much was made when Lebron was asked in a post-game interview why he felt the Cavs still had a chance to win the series and he responded, “Because I’m the best player in the world. That simple.” Now the comment about his huge basketball IQ. Ironically, at the time the statements were made, all of them were true and everyone knew it. But people hold it against him. That said, this arrogance seems to rub some people the wrong way. I believe that his other-worldly talent, paired with this arrogance makes Lebron a lightning rod for criticism and no matter what he does, the haters will come out to try to make Lebron look bad at every opportunity.
So, is Lebron actually responsible for the Blatt firing?
When I was a 12 years old, I really wanted a nice new leather basketball. As one of thirteen children, I always felt a little hesitant to ask for what in my mind was an expensive gift for Christmas, which meant that I usually asked for a “surprise”. My parents knew how much I loved basketball and I had dropped several hints that I really wanted a new basketball for Christmas. Christmas morning came and I was “surprised” that year with a brand new Wilson Jet-Pro. I loved that ball and loved my parents that much more for getting it for me. It was just what I wanted. I was “responsible” for getting that basketball, because it was what I wanted.
It is in this way, and only this way, that Lebron is responsible for the David Blatt firing. Lebron is smart and knows that he cannot ask his franchise to fire a coach without getting the label that is the death-wish of all professional athletes–coach killer. So, Lebron did what I did as a 12-year old and he didn’t ask for what he wanted. I’m sure LBJ dropped a few hints about “what he wanted for Christmas” and Management knew Lebron well enough to know that Blatt wasn’t his favorite coach in the world. It was obvious to them that he had a good relationship with Tyron Lue. I believe Cavs management when they said that they did not consult LBJ on the decision to let Blatt go. Perhaps they didn’t want to spoil the surprise. Lebron James signed a one-year contract, which gives him an extreme power–the power of free-agency. Cavs Management knows that if they are not doing everything in their power to put the Cavs in the position to win championships, they risk having Lebron walk…again. So, after seeing Blatt’s continued failure of being able to mix the talents of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, the Cavs did what any franchise would do and gave Lebron, still arguably the best player in the world, what he wanted for Christmas. And Lebron appreciated it.
If you are unhappy with the Blatt firing, if you believe it is an “embarrassment for the league,” like Rick Carlisle said it was, if you feel like Blatt didn’t get a fair shot, then blame Cavs management for caving in to the desires of their prize player. Don’t hate Lebron for it.
As a die-hard Utah Jazz fan growing up, I spent years of my life defending Greg Ostertag. In 1998 the Jazz signed a 24-year old Ostertag to a 6-year 39 million dollar contract extension. He had just come off a season averaging 4.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks. Over those next six seasons, Jazz fans hammered on Ostertag for his big contract, his under performance, his conditioning, and everything else they could think of despite the fact that Ostertag’s production and conditioning remained consistent with his pre-contract production–not great. I defended “Tag” for one reason: it was not his fault the Jazz had overpaid him. I have never seen a professional athlete tell a team offering a huge contract, “Oh, I am not worth that much, please offer me half of that.” Ostertag was overpaid, but it wasn’t his fault. The Jazz new what he was when they offered him the contract.
Similar to Jazz fans hating on Greg Ostertag, too many NBA fans hate on Lebron for something that is simply not his fault. Is Lebron the first star to overturn a coach on a play call when the game is on the line? Absolutely not. Is LBJ the first star player not to look to the bench to get a play call from the coach? I don’t think so. So, why is it a story when Lebron does it? It is a story because the management group of the Cavs saw the friction between their star player and his coach, and fired the coach because of it. It is not Lebron’s fault that Blatt was fired. The Cavs simply gave him what he wanted, without him asking. I dare say every team in the league would have done the same thing had it meant they could have Lebron James (and his huge basketball IQ) on their team.
If you want to hate Lebron, attack him for his arrogance, his cocky statements in the media or something else within his control, but don’t hate him because David Blatt was fired. That wasn’t his fault.