SINGAPORE — Ahhh yes… the NBA postseason – where new fans are made.
Never have I seen such bandwagonry as I have this year (I’ll get to that later), and oh how the mighty have fallen!
It has been a bizarre year to say the least, marred by a player lockout which threatened the entire season, shortening it to a measly 66 games – enough to keep hardcourt enthusiasts interested in the league.
After a gruelling regular season, it’s June once again and we find ourselves back in the NBA Finals. The usual suspects are gone – the mighty – the Los Angeles Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs who were ousted quite easily, including last year’s champion Dallas Mavericks who were humiliated in the first round.
All 3 teams were helplessly destroyed by the surging Thunder.
Now that a lot of west coast fans’ favorite teams are out of the playoff picture, Oklahoma City seems just the perfect squad to root for. Essentially, it has become the Miami Heat versus the rest of the world.
The Miami bandwagon
Yet, never have I seen as many fairweather fans as I have filling up the Miami bandwagon right now – simply saying that it’s at full capacity is an understatement.
In fact, it’s more like a ship, rocking and swaying on the sea of exile, ready to sink at any moment.
Should the Heat lose this commanding 3-1 series lead they have built for themselves, I reckon that ship would be all but abandoned save for a few diehard faithfuls.
The bandwagon is rife with people claiming to be Miami Heat fans, or hoop fans for that matter, who can’t even tell the difference between a basketball and a soccer ball – and they come in droves.
It’s like a crowd of eagerly worshipping peasants who’ve come to bow down at the feet of their king.
Which brings me to LeBron James, popularly known as King James – and his distinct style of play that has won him this year’s Maurice Podoloff trophy for Most Valuable Player.
Fairweather fans, if you don’t know him, he’s the guy who wears #6 and has that smirk on his face like he’s about to win his first NBA title. Yes, that guy. The one who’s been giving your beloved Heat a near 30 and 15 consistently throughout the postseason.
But even with all that talent the hate for this man is out of this world — it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
If you have to ask yourself why people hate LeBron James so much, then you’re not a real fan – you’re merely along for the ride.
The hate is due largely to the way he handled “The Decision,” circa 2010. It was a show of arrogance.
James basically told a Cleveland team and an entire city, in front of the whole world, broadcast live on national television, that he was done with them and the lack of talent that surrounded him. It was obvious he was going nowhere with the Cavs and wanted to “take his talents to South Beach.”
The publicity stunt was a huge mistake on his part and possibly caused irreparable damage to his image.
Things got worse in Miami when James, Wade and Bosh again made a big deal out of the “new big 3” and Heat fans were quick to crown a new NBA powerhouse.
When LeBron James was asked by reporters if he came to Miami to win an NBA title, he arrogantly responded with the following, “Not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven” obviously alluding to the impression that he intended to win multiple championships.
His image again took a huge hit.
The people of Cleveland ended up hating him for all of it and the hate kind of rubbed off on everyone else.
This happened after Jerry West, ‘The Logo’, was quoted as saying “If I had to have somebody make a last-second shot, it would be Kobe Bryant. But even though it’s hard for me to be objective, because I brought Kobe to Los Angeles, I do think LeBron has surpassed Kobe as a player.”
West of course, was the one who discovered Kobe Bryant, later dubbing him as the greatest scorer to ever play the game (keyword is scorer, Jordan fans – that’s a different argument so don’t get me started).
This drew the ire of Bryant’s fans (and there are a lot of them), and turned them on James.
It also doesn’t help at all that James is every bit as talented as Jerry West says he is.
James’ brand of super-efficient basketball is like a well-oiled machine, he always makes the right plays and his performance is good enough to dominate close games – or to build sizable leads which are oftentimes insurmountable.
Yet when it comes down to crunch time, much of the responsibility is diverted to the Heat’s two other superstars — the low post authority in Chris Bosh and the battle tested Dwyane Wade.
Which is again, another point scored in favor of LeBron haters.
The fact that James is notorious for leg cramps in NBA Finals games just makes matters worse (Game 4 was not the first cramp he’s experienced in the postseason, he cramped up back in the 2006-2007 NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs when he played for the Cavaliers).
LeBron James has always been the man, even back in his high school days playing for the St. Vincent-St. Mary’s Fighting Irish, but as brilliant as he’s always been, his NBA career has been muddled so far by ineffective fourth quarters in what would otherwise be highly efficient play.
All that could change in the near future.
Here he is on the verge of winning his first championship.
Respect for the King
For all of James ups and downs, for all his acts of arrogance, having been shot up into the limelight only to be shot back down by collective criticism and spite — the journey has brought him here, one win away from clinching an NBA title.
To all the haters, and fans alike, let bygones be bygones.
The fact of the matter is, LeBron James is one heck of a basketball player and he’s got a great supporting cast with two legitimate all-stars in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh playing alongside him.
The Miami Heat didn’t get to this point by being babied and carried throughout the playoffs, they got to this point the old-fashioned way – through hard work and perseverance, and steady play.
Many of you will find it hard, to find a soft spot in your heart for the King.
Regardless, as true basketball fans – if you’ve ever called yourself one – it’s not about pride now, it’s not about the past, it’s about the future.
It’s about respect. Respect the game and LeBron’s extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime talent.
In the words of Kanye West, “Love your haters, they are your biggest fans”.
If you’re going to hate, then hate that LeBron is blessed by the basketball gods with unimaginable talent. Hate that he has a monstrous physique that allows him to be strong enough to dominate the post, yet quick and agile enough to outspeed anyone out on the perimeter.
Hate that he improved his outside shot, so you can’t call him ‘LeBrick’ anymore. Hate that he doesn’t fade in 4th quarters as much as he used to, not as much as ‘LeChoke’ used to.
No matter how much you twist it around, hate is a very strong word – something which, if you appreciate true skill and talent, has no place in basketball. – Rappler.com
Carlos Cinco is Rappler’s boxing analyst and a sports contributor. Read his boxing stories at www.fightcardboxing.net and follow him on Twitter: @CarlosCincoFCB. All opinions expressed in this article are his own.