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A Hater’s Appreciation of LeBron James

I’m an admitted LeBron James hater. I’ve never liked his demeanor on the court, his personality or the way he carries himself. I’m what I like to call a “Hating LeBron Hipster,” because I was hating LeBron way before it was cool. I was hating LeBron James when he was carrying Larry Hughes, Antawn Jamison, Drew Gooden and others while beating up on the Ben Gordon era Chicago Bulls.

But even as an NBA fan who has never liked James, I can openly admire his greatness. And you should be able to do the same, Mr. LeBron Hater. I know it’s difficult, but those that say he’ll never be Michael Jordan, or that Larry Bird was better, or that he couldn’t win without surrounding himself with two other superstars and Pat Riley can just hush. Those things either don’t matter or aren’t true.

Let’s back this up a bit and expose why a lot of people don’t like LeBron James. For me, I didn’t like his entitled attitude. My basketball formative years were spent watching the try-hard Bulls. Although I caught the end of the Jordan era and the ugly post-Jordan era, I spread my wings as a basketball fan watching young Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, Tyson Chandler, Andres Nocioni and Gordon give full effort every game, because they had to do that to win games.

In Cleveland, James appeared to coast on talent and reputation. It seemed like he got nearly every single call, but somehow was constantly whining to the refs. When his teams were winning, he’d dance on the sidelines during timeouts. He couldn’t take criticism, and he often acted like the child that he essentially still was, having come into the league straight out of high school.

But not everyone hated LeBron back then. The bandwagon really filled up in the “Summer of LeBron,” when he kept his new team choice close to the chest, causing daily speculation. As much as we all forget everything but our anger over “The Decision,” we all wanted LeBron to sign with our team. At one time, it was actually believed that if he was going to leave Cleveland, it would have been to sign with Chicago, which boasted a young Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and cap space.

As everyone knows, he took his talents to South Beach, and they had a run of four consecutive trips to the NBA Finals and won two championships. Eventually, he chose to go back to Cleveland, which was likely a combination of missing his home, remorse over how he left in the first place and the natural human emotions inside of him that was craving to not be the “bad guy.” And that’s where we come to the appreciation of LeBron James: Great Basketball Player.

I hate the Jordan comparisons, because they aren’t fair. James and Jordan are different sizes, played different positions and their basketball strengths are different. They played in incomparable eras of basketball with different rules. But since so many want to compare him to Jordan, let’s give it a look. When Jordan retired in 1993 after the Bulls won their third consecutive championship, he left behind a team that won 57 games. The next season, that team won 55 games minus Jordan.

When LeBron left Cleveland to go to Miami, he left behind a team that won 61 games. With much of the same roster the next year, minus LeBron and the ghost of Shaquille O’Neal, the Cavs won just 19 games. Flip that around, and look at the fact that James came back to a Cavs team that won a total of 97 games in the four years he was gone, and he has a team whose second best player in the playoffs has been J.R. Smith (or perhaps Tristan Thompson) on the verge of the NBA Finals.

Something LeBron has done much better during his career than Jordan did in his is make his teammates better. That’s not to say Jordan didn’t, but LeBron is far better. It’s hard not to appreciate the fact that James is dragging a M.A.S.H. unit to the his fifth straight NBA Finals, and even has a chance to win the whole thing, simply based on his talent, effort and ability to make those around him better. It’s kind of amazing to watch.

Some argue that James got bailed out by Ray Allen‘s last-second miracle shot and Chris Bosh‘s first ever offensive rebound in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals against the Spurs, a game in which San Antonio seemed to have wrapped up in the final minute. That’s probably fair, and had the Spurs won that game, LeBron would have received quite a bit of criticism over his two missed three-pointers with under 24 seconds remaining in the game.

But he set the world on fire in Game 7 of that series, scoring 37 points and grabbing 12 rebounds to clinch his second championship. Jordan had bad games in the Finals too, you know. Michael put up 9-for-26 shooting in Game 5 of the 1998 Finals, in which he could have eliminated the Utah Jazz and clinched his final championship on his home court. It doesn’t diminish the fact that he did win that ring, and the same can be said about James.

LeBron is going to go down as one of the greatest ever to play the game, whether we like him or not. His place among the game’s greatest players is completely earned, which is hard to admit, given that I still really don’t like him. Although he doesn’t dance anymore during games, he still whines when he doesn’t get calls, flops and acts like a baby when he loses.

Joakim Noah was spot on when he said that LeBron and his Miami Heat were “Hollywood as hell.” But he also said “but they’re very good,” too. It’s a fitting description of LeBron James: he’s Hollywood as hell, but he’s also very good. And there’s nothing wrong with hating the Hollywood but appreciating how good he is.

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