Sports columnists must love LeBron James. Not only does he provide fanciful fodder during the regular season and permit them to wax rhapsodic as witnesses during the playoffs, but even when his season is done, he gives them the material they need for their next-day opinions.
James' Cavaliers lost Saturday to the Magic, and 24 hours later, the game was yesterday's news, disappearing from headlines quicker than James stormed out of Amway Arena. James avoided the customary post-series handshakes and declined to answer dais questions about his future, which made him easy prey for any columnist. Journalists were going to write about James anyway. He's the story. Given James' magic on the basketball court — the fact that, for two rounds, he conned people into thinking a one-man team could make the playoffs look like exhibitions against Akron U. — the press was going to be positive, no matter the outcome of the series. There was nothing to criticize.
But James' refusal to shake hands with the Magic proved that he is not, in fact, above criticism. Columnists have pounced on the blatant lack of sportsmanship, contrasting James' post-game demeanor with that of the superstars before him. The irony here, though, is that it wasn't leaving the floor that has doomed James. What's drawn the preachy lectures and fleeting controversy was his defense of it the next day:
"It's hard for me to congratulate somebody after you just lose to them. I mean, I'm a winner. That's not being a poor sport or anything like that. Somebody beat you up, you're not going to congratulate them on beating you up. I'm a competitor. That's what I do. It don't make sense to me to go up and shake somebody's hand."
Yes, after the game, James should have done what columnists have retrospectively advised. But none of that would have mattered if he had woken up Sunday morning and texted one reporter that he regretted his actions, that he was wrong to act like a prissy Little Leaguer. Doesn't matter if he meant it, nor does it matter if he felt no remorse. Athletes say a lot of things they don't mean.
The moral of the story isn't to be gracious in losing, even though that's fine and dandy. It's that James should learn to stop the PR blaze before it gets really hot — that's when he was burned.
LeBron didn't shake hands; so what? [Newsday]
Hey LeBron, it's time to grow up [Fox Sports]
LeBron needs to take a lesson from another Cleveland icon [NBA.com]
LeBron should know respect is not a one-way street [Associated Press]