With King James retweeting the racist messages he received on Twitter, Scott Raab breaks down the passion play that continues to surround one of the NBA's premiere players.
Since LeBron James—or, as I have come to think of him, the Whore of Akron—recently went public with some of the vilest of the racist crap spewed at him on Twitter while telling the press, "I just want you guys to see what type of words are being said toward me and towards us as professional athletes," I've had to take a long, hard look at my own position on this subject.
My position regarding LeBron James and hatred could not be more simple or clear: I hate LeBron James. I could waste time parsing that hatred—I do not wish to see harm of any sort befall his loved ones, for example, but I would be happy if he blew out both knees and an elbow before ever taking the court again in an NBA game. It's just better to admit the truth plain: I am a hater.
I'm old enough to understand that my hatred of LeBron says more about me than him. After all, what sort of sad sack hates someone who is more or less—I hung around the Cavaliers a lot last season, working on a book, but had only a few brief exchanges with King James—a stranger? (Were we speaking of a figure like Hitler or Stalin, the case for stranger-hate is easy to make, but Bron is closer to the Pope or Glenn Beck, a polarizing creature of great fame and considerable influence, but no mass murderer.) What sort of person hates at all?
First of all, a hater is angry, hurt, and helpless to do anything about his anger, hurt and helplessness. But hurt and helplessness are not produced by hatred; they come from what often, as in this case, precedes hate: love.
I loved LeBron James. As a native Clevelander whose relationship to the Cavaliers, Indians, and Browns may be defined kindly as passionate—and maybe more accurately as sick—I loved having the best player in the league on my side, and I loved the redemption narrative he embodied and embraced: Local boy redeems long-suffering tribe. I thought we all were headed for the Promised Land, led by LeBron—our Moses, the soi disant Chosen One.
It was not unsullied love. When he wore a Yankees cap to Jacobs Field for the opening game of a playoff series, I saw him—and wrote about him—as stupid, worthless scum. It was clear then that he might not stay with the Cavaliers for his whole career, that he was essentially a self-centered jerk who cared nothing about the fans who adored him; in short, that he just another pro athlete whose stunted adolescence would last his lifetime. My son threw his LeBron jersey into a trashcan and I stopped paying homage to the Cavs.
My spiritual boycott lasted through most of the 2008-9 season, until I realized that LeBron was getting even better, and the Cavs had put together a team capable of winning it all. And so I let myself fall in love all over again—because I am something even more loathsome than a hater: I also am a front-runner. As a lifelong Cleveland fan, I make no excuse for this beyond pointing out that no fans in the world of pro sports have been so ravaged by loss for so many years—all while watching a once-great city crumble unto dust.
They didn't win it all, of course. They lost to Orlando. I didn't love LeBron any less for that; he and the team went down fighting. And I found myself believing that next year—last season—my hometown would see the fairy tale come true. And I decided I would write a book about it.
That fairy tale not only didn't come true: It came undone in the worst possible way. I watched it happen up close, and I witnessed something I'd never seen: A Cleveland team quit. Led by King James, facing a Boston Celtics team playing at a level of ferocity and skill nobody foresaw, the Cavs simply laid down and died in Games 5 and 6. By the end of the end, with their coach frantically urging them on, they actually let the clock run out on the season without even attempting to come back.
I saw something else that shocked me: The Whore of Akron took to defeat with great calm. He held himself accountable only for having "spoiled" Cavs fans with his brilliance. He hid in silence—about a possible elbow injury, about the rumors of his mother's sexual dalliance with a teammate, about his lack of fighting spirit and leadership—for two months, until The Decision.
I hated seeing that team lose; seeing them quit was worse. I hated losing LeBron to free agency; seeing how he chose to do it was worse. His faults—his stupidity, his narcissism, his utter fraudulence—have played out for all the world to see. They are despicable traits. They made a grim situation—for Cleveland and for the Cavs—much, much worse. And I hope and trust that they will continue to reveal themselves in his game, on and off the court, and lead him to quick ruin.
It was Jesse Jackson who first played the race card for LeBron, in response to a letter from Dan Gilbert, the Cavs' owner. The other day, when LeBron himself did it, he didn't mention that he himself had encouraged the tweeting mass, that he himself called it "Hater Day" and urged them on. As always with LeBron, he was not accountable for a poor result. He was a victim.
I'd like to think that my own hatred of the Whore of Akron is free of racism's taint, but that's bullshit. At some level, it has to be a factor, because we are products of an America where race will always be a factor. It is an undeniable factor in the relationships between white fans—and sportswriters—and athletes of color. Sometimes, it is a huge factor.
All I can say is that, thanks to LeBron, I have much richer reasons to hate him than mere racism. Some of my favorite folks are African-American, but none of them has broken my heart and shit on my hometown. Etta James came close—but that's a different story.
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