Deep down, LeBron James knows what’s gnawing at him.
It’s the reason he hasn’t been able to bask in all his accomplishments during his 17-year NBA career.
It’s the reason that on a glorious night — winning his fourth championship on Sunday night — he asked, er, begged for respect.
“I want just my damn respect,” James said to the media after the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Miami Heat in six games in the NBA Finals.
James, 35 wasn’t talking about the Skip Baylesses of the world. It’s deeper than just TV sports analysts and sports writers not being onboard the LeBron is the G.O.A.T. train.
It’s the other former NBA greats and some of his peers.
It would be easy to dismiss those who never laced them up and played on the hardwood at the highest level. But for people who have actually competed in that arena to join that choir, it has to be painful.
James acts as if it’s pure hate, jealousy.
Or this lack of total approval has to do with the ghost of Michael Jordan’s nearly spotless career.
LeBron hasn’t gotten his full due from the masses for a simple reason. He cheated us, cheated the game.
This isn’t a Patriots “SpyGate” or Astros “trash can” situation.
James cheated us from his journey. We wanted to see the blood, sweat and tears. We wanted to hear all the naysayers doubt his ability and talent. Most of all, we wanted to see him finally break through and punch his ticket as the prodigy that was promised when he came to the league straight from high school.
This was supposed to be an epic mini-series. It was supposed to be a seven-course meal, not an add water and stir meal.
Yes, LeBron took the easy way out. Instead of fighting for his place in NBA lore, he simply joined the guys he believed he couldn’t beat on his own.
He spoiled the end of the movie before it got to the good part.
James’ shortcut off the NBA interstate is hard for people to overlook or embrace — no matter how many records he sets or titles he wins.
With all his talent and potential, there was no need for James to have to stack the deck to win.
The Decision to leave Cleveland and take his talents to South Beach wasn’t just about doing it his way, taking control of his career and destiny.
It disrupted the NBA, ruined it, if you will. James altered the competitive balance. Without competition, your sport becomes the WWE.
James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh became the Harlem Globetrotters, and the rest of the league the Washington Generals. It was no shock they went to the NBA Finals all four years the trio was together.
It was a bad look.
The cool part about the NBA was that teams had to usually fight and claw their way to a title. There was a road though, a process that often had many disappointments along the way. But that’s what made it so special when you saw the “Bad Boy” Pistons finally get past the Boston Celtics and start winning titles.
The same with Jordan and the Bulls. They finally got past Detroit. And it was thrilling.
Many thought Jordan was a great player, but questioned if he ever was going to win a title. Don’t forget Jordan was drafted by the Terri-Bulls and it took a long seven years before he could raise his first championship trophy.
Sounds like James’ story in Cleveland, too.
Instead of gutting it out, believing in himself, James fled like a scared rabbit.
It would be hard to believe Jordan’s legend would be as great if he skipped to the Pistons because he couldn’t get past them. It would have changed the way we look at him.
That escape to Miami has done more damage than people want to admit. LeBron has moved around so much that his statue one day will have him holding a basketball — and a suitcase.
LeBron was set up to overcome again. First, he made it out of Akron, Ohio, to the NBA. Then he was going to overcome a bad franchise in Cleveland and make it a winner. What theater, what a payoff.
Instead of people marveling at his latest accomplishment, many had to watch LeBron put on a cut-rate Rodney Dangerfield act, asking for respect.
Respect isn’t given. It’s earned.
That’s what fans, the media and fellow players expected from James all along.