By Anthony Strait
Amidst the Miami Heat NBA Finals loss to the Dallas Mavericks was perhaps the biggest soap opera the sporting world has ever seen over the last year. LeBron James in one year has become the most hated figure in sports and the face of the most hated team, following years of being a media darling.He is by far one of the game’s best players, but the way he has handled things since walking off the court for the final time as a Cleveland Cavalier has exposed a major flaw in his character:
Career-wise he chose a smaller payday for a presumably-easy road to a championship by playing with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. He thought it was going to be a cake walk, famously declaring he intended to win “not four, not five, not six, not seven titles” but more, months before the team had played its first game.
And as you might have already heard, Dallas proved otherwise. And any New York Knicks fans watching over the last week should be thinking one thing to themselves: maybe James spurning MSG for South Beach wasn’t such a bad thing after all.
The Knicks, like several other teams, glamoured at the idea of James wearing their colors. Like several other teams however they were burned as LeBron held the national media hostage for an hour last summer when he announced he was going to Miami. James took his talents to South Beach but left his class on the floor of the TD Bank Garden after the Celtics sent him home for the summer. From that point on everything he did made the NBA fans hate him more, and made his visits to Gotham even more special.
The reason it is special because it takes a rare breed to want the spotlight. You have to want to be the man to play in New York, something LeBron decided not to be when he chose to play with other superstars. The way he handled the pressure on and off the court just proved that the Big Apple would have ate him alive. James didn’t want the challenge and shying away will never do here.
It’s what makes Derek Jeter so special to the Yankees for so long. For all the overrated chants and taunts he gets, he always handled it the right way and his play always backed it up. Patrick Ewing, for all those years he carried the Knicks on his back, never had that second scorer till late in his career that may have gotten him that elusive ring. He embraced being the man and faced the expectations of a savior head-on. Same goes with Mark Messier who 17 years ago led the Rangers to the promise land and won the Stanley Cup, forever silencing the chants of “1940.”
Jeter. Ewing. Messier. Lebron. One of these guys is not like the others.
Which brings us to what was looked at as a consolation prize last summer in Amar’e Stoudemire. The Knicks gave him that extra money and year that the Suns would not, and he signed on the dotted line. From day one he took on the role that LeBron passed up and worked to make the Knicks his team. Even after the trade for Carmelo Anthony there was a sense that STAT was the leader of the team.
Ironically, James willingness to be just one of the guys put him more under a microscope than ever before. His lack of ability to owe up to the moment during the Finals made it clear that he would not have been the guy New York needed.
James still can’t figure out why fans turned on him after “The Decision.” It wasn’t that he left Cleveland. People understood. He was a free agent. It’s his right to move to another team. It was just the idea that James wasn’t willing to work for a title, that he arranged a championship, rather than earning one. Off the court, his arrogance and ignorance had the media picking their shots daily. Hard to imagine the scrutiny would have been less had he came to the Knicks but 90%of the world population wouldn’t be rooting against them all the time.
Lebron James will have the whole off season to think about the past year, but Knicks fans can be grateful that his attitude will still remain in South Beach-because in a New York minute everything could have been different. After this past week, it’s hard to imagine that.
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