By In Stuff

Rooting Against LeBron

LeBron James is one win away from securing his first NBA championship. (Getty Images)

I could be imagining this — I was on vacation in L.A./Hollywood the last week with the family, so there were numerous hallucinations — but it seems to me that a lot of people are admonishing me for rooting against LeBron James. I don’t mean me personally, I mean all of us in the “We Hope LeBron James Fails Miserably Club.” Like I say, I could be imagining it, but it just feels like there have been many people lately who are writing and saying and tweeting that it’s unseemly or bitter or just plain wrong (perhaps even crazy) to root against LeBron.

I’ve decided I’m going to keep rooting against him anyway.

The vibe — if I’m feeling it right — is that it’s time to let go of the LeBron “Decision” to leave Cleveland. I would agree with with that. Of course I wish LeBron had stayed in Cleveland, and I certainly wish he had not left in such a crass manner. But such is life. LeBron seems to have some regrets about the way he handled things. That’s old news.

The vibe — if I’m feeling it right — is that LeBron is such a wonderful player that he deserves a championship. I would generally agree with that too. It’s always a little sad when great players — Ernie Banks, Dan Fouts, John Stockton and Karl Malone and so on — retire without a championship. LeBron is probably the most amazing basketball player I’ve ever seen. I’m not saying best — that’s still Jordan Island for me and there are others to consider — but if you break the game up into buckets like shooting, driving, passing, offensive rebounding, defensive rebounding, on-the-ball defense, help defense, ball handling, pick-setting and a hundred other things, I would say LeBron would fill more buckets than any player in NBA history. He’s the best player in the world right now. For this, a championship would be fitting.

The vibe — if I’m feeling it right — is that LeBron has paid his dues. This, too, I would agree with. He lugged some seriously flawed Cleveland teams deep into the playoffs, and I actually think this Miami team on the brink of a championship is really flawed too. I think without him, the Heat are first-round playoff losers. LeBron said a dumb thing here and there, he made a poor decision here and there, but all in all he has represented the game well enough, he has amazed a billion people around the world, he has led the way in making basketball popular for a new generation. I’m good with all that.

I’ve decided I’m going to keep rooting against him anyway.

It’s nothing personal. It really isn’t. When LeBron went down with cramps at the end of Game 4 in these NBA Finals, someone asked me: “How does that make you feel?” I said: “Terrible.” I don’t want LeBron to get hurt. I don’t want him to suffer pain. I just want him to lose basketball games.

This is one of the wonderful things about sports to me. It’s make believe. It’s a safe place to invest your emotions. I call the act of hating someone in sports “Clemenating,” and I just don’t think the games are nearly as much fun without it. In my life, I’ve gotten tremendous joy — and felt horrible pain — clemenating John Elway and Kevin McHale, Steve Carlton and Reggie Jackson, Roberto Duran and John McEnroe, on and on and on. There was never anything personal in any of it. I loved watching McEnroe play tennis, and I love listening to him as an announcer. I just wanted him to lose.

I think LeBron is better as a villain than he is as a superhero. I’ve seen LeBron from both sides now, and I can tell you: He’s way more fun to root against than he is to root for. In pro wrestling, you probably know, there are babyfaces* (good guys) and heels (bad guys). A few of the more gifted — Ric Flair above all — could be either one. But most cannot cross the line. They are the sort of wrestlers you can’t help but want to see win, can’t help but want to see lose. It comes from the gut. LeBron is a heel — at least I think so.

*Brilliant Reader fix from babies.

You, of course, are more than welcome to disagree. That’s the beauty of this. But I want LeBron to lose. Does the Decision have a little something to do with it? Probably. Does his cartoonish “not two, not three, not four” championships speech have a little something to do with it? Probably. Does his decision to build his own All-Star team to try to take over the NBA have something do with it? Probably. Does the hype that attaches to everything he does have something to do with it? Probably. Does the way he seems to get more questionable calls than others have something to do with it? I would have to say “probably” to all of it.

But none of it is the big reason. A couple of weeks ago, I found myself watching this tennis match between two players I had never heard of. They were playing some tournament I had never heard of. I had no idea what round it was, what was at stake, who was announcing. Nothing.

And as I watched for two hours — admittedly dozing off several times — it occurred to me that at no point did anything click. I didn’t start rooting for one or the other. When one guy took the first set, I didn’t hope the other guy came back. When I was ready to leave, I left and never once wondered who won. At no point at all did I develop any sort of buy in. Yet, I kept watching. It feels like, more and more, this is what sports viewing is becoming for me. There are so many sports on television, so many conferences, so many leagues, so many countries, so many games, that I find myself watching hour after hour without emotion. I’m watching to pass the time. I’m watching for entertainment. There’s nothing wrong with this kind of sports viewing — few things are more enjoyable for me than watching an Astros-Rockies or Hawks-Jazz game just for fun — but it’s not emotional. It’s not affecting. There’s no investment. It’s sports from a distance.

But LeBron — it’s up close. It’s personal. I care. I really care. I know that he probably will win a championship tonight. I know that he’s a force of nature. I know that Oklahoma City, as talented as the Thunder are, seems too raw and young to rise to the challenge*; I know that teams don’t come back from 3-1 deficits in the NBA Finals. I know that when tonight ends, I’ll probably be feeling a bit dejected and my Twitter account will fill up with Miami fans taunts. And rooting against LeBron will never be quite the same.

*Oklahoma City has been so frustrating to watch this series. It fouls on back-to-back three-point shots. It dribbles off its foot on the game-turning possession. It takes dumb and quick shots when it really needs to score. But I’ll say this: Miami will want to get the Thunder now. Because I’d take Oklahoma City’s future over Miami’s or any other team in sports right now.

That’s OK. I’ll be rooting against LeBron to the end. And if he loses tonight, if Oklahoma City somehow knocks off Miami, I’ll be happily dreaming about a comeback to end all comebacks — at least for one night. And it will be wonderful.

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45 Responses to Rooting Against LeBron

  1. Tom Vasich says:

    Far worse for a team to abandon a city than a player to abandon a team. Go Heat.

  2. Chris says:

    Far worse for somebody to abuse children.

    We’re playing the “apropos of nothing” game, right?

  3. Ian Thistle says:

    Clearly, since Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Scott Brooks, etc., were all deeply involved in the decision to move the Sonics, they deserve to lose.

    • frightwig says:

      If those guys want to go sign contracts with another team, I’ll be glad to see any of them win a title, then. I just want Clay Bennett, his partners, and OKC to lose. And as long as Clay Bennett signs his players’ paychecks, that means I want them to lose, too. More than I care about seeing LeBron James punished for the rest of his career for the insensitive way he handled his free agency, or because he and his friends were arrogant enough to think they could assemble their own championship team and had the bad taste to boast about it before they had even played a game together. Yeah, LeBron James, like lots of people, was a self-absorbed jerk. What Clay Bennett did, with the backing of David Stern, is far worse than that. Thuck the Funder, now and forever.

    • Unknown says:

      They could have been. They could have spoken out against it. They could have left the team. They did neither.
      The Thunder (and David Stern) will forever be heels in my book, because what happened to the Sonics was just wrong. Perhaps OKC deserves a team, but they didn’t deserve Seattle’s team.

  4. Bill says:

    I’m pretty sure the term for good guy in professional wrestling is “babyface” (often shortened to “face,” not “baby”).

  5. Funny, I was thinking about clemenating–the concept, if not the word– this morning. I used to clemenate all over the place: the Yankees, the Dodgers, the (NY) Rangers, but also totally random ones. The “Golden State Warriors” sounded like a dumb name, so I didn’t like them. The Seattle Mariners were cool and blue, so I did like them. Then, one by one, I stopped caring. I still root against the Yankees, but I want them to win when I’m not looking, because it’s more fun when they’re around. I’m a lifelong Mets fan, but at a certain point Maddux won me over, and I stopped clemenating the Braves. Now I even LIKE the Braves, and I don’t care that I like the Braves. I’ve been trying to clemenate LeBron, and sometimes I can do it, but I’ll be happy for him if he wins. The players are more just people to me now, not symbols or much more than talented guys who play a game that’s fun to watch.

    I do have one major holdout: Philly teams. Actually just the Phillies and Flyers. I love that the Phillies are a mess this year. Giroux is fun, but I loved how the Flyers fell apart against the Devils (who happen to be my team). Usually if I’m watching a sport/team I don’t actively follow, I will try to find a reason to root for one or the other, but then I come up with counterarguments for the other direction. It doesn’t usually work unless I have some kind of “natural” rooting interest. We’re just watching unscripted action movies. A good villain can go a long way.

    • Elliott P. says:

      Yes! Always hated the Braves growing up (thanks, Carays and TBS). Wasn’t sure if I should be glad or sad the day I realized I didn’t care, and actually, god forbid, respected them.

    • Rob says:

      Skip Caray was very popular, but a horrible announcer. His son Chip is even worse & lacks the personality of his Dad. Chip makes the dumbest calls. Just this week in the Yankee series he called a ball a “popup” that ended up being picked off the rightfield wall by Michael Bourne. It was about a 390 foot out!

    • Ankit Desai says:

      From here on, I will be clemenating Owen for being anti-Phils and Flyers. Philly phan…

    • @Ankit, Well, all publicity is good publicity! I’ll let you know when I send out my manuscript, so you can hope that it doesn’t go anywhere. (internet cautiousness: this is meant in good fun)

      @Elliot, yeah I had that same moment years ago and didn’t know how to feel about it. I wonder how universal that is among Mets fans.

    • Unknown says:

      Owen, that was really well said. I’ve been clemenating my whole life and I’m experiencing less of it all the time. It’s interesting to hear your Mets perspective. I’m a lifelong Braves fan and have always hated the Mets, but I find myself enjoying seeing them win this year. Now that they’re shedding their superstars (Beltran, Reyes) and done with the attempt to be the spendaholic Yankees of the NL and starting from underdog status, they’re much easier to root for. Dickey’s story is obviously priceless, Santana’s comeback is fun and I like Ike Davis so I hope his game starts to gel.

      I’m not a full convert though. I still love seeing Philly struggle. Haha!

  6. Dinky says:

    I rooted against Miami last year. And I’d have rooted against them if San Antonio or the Lakers or even the Clippers were in the finals, and definitely against them if the Bulls had been healthy and facing them. But injuries and talent led to this, and I think everybody in Miami has paid their dues losing, whereas everybody in Seattle deserves their chance to see OKC lose in the finals, just as everybody in Cleveland got to feel good rooting against Miami last year. So I’m in favor of Miami. Plus, OKC is young enough so they’ll get their titles, and probably several of them.

    Best basketball player I ever saw was Wilt Chamberlain. Best scorer, best shot blocker (Russell got the hype, but a lot of that was the superior defenders the Celtics put around him allowing him to play for the block; also, Wilt was bigger, a lot bigger), best rebounder, a great defender, and a decent passer, although every time Wilt got the ball his shooting would have been the best option. I’m willing to consider Jordan as second best, but I think it’s a muddled group with West, Oscar, Bird, and Magic all deserving consideration, and possibly Duncan as well. I think it’s best to group bball players by position, same as not grouping pitchers and hitters.

  7. As a Seattle fan, I feel much the same about the Thunder. I don’t hold leaving against Durant, Westbrook, et al, but I do want them to lose. Because that’s what makes the game interesting. It’s got some personal in it, but more of the “reason-to-watch.”

    • Rob says:

      I had Ram’s season tickets in LA (Anaheim). I have rooted against them almost every season. I liked The Greatest Show on Turf teams, but I hated that thewhore Georgia Frontiere got to hold up the Super Bowl trophy. Now that she’s dead, I no longer care what the Rams do. I even fantasize that LA will steal the Rams back & we can thumb our noses at St. Louis. When you marry the one you cheat with, you shouldn’t be surprised when they cheat on you.

  8. Ed says:

    This is EXACTLY how I feel about sports. Sports are infinitely more entertaining when there’s an emotional investment; some sort of rooting interest to suck you in.

    I’m a Carolina Panthers fan, so I love watching Panthers games — other NFL games merit a “meh” from me. I still watch them, but they don’t hold my interest the way a Panthers game does because I don’t have any particular rooting interest. Like Joe said with the tennis match he described, I enjoy the games, but I don’t have any particular investment in them, so they lack the passion and corresponding ups and downs that come with a rooting interest.

    Growing up, I was a HUGE Duke basketball fan, and thus HATED North Carolina. Watching UNC lose was just as fun as watching Duke win. I wanted to watch UNC games just as much as Duke games because I got to root against them*.

    *I’m stealing a posterisk here to say that this was before I went to UNC. Now I’m a huge UNC fan….but because I loved Duke so much growing up, I can’t bring myself to hate them with the same vitriol as most UNC fans. Watching them lose doesn’t bring me nearly as much joy as watching UNC lose used to.

    I’ve also actively rooted against Tiger Woods for his entire career. I never really disliked him personally (although he always seemed vaguely….douchey, I suppose), and although his whole meltdown made him much less likeable, I did not enjoy seeing that happen to him. I root against him on the golf course; I don’t root against him in life. I’d still watch the golf majors regardless of whether Tiger was involved (Saturday and Sunday of a major are as dramatic if not moreso than anything else in sports, IMO), but getting to see him fail makes them a little bit sweeter. I loved seeing him shoot 75 73 on the weekend to fall out of contention at the US Open (especially after large portions of the media claimed the tournament was over after the first two rounds).

    Sports need villains just as much as they need heroes. To me, if you don’t have any individual or any team that you actively root against, you’re missing part of the fun of sports. It’s not about personal hatred, or wishing actual harm to these people — some people can take it way too far (like the guy who poisoned the trees at Auburn). It’s just about enjoying another aspect of sports…rooting for someone or something to fail can be just as fun as the inverse, and there’s nothing negative about it.

  9. Chuck says:

    Well Joe I see you’ve succumb to the continuous ESPN campaign to rehabilitate LeBron’s image. You’re close here but not quite vitriolic enough for my tastes. Here’s why I root for LeBron’s failure: he’s not a good person. He’s arrogant, self-entitled, weak-willed megalomaniac.

    You’ve catalogued many of LeBron’s more onerous offenses, but managed to leave out the most telling – the one that ESPN would most like to sweep under the rug – the “you now can return to your miserable life dig” after his fold job in the Finals last year. That little screed offered more insight into how LeBron – and his sycophants – view his fans than any press release or SI puff piece.

    He’s tone deaf, has been since he was driving around Akron St. Vincent/St. Mary’s in his Hummer wearing the over-priced sports paraphernalia that nearly cost his team a shot at the state championship. But that’s only trifling stuff – what really galls me – and should be foremost in your mind when thinking about him – is what he thinks of you.

    • Rob says:

      Yeah, he’s got a little ARod disease going with him. But, unlike ARod, to the best of our knowledge he hasn’t cheated. But, I think he’ll have ARod’s fate. Some will like him and root for him, but most will dislike him and root against him. The good news for LeBron is that few will be undecided & they will always tune in for a Heat game either to root for him or against him. So, his endorsement contracts will continue to be huge.

  10. jim says:

    @Chris +1. Tonight Joe tells us he doesn’t think any of this matters. But soon enough he’ll be trying to sell us books about JoePa and how he was some True American Hero or whatever. And we all know how that ended.

    • clashfan says:

      Seriously? You think that’s the slant the book is going to take? I wonder how long you’ve been reading Joe if you think he’s going to whitewash the Sandusky saga.

  11. And i agree with them, i’m over it, he’s a pretty good player plus i’m someone who always questions media and their narratives.
    “Here’s why I root for LeBron’s failure: he’s not a good person. He’s arrogant, self-entitled, weak-willed megalomaniac.” ^ Then you can’t enjoy sports because probably 80% of the players are that way.
    This guy had ESPN in his face since High School and was thinking his own farts smelled like fabreze, did he have good role models in his life? He has to grow up on his own and learn from his mistakes. Can’t believe i’m defending him but it’s not like he’s done anything illegal.
    They are going to win it so we have to accept it sooner or later, but i’m pretty much done with the NBA anyway

    • Rob says:

      I agree that 80% of athletes are entitled meglomaniacs. LeBron is learning not to show that side of himself. He’s been almost endearing with owning up to his past failures. But, it’s all an act. I wonder what douchey comments he will make while he’s holding the trophy… or later when he speaks at the victory parade. We’ll see how much he’s figured this thing out then.

  12. frightwig says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. henry says:

    I get this, I do —

    But isn’t Lebron a better villain if he *wins*?

    • Rob says:

      Oh no doubt! It’s good for LeBron too. If people love you or hate you it’s all good. The kiss of death is not hate, it’s indifference. When people stop caring, it’s all over.

  14. No one ever adds The chosen on on his back. I hate woods and federer for wearing hats with their own monogram but this is waaaay worse.

  15. Mark Coale says:

    For me, i almost always root for the underdog and strongly dislike the overdogs: yankees, red sox, lakers, tiger, manchester united, mcenroe, agassi, and now lebron.

    None of that i dont say they are not great at their sport. I just dont like them.

    Same as i can say the godfather is a very good film, but overrated. Ditto mad men. Ditto the grateful dead. Ditto william faulkner.

    • Jason says:

      No way William Faulkner is overrated. He’s hardly even appreciated outside academic circles.

    • Yeah, plus one to Jason. Same with the Dead. Sure, they are rated highly by deadheads who spent summers having cosmic experiences off the riffs of Jerry’s guitar, but it’s not like they get thrown in with the Beatles and Stones. And yeah, in the great writer draft, Faulkner might be my #1 pick. Not to rake you through the coals, Mark, I totally get rooting against the over-loved (how many people hate Justin Bieber for no other reason than that so many people love him?), I just object to your last two examples.

  16. I don’t like the NBA, but everyone hating the Heat gave me a reason to care. I HATE it when people latch onto hating someone for the sake of hating them, and so I am happy that the Heat won in 5. It’s the first time I’ve been happy about a final in the NBA ever (I was a Hawks fan in the ‘Nique days when I cared).

  17. marshall says:

    I’ve always rooted for LeBron because I’ve always thought of it as “LeBron vs. Jordan,” and I don’t like Jordan. LeBron is a huge underdog in that one, so from that angle he’s fun to root for. Through age 27, I’d say LeBron might be on pace to pull the upset.

  18. BJ says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who enjoys rooting AGAINST somebody, even while totally respecting their talents and abilities. I’m definitely the same, sometimes extending to “Clementing” (love that) an entire team (see Yankmees, NY). And a writer that can explain that as articulately as you did and work in references to both Ric Flair and Johnny Mac deserves a special place in Writer’s Heaven.

  19. This comment has been removed by the author.

  20. Could we get a volunteer editor on here, so that comments from the BR’s about Joe’s posts get through, and comments that want to rant on other subjects are sent elsewhere?

  21. Pete Ridges says:

    Ken Griffey and Frank Thomas can be added to the list of baseball players who never played in a World Series. Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio never won one…nor did Barry Bonds, but he’s remembered differently.

  22. Mark Daniel says:

    I sure do clemenate LeBron, but I may clemenate that flopping, whining, gets-all-the-calls Wade even more. The refs in the NBA don’t make it easy to like those guys.

  23. CB says:

    Awesome. I posted a comment in response to clashfan above, in which I suggested that he was being too generous. His comment, laudatory of Mr. Posnanski, is still there. Mine, which was more critical, is gone. Guess Mr. Posnanski only wants to hear from the flatterers who praise him, and not from the critics.

    • clashfan says:

      Possibly there is an issue with blogspot; I’ve had several problems with it myself.

      What is it you’re trying to say to me?

      By the way, I’m a woman.

  24. Joel says:

    I prefer watching games when I’m emotionally invested, too. However, I’ve realized that when I’m watching a sport as a non-partisan, the referees/officials/umpires get the call right maybe 98% of the time. They’re only a bunch of blind jackasses when one of my teams are playing.

  25. “This is one of the wonderful things about sports to me. It’s make believe. It’s a safe place to invest your emotions.”

    Great. Everyone on here is making it all up. Safe. Entertaining. Bullshit is the word. Nice job making me feel like a daydreamer. As I get older, watch my kids grow to small children, sports have to go. It’s make believe. And sadly, I’m not a child anymore. Sucks.

  26. I’m pretty sure the term for good guy in professional wrestling is “babyface” (often shortened to “face,” not “baby”).


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