No Sympathy For LeBron James

For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required, and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more

LeBron James, the 13-year veteran and NBA champion, Olympian and superstar, wants the luxury of crafting his own image without commentary or complaint. Once upon a time, he entered the league with the nickname “King James”. Nike fashioned life sized images of a religious symbol with his hands outstretched like Jesus on the cross and the tagline, We Are All Witnesses.

LeBron James had an incredible first game against the Sacramento Kings to kick off his NBA career, 25 points, 6 rebounds, 9 assists, 4 steals, 60% fg. It confirmed he was indeed a prodigy. Look at what he was doing at 18 years old, and against men much older than he.

His career has been extraordinary and at the same time underwhelming. He’s won league MVP’s and has dominated his peers in a suffocating manner. His explosion and athleticism are freakish for his size. But his record in the Finals is 2-4. He goes on streaks. He lost the first two. He won the next two. He lost the last two. Each loss comes embedded with an excuse. He was too young. He wasn’t focused. The Spurs were better. The Cavs were injured. At the end of they day, all anyone remembers or cares about is that he lost and his NBA Finals record is 2-4, and Michael Jordan’s NBA Finals record was 6-0, and Tim Duncan’s NBA Finals record is 5-1, and Kobe Bryant’s NBA Finals record is 5-2.

In the moment, LeBron James is a coach killer. Or, he is the power hungry superstar who doesn’t want to be coached. Or, he is the selfish one who just couldn’t leave Cleveland for Miami, he had to bury their nose in the dirt. He had to break their heart.

So it’s easy to believe that LeBron stirred the pot in the Blatt firing. NBA coaches are livid and are open about it because the optics don’t make sense. First and foremost, the league is about winning. The Cavs were winning. So, then the only explanation is King James himself.

Incidents were well documented of a tense honeymoon stage beginning with the non first meeting, as if Blatt didn’t really matter to James. There was James changing the offense multiple times without Blatt’s consent, his tolerance of Blatt rather than his obedience to Blatt, his relationship to Lue. When he exited the game and the Cavs were assessed a technical foul because he just walked off the court, that was bizarre for a player of his magnitude. Reporters searched the archives. Had Kobe or MJ ever done something like that? But in the next breath, it was understood. Phil Jackson ran a controlled ship. He gave players freedom but he had their respect.

When David Aldridge, the highly regarded NBA journalist who writes for NBA.com, implied in his column and on air that there was some merit to the LeBron behind the scenes stirring the Blatt out the door narrative, it seemed to be the final nail in the coffin. Aldridge is measured and honest and thoughtful and has incredible sourcing. He is not reactionary. He has no axes to grind. Aldridge reported that many in the league believe LeBron James is responsible for Blatt’s firing.

Blatt has become a sympathetic figure; Lebron did that, created a perception he will never be able to erase.  Blatt, many say privately, is the cautionary tale of what happens when a star like LeBron gets power that corrupts. Lord Acton said it beautifully.

Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Where is the truth? No one will go on the record with their opinion. Perhaps it is somewhere in the middle. LeBron isn’t entirely to blame but he didn’t do much to keep Blatt around either. He didn’t advocate for him.

LeBron James, who Brian Windhorst called the most passive-aggressive leader he had ever covered in sports, is sensitive to the criticism and this is where he is at fault. Because, at his level of success and talent, you take it on the chin. Charles Barkley once said, “star players get too much of the blame when they lose and too much of the credit when they win.”

“I think it does suck that people want to throw my name in the dirt. I’ve never in my time since I picked up a basketball, ever undermined a coach, ever disrespected a coach. I’ve always respected what they wanted to do. And I’m not the owner of the team, I’m not the GM of the team. I’m the player of a team. People get it misconstrued because I am a smart basketball player and I’ve voiced my opinion about certain things which I did with Paul Silas and Mike Brown. Which I did with Coach Spo (Erik Spoelstra). Which I did with Blatt and I’ll do with T-Lue. And at the end of the day they still have their final call.

What do you want me to do, turn my brain off because I have a huge basketball IQ? If that’s what they want me to do, I’m not doing it because I’ve got so much to give to the game. I got 14 guys here. I got a fan base here and all over the world that loves what I do, and they respect what I do and I can’t worry about a select group of people that wants to use their negative energy to take away my positive energy.” (LeBron James)

His I.Q. (LeBron has never been shy about pointing out his strengths to others) and a little humility is needed here. When something shocking happens there is always a fall guy, someone has to be blamed. Blatt is the victim. He is the first coach to be fired whose team was in first place in the conference. It had never been done before.

Blame David Griffin? He’ll get his later for listening to LeBron and dealing Andrew Wiggins.

So blame LeBron, it is.

LeBron is low hanging fruit. He is the easy answer. And he has given us so many reasons to point the finger at him.

Years ago, when Shaquille O’Neal was traded from the Lakers, a trade he asked for, Kobe Bryant was perplexed at why he was being blamed since he didn’t originate the idea. Kobe missed the point. It wasn’t that he asked Shaq to leave the Lakers. It was that he didn’t ask Shaq to stay.

David Blatt was liberated, according to Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, freed from the LeBron James prison, of which there are no winners unless you grab a title. This truth falls awkwardly upon Ty Lue’s shoulders who has to pick up the pieces, change the offense and still win the whole damned thing. And yet in an odd way, if the Cavs don’t win it this year, Lue will be spared. Another LeBron James blame will be in order. He will be 2-5 in NBA Finals. He will have underachieved again.

photo via llananba