Nothing can make me like LeBron James. I don’t care if he is a champion now. I don’t care if he is the NBA Finals MVP. I don’t care if he put up one of the greatest playoff performances ever this year. I don’t care if he helped Shane Battier get a ring. I don’t care if he overcame the worst cramps in human history to do it. I don’t care if he’s humbler, happier, and more mature than he was two years ago. I don’t care if spends his off-season saving small children from burning buildings. Nothing can make me like him.
And yet the tide is turning in his favor. Throughout the year, fans and sportswriters seemed to be letting up on LeBron, as if the statute of limitations on detesting him had run out. Seth Davis, of Sports Illustrated, seemed to make this argument almost explicitly. And now that James finally has his ring, I suspect the intense fandom that lined up behind whichever team happened to be playing the Heat will die down a bit; it’s not as fun to root against something that’s already happened.
All of this makes me hate The Decision even more. This reaction is precisely what I feared would happen when back in 2010—the fury would die down, the anger would subside, and in a few years, we’d all go back to debating how LeBron compares to Jordan.
But The Decision was never bad because it would somehow make LeBron a worse player, or unclutch; there was no reason that changing cities would undo what he had done in Cleveland. The Decision was bad because it concentrated all that talent in one city* and made this championship feel inevitable. Last year’s defeat certainly raised doubts about that inevitability, but, particularly in light of the way Miami destroyed Oklahoma City in Game 5, those doubts seem almost naïve. Of course it was only a matter of time before three of the most talented players in the league finally got their act together.
*And not just any city, but Miami, where the weather is great, the fans are casual, and basketball is nothing more than a hobby.
LeBron no longer has to worry about getting stuck with the “best player to never win it all” label; and now that LeBron has his first, there’s nothing left but for him to gradually accrue “not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven…” And for every year that passes, the memory of that arrogance will fade further away. For every championship he adds, he will turn more resentment into begrudging respect. For every gaudy stat line he produces, doubts about his ability will seem more foolish. Before you know it, some of the same people saying he could never be Jordan will be saying he’s even better.
But nothing will make me like him. This is sports: Greatness and championships are not the same thing as respect. And no matter how great a career LeBron ends up having, I will always wonder what could have been had he chosen a more challenging path. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go wake up to the same life I had before…