Philadelphia, PA – LeBron James has become the most polarizing figure in sports, despite his second consecutive NBA title and Finals MVP.
People still hate him, yes, hate him, because he left the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat.
They hate him because he joined up with two friends, two superstar friends, to try and win an NBA title, despite using his right to do so as a free agent, a right he earned. Fans say pro players don't care about winning. Here's a guy who mapped out his future with the sole intent of winning championships.
They hate him because he foolishly went on television, at a Boys and Girls Club in Greenwich, Conn. none the less, to announce his free-agent decision.
They hate him because of his silly "not one, not two, not three..." speech at a Miami Heat pep rally when he signed.
They hate the Miami Heat because of him. They hate players like Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, and Shane Battier, and Ray Allen, all hard-working men, because of him.
They hate him because the uninformed consider him at a level of Michael Jordan, the greatest of all time. He never put himself on that pedestal, mind you, others did.
They hate him because he's not the greatest.
But, they hate him most of all, because he is great.
"I can't worry about what people say about me," James said from the podium after receiving his second straight NBA Finals MVP Award.
Yes, he's polarizing because, through all of that hate, his basketball skill puts him so far above any rational ceiling of greatness.
How can you hate a man who, in the biggest game of his career, scored 37 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and committed only two turnovers?
In a Game 7, where the pressure was solely on him, not Wade, not Bosh, all on him, James shot 12-for-23 from the field, 5-for-10 from the 3-point line and a perfect 8-for-8 from the foul line. Shooting was his weakness, remember.
In the fourth quarter of the biggest game of his life, he scored nine points, grabbed five rebounds, went 3-for-3 from the free-throw line and had two steals.
"It became time. He always rises to the occasion when it matters the most, when the competition is fiercest," said his coach, Erik Spoelstra.
He did it all with a combined zero points from Bosh, Allen and Mike Miller in Game 7. Three of the eight guys who played real minutes didn't score a single point. James didn't carry them, did he?
The knock was James didn't want the ball late. He hit the pull-up dagger jumper to ice the victory.
Oh, and he played 45 minutes.
Those who hate will begrudgingly give him respect for the way he played.
There is absolutely no way to criticize LeBron James the basketball player. None. If you knock a single thing about his play, your hate is transparent. Your credibility, nonexistent. You expose yourself to ridicule.
But it's still fair to hate him, right?
It wasn't him who went over and hugged Tim Duncan after this heart-breaking loss for the San Antonio Spurs, a team that had one hand on the Larry O'Brien Trophy with five seconds left in Game 6 and a great chance in Game 7.
It wasn't James who went over and hugged the seemingly un-huggable Gregg Popovich to congratulate him on a hard-fought battle.
It wasn't him who started his remarks after winning the Finals MVP by gushing about the Spurs.
Yeah, he deserves your hate.
Well, wait, there's all of those off the court incidents. Oops, not a one.
He's marrying his high-school sweetheart. He's practically Richie Cunningham.
But he warrants hate.
He couldn't win it on his own. He had to go with Wade and Bosh to win titles. The guys before him didn't have to go elsewhere to do that.
Never mind that free agency rules were different back then, but who won a title by themselves? Maybe, Hakeem Olajuwon in Houston's first title, but think about that statement a little.
Michael Jordan didn't win alone. Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman are in the Hall of Fame.
Magic Johnson didn't win alone. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy are in the Hall of Fame.
Larry Bird didn't win alone. Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Dennis Johnson are in the Hall of Fame.
Tim Duncan didn't win alone. David Robinson is in the Hall of Fame and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili will be one day.
Wilt Chamberlain didn't win alone. Kobe Bryant didn't win alone. No one does.
Can you win a title with Eric Snow, Daniel Gibson, Drew Gooden and Zydrunas Ilgauskas? No. Did James pull a power play and say, "drop these clowns, or I bolt." No. He's just supposed to stay in Cleveland and win somehow by himself.
But he left, and he did it on national TV. That's the biggest sin he committed.
"He takes a lot of heat," said Battier. "Hopefully with two titles he'll get more benefit of the doubt."
Ignore his greatness. Ignore what a seemingly decent person he is.
Hate him all you want, just acknowledge, he is the best in the world at this moment.
"I want to be one of the greatest to ever play the game," James said.