King or no, LeBron's the guy we love to hate

LeBron James has given us a new guy to root against. Ronald Martinez?/?Getty Images
LeBron James has given us a new guy to root against. Ronald Martinez?/?Getty Images
Posted: June 25, 2012

It's been a while since we've had a target to hate.

Well, "hate" is a strong word. Too strong.

Despise?

Dislike?

Root against?

OK. Root against.

Thanks, LeBron.

There has been a mountain of ire directed at King James and the Miami Heat since his publicized defection from Headlands Beach on Lake Erie to South Beach on the Atlantic Ocean. That ire had little teeth until the James Boys ascended to the throne he prematurely declared their own.

Now a champion, now positioned to remain so for years, James now provides a legitimate, validated, complete object for your jealousy and criticism and all of your bad thoughts.

Finally.

Remember the Yankees? The Patriots? Sidney Crosby?

Remember Tiger?

Even at the height of their popularity, Michael Jordan and Roger Federer had critics, even if the criticism focused on their blandness.

Since his days as a feted high school freak, LeBron never has been bland.

Then he fled Cleveland, situated in his home state. The city he single-handedly revitalized. In 2010, LeBron opted to join Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. LeBron said he eventually would win more rings than Jordan.

Really, this was the first impression that James made on the casual fan who only knew James as the best thing that happened to Cleveland since Jim Thome (who also left, by the way, as the top free agent of his day … and did so graciously).

James' audacious prediction and his arrogance in defending his boasts presented him to that casual fan as the narcissistic boor that now embodies young men desperate for more fame.

No doubt, that presentation will linger.

Fairly or not.

James has done little to worsen the situation. He is drug-free. He has a clean police record. He appears to be an invested father and a gracious teammate. Yes, after the Heat's loss in the Finals last season he said, with regal disdain:

"All the people that were rooting for me to fail?…?at the end of the day, tomorrow they have to wake up and have the same [menial] life that [they had] before they woke up today. They got the same personal problems they had today. I'm going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things I want to do."

Easily, this was his worst moment. Most people forget this moment. What they remember is the fiasco ESPN created around LeBron's decision to leave.

The fiasco created a canvas on which the rest of his career will be painted. The fiasco delivered LeBron as a villain for some, a victim for others.

Which is wonderful. It's been a while. Not since Tiger's fall has there been a dominant figure in U.S. sports.

Football? You loved the Hoodie or hated him, or maybe you thought he was death incarnate, but Bill Belichick has lost twice to the Giants in the Super Bowl since his Patriots won three of four Super Bowls.

Baseball? The Evil Empire was delicious drama, especially when mercenary Alex Rodriguez and homeboy Andy Pettitte were tagged as steroid-era cheaters. But, after winning three straight World Series, the Traveling Jeters are 1-for-11.

And Steinbrenner's dead.

Hockey? Sid the Kid was deliciously hateable: snide and nasty and immensely talented, a Canadian Olympic hero and a Stanley Cup champion in a great and proud hockey town, playing for Super Mario with a cast of superior players. The nearby Capitals even provided Crosby a foil; Russian enigma Alex Ovechkin, himself girded with able teammates.

Then, in 2010, the upstart Canadiens emasculated both franchises. Neither has recovered. Crosby's future now is foggy and fearful; the NHL's poster child is the new poster child for concussion concerns.

From 2004-09, Roger Federer made tennis interesting, winning 14 of his record 16 Grand Slam titles. He hasn't won one in the last nine.

And, of course, Tiger.

Fourteen majors, four short of Jack Nicklaus' record.

Seventy-three wins, nine shy of Sam Snead's record.

Tiger defined the No. 1 ranking.

And, oh, man, did he tease us last weekend.

Tiger had won 2 weeks before, his second PGA Tour win of the season. He seemed to have steadily progressed since a small win late last season, and a strong individual showing at the Presidents Cup, and some intermittent decent play. His ranking rose from 52nd to fourth in only 8 months.

Arguably, he was — and maybe is — the best golfer in the world at this moment.

Certainly, Tiger seemed to be the only man in the field capable of taming the Olympic Club. He shared the lead entering Saturday at the U.S. Open?…?then shot 8-over the final 2 days to finish tied for 21st.

He might have been polarizing, again. Instead, he was pathetic.

It often is said that no athlete is scrutinized like LeBron. That, of course, is ridiculous.

Ask Michael Vick, the felon. Ask Tiger Woods, the philanderer.

But, in this moment, LeBron can be the entity for your enmity. It made him look foolish and immature, but arrogance alone never anchors real, visceral dislike. There needs to be a measure of accomplishment to accompany the arrogance.

Congratulations, LeBron.

Mission accomplished. n

Contact Marcus Hayes at hayesm@phillynews.com.

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