No one else will say it, so I will – I’m glad LeBron James stormed off the court after his Cleveland Cavaliers fell to the Orlando Magic in the conference finals.
No, I’m not advocating poor sportsmanship. And yes, I do think he made a mistake by not taking a few extra seconds to show respect to his opponents in defeat. But here’s my point – King James has been in the public eye since he was 16 and has never come even remotely close to controversy.
Well, if you want to nitpick, there’s the fact that James somehow ended up driving around town in a Hummer back in high school and folks wondered how that magically arrived in his driveway, but nothing ever came of that. Otherwise, until last week, LeBron had been seemingly flawless both on and off the court.
Think about it, most of the other big names in professional sports, especially in basketball, have found themselves on the wrong side in the court of public opinion at one time or another. You’ve got Carmelo Anthony thinking he’s on The Wire by appearing in anti-snitching videos, Dwyane Wade has the same rare disease that Nelly does and has to wear a band-aide on his face at all times and Kobe Bryant … well … let’s just say he’s not allowed to visit Colorado without a chaperone.
And then there’s LeBron. Seriously, when have you ever heard anything about the guy off the court? What do we really know about the guy away from the game of basketball? He’s a young man who is worth as much as any athlete not named Tiger, and yet, he also manages to keep a low profile. James avoids situations many young athletes find themselves in (could you ever imagine him pulling a Plaxico Burress and shooting himself in the leg at a nightclub?) He has a small circle of friends that he trusts and keeps his distance from everyone else.
I mean, when folks run their mouth about him, LeBron doesn’t even have to respond. Remember when DeShawn Stevenson tried to get into James’ head a while back? Yeah, it wasn’t LeBron who responded. It was Jay-Z who handled the situation by throwing together a diss track called “Blow the Whistle” designed to put the Washington Wizards’ guard back in his place. That’s when you’ve officially reached the next level, when you don’t have to concern yourself with your opponents because the biggest name in hip hop is happy to take care of them for you.
But back to last week. After a season in which it was considered a foregone conclusion that the Los Angeles Lakers and the Cavaliers would dispatch all other opponents and battle in one of the most anticipated Finals matchups in recent NBA history, the Orlando Magic had other plans.
LeBron averaged 35 points (tops in the league), 9.1 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game (fourth best) in the playoffs this postseason. He averaged 38.5 points, eight rebounds and eight assists while playing no less than 41 minutes per game during the Orlando series. This young man did everything he could to singlehandedly try and bring Cleveland a championship. Unfortunately, that was ultimately his downfall.
During a highly enjoyable series, Dwight Howard and friends were able to turn Cleveland into a one-man team and suddenly Cleveland, a league powerhouse throughout the regular season, was reduced to LeBron and four stiffs who shrank in the clutch. He brought it. No one else from the Cavs can say the same.
So did LeBron show a level of immaturity by walking off the court as if he’d like to take his ball and go home? For sure. But I’m willing to give him a pass and chalk think experience up to a hard lesson learned. This just shows, for the first time in James’ young career, that he’s human. He made a bad decision that he’ll learn from and in the long run, he’ll be a better man for it.
He knows that if he’s willing to sit down in front of the press after hitting a game-winning shot earlier in the series, then he also needs to be there when his team is on the losing end. I have little doubt that the superstars from seasons past like Magic Johnson or Larry Bird reached out to James after his walk off and told him what he needed to hear. And being such a student of the game, I can also safely assume that hearing that message from those legends will not fall on deaf ears.
No one is perfect. James, at just 24, is allowed to make a mistake. As long as he learns from this, then he’ll be just fine. Next time he knows he’s got two choices – either win or be more gracious in defeat.
Brian Murphy is an award-winning sportswriter who also goes by the name Homer McFanboy. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.