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Monardo: We are all witnesses to a grave injustice (Feb. 22)

Joseph Monardo | Tuesday, February 21, 2012

There are many things about sports that seem to resist explanation. Why does Josh Smith prefer to brick jumpers all day rather than shove the ball through the hoop directly? Why would any baseball team not treat “Moneyball” as the bona fide gospel? How is Jack Cooley not related to Luke Harangody?

But, more than the rest, one question persists in defying even the best attempts to formulate an answer: why is LeBron James public enemy No. 1?

The one-time Akron Hammer, the Chosen One, the King, LeBron James has for the past two years played the role of the bad guy. Jersey burnings, smearing letters and widespread hate are now the defining characteristics of James’ career. We have all been witnesses to the injustice heaped onto this one man because of one decision. Well, one “The Decision,” but still.

Meanwhile, many exalt and respect Kobe Bryant, discounting LeBron as a loser.

Certainly, Bryant is one of the greatest players of all time. He has proven himself to be a winner again and again and again and again. Killer instinct? Mental toughness? The ability to close games? Check, check and check.

However, for all of his accomplishments on the court, Bryant couples with his stellar game an attitude that is anything but endearing. Often short and petulant with reporters, Kobe frequently comes off as downright rude. Bryant forced the Big Aristotle out of Los Angeles several years ago and is currently on a mission to glut himself with points. Perhaps his selfishness can be excused because of his consistent excellence, but it is there nonetheless.

LeBron, on the other hand, represents what every kid wishes he could be. He is a professional basketball player, but one who does not apologize for having fun while on the job. When the members of the audience sees LeBron and Dwayne Wade joking around during timeouts, showing genuine affection for one another and the rest of the Miami Heat, how do they feel anything but admiration? For the 99.9 percent of basketball players who don’t end up in the NBA, but instead hold memories of playing pick-up games with their friends, LeBron should be an undisputed hero. He is on the laminated hard courts of basketball’s highest level, but he plays like some high school kid would on a blacktop with the neighbors.

The only difference is LeBron plays at a higher level. A much, much higher level. Already in his ninth season, LeBron James is averaging 27.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game for his career. James’ stats improve on those of Bryant, who has averaged 25.4, 4.5 and 4.6 per game for his career.   

The biggest knock on the would-be King is that he is not a winner. Admittedly, in the 2011 NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks, James was lackluster, especially in the fourth quarter. But should those six games supersede an entire playoff career?

LeBron has racked up ridiculous averages of 28.0 points, 8.4 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game in the playoffs. Again, these stats surpass Kobe’s playoff line of 25.4, 5.1 and 4.8 per game. While everyone can reference James’ playoff collapse of the past two years, have James’ detractors forgotten about the King’s performance in the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals, when he led the Cavs over the Pistons and scored 29 of his team’s final 30 points in Game Five? What about when LeBron dropped 45 in Cleveland’s game seven loss to the Celtics in 2008?

Obviously, LeBron has failed to deliver a championship so far, which is no small blemish on his record. But to keep things in perspective, Kobe earned his first three rings while being aided by Shaq, Phil Jackson and the powerful prestige of the Lakers. LeBron was asked to bring a championship to Cleveland with the help of “Boobie” Gibson, Zydrunas Ilgauskus and the like. And 0-1 with the Heat is nothing to panic about yet.

The Chosen One figures to be, as the Black Mamba already is, one of the greatest players in the history of the NBA. Although you may take offense with his Decision to raise $2.5 million for the Boys and Girls Club of America and may mock the absence of bling on his finger, do not discount LeBron James. Instead, just enjoy watching him perform a chase down block from behind or flush an alley-oop from D-Wade, smiling the whole time.

Contact Joseph Monardo at jmonardo@nd.edu

   

The views expressed in this Sports Authority column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.