LeBron James comes to town tonight for a game against the Indiana Pacers, and his visits to Indy are always worth watching for a variety of reasons.
Pacers fans have dreams of another visit to the NBA Finals, and if a team other than LeBron’s Cleveland Cavaliers is going to represent the Eastern Conference, it will have to go through them.
James was in the news 11 days ago when Cavs coach David Blatt was replaced by assistant Tyronn Lue. Reports pointed to James being the motivator for the change. Given the Cavs 30-11 record at the time of the firing, and their trip to the NBA Finals in his only other season as coach, it seemed unlikely management would have pulled the trigger.
When the change was made, we were reminded that James remains the biggest individual star in a league being dominated by the team-first play of the Golden State Warrior and San Antonio Spurs.
Fans outside Cleveland tend to be split close to down the middle on James. Some love, some hate.
Here are 10 reasons to either love or hate LeBron as the face of the NBA:
10. HATE – The Decision. It’s not so much the me-first performance of Lebron James throughout this ridiculous farce of the live announcement of his decision to take his talents to South Beach that chaps my hind quarters. It’s that he allowed the thoroughly insipid and self-impressed broadcaster Jim Gray to talk him into doing the right thing in precisely the wrong way that made him look like a stooge, and causes fans to continue to view him as American sports greatest narcissist.
9. LOVE – He’s capable of never-before-seen greatness. Whenever LeBron is on the floor, something uniquely great can happen. In 2010-2011, I saw the Pacers play the Heat at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. LeBron and Dwyane Wade thoroughly dominated the first six minutes, and one play was a length of the court alley-oop between the two. The pass traveled from opposite baseline to the rim. It was the best pass and best catch I have ever seen. James might do something incredible tonight – or any night.
8. HATE – Dr. Dre is told to hold. During a commercial for Beats, Dre calls LeBron during a solitary workout. He tells Dre to hang on while he finishes. Who does that? I get it if LeBron taking a minute to find out what Dre wants inconveniences teammates, but LeBron was alone. He could have taken the call before resuming his work. It would have been more polite if he simply ignored the call. If I had been Dre, I would’ve hung up. (I am aware this spot reflected a fictional representation of a moment is LeBron’s life, but he should be more vigilant about how his image is portrayed.)
7. LOVE – LeBron is going to send over 1,000 at risk children to the University of Akron. If at-risk children in LeBron’s hometown of Akron adhere to the guidelines established by his foundation’s mentoring program, get good grades, and meet attendance requirements, he (with some help from another foundation) will pay the whole ticket for their education at the University of Akron. That level of giving back to his community is worthy of our admiration.
6. HATE – His prediction of many championship in Miami. The Heat did win two championships in LeBron’s four-year era in Miami, but that fell woefully short of the prediction made by LeBron at the ceremony introducing Wade, Chris Bosh, and LeBron as the franchise saviors. I think he got to seven before counting the potential championships. That’s five fewer than reality delivered.
5. LOVE – Teammates are either very positive about LeBron, or keep their mouths shut about disliking him. A guy who can assert that level of control over his imaging requires our respect if not love. Getting millionaires to toe the line ain’t easy.
4. HATE – LeBron continues to deny he played a role in the firing of David Blatt. If he would own up to what appears to be obvious – that he spoke with upper management about the direction of the Cavs – I would be fine with it. A players with LeBron’s talent and leadership has earned the right to discuss the leadership of the team. If he isn’t on board, a change needs to be made. It was, and now James needs to back up his decision by winning a championship.
3. LOVE – David Blatt was fired at LeBron’s request. Assuming that’s true, I like that he voiced his grave concerns about how Blatt led the team. Hired to coach a team in transition, Blatt was never a fit to lead a championship contending team featuring the world’s most physically gifted player. James knew it, expressed it many times on and off the court, and finally a change was made. Just as Magic Johnson dispatched Paul Westhead in favor of Pat Riley, James did the right thing in asserting his leadership to cause change.
2. HATE – Even in high school, the contract riders mandating special treatment for LeBron and his family were legendary. When his St. Vincent St. Mary team went on the road to various arenas to accommodate the crowds who wanted to see the next big thing, the riders never demanded a bowl of M&Ms with the browns removed, but they were quite self-indulgent, according to those who were required to deliver on them.
1. LOVE – His excellence shows idiocy and selfishness of the one-and-done rule. The NBA continues to insist that high school grads entering the NBA is bad for the young men who attempt it. It wasn’t bad for LeBron, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Jermaine O’Neal, or many others. It was bad for owners who were forced to reward the NBA’s best with a max deal a year earlier than they do today. Anyone who believes NBA owners operate in the best interest of its incoming draft classes by requiring a year away from high school need only look at LeBron for assurance they are wrong. It’s about cash – it’s always about cash.
Kent Sterling hosts a sports-talk show on CBS Sports 1430 weekdays from 3 p.m.-6 p.m. and covers all Indiana sports at kentsterling.com.