By Ron EvangelistaAs a kid, weekend mornings were always the best time of the week. My mom cooking breakfast, fresh coffee brewing, and the sun slowly starting to envelop the vibrant city streets. However, what made it complete was my dad, me and my older brother watching NBA games on the TV.
On one of those cheerful mornings, Cleveland Cavaliers played against the Detroit Pistons, with a certain young player racking up the points and stuffing the stat sheet with reckless abandon. This particular individual who was more superhuman than normal was none other than LeBron James. Driving to the hoop like a Mack truck with the speed of a bullet, LeBron was majestic, spectacular, and awe-inspiring to watch.
And I hated him from that moment on.
I can’t recall which team won that game, but what I do remember is that there was a rising star in Cleveland and for reasons unknown, I just couldn’t stand the sight of him. Every single one of my buddies talked about how great this guy was, and all I could think of was when he was going to sag off from the spotlight. “He’s just a flash in the pan, a one-hit wonder,” I mumbled to myself most of the time. I was silenced when he brought his team full of mediocre players to the NBA Finals against the heavily favored San Antonio Spurs. They lost, but he was starting to blossom into one of the premier players the game has ever seen.
And I hated him even more.
When “The King” took his talents to South Beach, my abhorrence for the man grew and now there was a legitimate reason to loathe the guy. James couldn’t get past the Boston Celtics, so he had to form a super team with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to compete and ultimately beat the Celtics in the playoffs. This had me seething, and it almost felt like ecstasy when the Dallas Mavericks handed them a very unexpected finals loss. Man, it felt good for them to lose.
When he won back-to-back titles the following years, it was excruciating for me. As any man who couldn’t accept defeat, and other LeBron haters, I started to retreat to lame excuses.
“Ray Allen bailed him out!” “He had two other All-Stars in his team!” “LeBron James had the refs on his side!” Nonsensical phrases that were spewing out of my mouth endlessly two months after his second title win.
And my dislike for the guy was at an all-time high.
But things changed when he moved back to Cleveland after an embarrassing championship loss to the Spurs. This guy was out to prove something, and how can I not admire that? How can anyone in their right mind not respect the guy for wanting to cement his own legacy?
When the new look Cleveland Cavaliers lost to the Golden State Warriors in 2015, I felt something that I never expected to feel regarding LeBron losing: I was saddened. Why am I suddenly feeling sympathy and admiration towards a King that had a paper crown in my books?
Then it hit me. I was hating a man who was just doing what he does best and continuously improving his craft. Never mind that he once joined a team filled with contenders to compete for a championship. Isn’t that the goal of the whole thing?
Everyone needed key players in their teams. Kobe had Gasol, Jordan had Pippen and LeBron was getting nobodies in Cleveland. Doing what’s best for himself and going to a team with better teammates was more of a business decision and most of us would have done the same.
When he played like a madman, carrying the Cavaliers in the 2016 Finals, beating arguably the best team in NBA history, the 73-9 Golden State Warriors, James solidified himself as a winner.
He went back home and as he promised, brought home a championship. For many people, excuses were abundant again but not for me. It felt like the pebble in my shoe was finally gone.
And so did my hate for one of the best to ever play the game.
[Thumbnail photo from NBA; videos from YouTube]