In Defense of LeBron James

According to my totally scientific poll, the two most hated professional athletes in the US are Alex Rodriguez and LeBron James.

ARod I get. He cheated. He makes way too much money. He’s the personification of everything that’s wrong with American sports today.

But what about LeBron? Most people would say all the same things about him, with the exception of cheating (although some would argue that the creation of this Heat team was a form of cheating. PS: it wasn’t).

Now, I am not really an NBA fan. It’s probably 5th or 6th on my list of sports that I follow and enjoy. I’m not a LeBron/Heat fan. I rooted against him in this series because Tim Duncan is my favorite.

But, I don’t get the hate for LeBron. His sins, as far as I can tell, are:

  1. He is really good
  2. Some people call him the greatest (presumably before he has earned it)
  3. He makes a lot of money
  4. The “decision” thing where he went on ESPN and told the world he would “take his talents to South Beach” and left the city of Cleveland heartbroken

I get it. There are always some athletes and team we just love to hate and root against (for me this is Tom Brady and the Patriots).

But I actually think we should be celebrating LeBron James. NBA excellence has been expected of him since he was in middle school. His high school games were on ESPN. He has always been expected to be the next “great one”. He brought even more expectations on himself by going to Miami.

That’s a lot for a young person to take on. Dude’s only 28. He’s been carrying that weight around for over half his life.

As a college minister, I know a lot of great 20-year-old kids. I know a lot of hard-working kids. I know a lot of kids with good character and healthy ambitions.

I don’t know how many of these kids could handle millions of dollars, huge expectations, constant pressure and scrutiny, and come out of it in a good place.

How in the world we, as a culture, expected LeBron James to turn out a semi-decent human being is beyond me.

But it seems like he’s exactly that: a good dude. Mature. Grateful. Again, he’s only 28. I know people twice his age who are far less mature and have had far more normal life experiences.

LeBron’s post-game speech last night went like this:

“Listen, for me I can’t worry about what everybody say about me. I’m LeBron James. From Akron, Ohio. From the inner city. I’m not even supposed to be here…That’s enough. Every night I walk into the locker room I see a No. 6 with ‘James’ on the back. I’m blessed.”

We live in an age of extended adolescence and so why is it weird that a 20 or 22 or 25-year-old LeBron James acted immaturely (and even that is debatable).

I would argue, again, that LeBron is grown up now and he seems (I don’t know him) to get it…to understand who he is and how he’s been gifted…and to be grateful for it.

I wish more people could see that, could see his growth, and celebrate it, because we need to celebrate people who grow and mature.

There’s a chance that LeBron skips town and joins another team in a year. There’s a chance that this all goes to his head and this post looks pretty silly in a couple of years.

But right now, in this moment, forget about his two championships…LeBron James has matured and grown and is gracious about it, and that is something that is far too often left uncelebrated in this day and age.

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