the sports section

What’s the Point of Hating LeBron?

LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat dribbles against Gerald Wallace #45 of the Brooklyn Nets during their game at the Barclays Center on January 30, 2013 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.
LeBron James in the act of torching the Nets. Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

Once a month over at the Basketball Jones, a writer named Andrew Unterberger continues his long, lonely journey of Hating LeBron James. The series began during the NBA Finals last year, with his ultimate I Hate LeBron manifesto, and continues, like clockwork, every month. His defining thesis was right there in the first post: Hey, assholes, I’ve hated LeBron James for years before this, and I’ll still be hating him for years after you’ve lost interest … all the fairweather haters are jumping ship. Not me.

Hating LeBron, post-Decision, became less a widespread phenomenon than sports fans’ righteous cause. Hating LeBron felt like hating all the worst things that sports had become; he became our vessel. (NBA fans had two favorite teams: Their own, and whatever team was trying to keep the Heat from winning a title.) It was the universal sports fan emotion. The LeBron hatred stunned him and actually frightened the rest of the league; Carmelo Anthony told me in an interview shortly after he came to the Knicks that “no one wants [what happened to LeBron] to happen to you. It’s scary.” It was the biggest sports turnaround this side of Tiger Woods: To go from perfect to despised with a passion, like that.

But no one feels that way about LeBron anymore, this side of Unterberger. Once LeBron won his title last year, in such dominating fashion, it all just sort of faded away. Even those who tried to keep the hate fire burning ultimately faded away. It felt churlish, almost self-destructive, to continue holding such rancor against the best player of his generation, right in the middle of his prime. Watching LeBron run wild against the Nets last night in a 105–85 blowout at Barclays Center — he led an 18-2 third-quarter run that put the game away and seemed to do it entirely by himself — we had the same thought. Why deprive ourselves of the genius of LeBron’s talent? Why were we so mad again? Aw, look, he’s hugging fans who hit halfcourt shots. How do you not love this guy?

Of course, that makes us feel, as Unterberger put it, like fairweather haters. If you’re going to truly hate an athlete — for often illogical reasons — you have to stick with it; it’s not like Cleveland and Detroit and Knicks fans “came around” on Michael Jordan. All it took was one title for us to let up on LeBron? That hardly seems worth all the trouble. (Also: Poor Patrick Ewing. Yet another reminder of what just one title would have done for him.) But we’ve all dropped the LeBron hatred. The more you look at it, the more it seems less like any sort of warmth toward LeBron, and more just the roaming, fickle hands of public opinion. We have other people to hate now: Lance Armstrong. Alex Rodriguez. Hating LeBron takes more effort than we’re willing to put in. Except for lonely, devoted Andrew Unterberger. He keeps the hate alive, to remind us what we once were, to hope that we will all get there again. But watching LeBron fly through the air last night, making the game of basketball look as natural and easy as anything in the world, all that old hate … it all felt, now that we looked at it, kinda dumb.