It’s OK to Still Dislike LeBron James.

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I can’t believe I have to write this column, but here we are.

It’s almost been three full NBA seasons since LeBron James took a massive dump on the hearts of an entire fanbase on national tv his talents to South Beach. During that time, LeBron has fulfilled any sportswriters dream narrative to a “T”. He has fallen, risen, fallen hard (2011 Finals) and then rose to the challenge, taking his game to the next level on the way to his first championship. Say what you will about his decision to team up with two other Superstars, Lebron earned the hell out of that championship. He played basketball at a level we haven’t seen since MJ’s 90’s peak from Game 6 against the Celtics on. He won.

Now, all of a sudden, the tables have been turned. People who not so long ago considered LeBron to be an immature punk now find him to be one of the most likeable guys in the entire league. If I had a nickel every time I heard or read some variation of “If you hate LeBron, you hate basketball”, well, I’d have quite a few nickels. Probably enough to buy a (and by a, I mean several) Cooler Ranch Doritos Taco when they come out on Thursday. That’s right, Cooler Ranch Doritos Tacos. GET EXCITED.

This reasoning is, of course, ridiculous. It’s perfectly acceptable to dislike someone while begrudgingly admitting their excellence at something. Michael Jordan, by most accounts, was and still is a world-class dickhead. He is also the greatest basketball player of all time. Those two facts are completely separate from one another; Jordan’s athletic greatness is not diminished in anyway by the fact that he was a notoriously poor tipper despite making over $30 million a year from Nike alone. He could hate puppies, drive 50 in the passing lane and think Creed are rad; it wouldn’t change how good he was at basketball.

By the way, for all the LeBron fanboys who think LeBron is establishing himself as Jordan’s equal: yes, Jordan and LeBron both broke through at similar ages and career arcs (individual brilliance slowly translating to more and more success in the standings) to win their first championships. For Jordan, however, it was realistically the first of six consecutive championships, as Jordan never played a full season without winning a Larry O’Brien trophy from 1991 to 1998. Jordan also has significantly more  scoring titles and MVPs than Bron. A LOT has to go right just for LeBron to have a chance at matching Jordan, and much of it might be out of his control (Dwayne Wade’s aging, legitimate luxury tax concerns, Durant nipping at his heels). Let’s calm down and remember how unprecedented Jordan’s 1990’s were before we prematurely hold a coronation LeBron as his equal.

Our culture of sports (and our culture in general) tends to heavily weigh the highest levels of success. Great athletes that, for whatever reason, fail to win a championship in their career are inevitably believed to have a tarnished legacy. It doesn’t matter that Charles Barkley was just as good and instrumental in Phoenix’s 1993 playoff run as Dirk Norwitzki for Dallas in 2011. Dirk’s team got it done, eliminating every last criticism of his resume, while Charles still hears the occasional “Who cares what he says? Dude never won anything” in response to his latest outrageous statement on Inside the NBA.

The reverse of this effect is certainly real as well. Peyton Manning spent a decent chunk of his career building up a well-deserved reputation as a playoff choker. Sure, he would have the occasional “Peyton game” against an overmatched opponent like Denver or Kansas City to pad his stats, but he inexplicably also shit the proverbial bed way more than anyone as talented as Peyton Manning should. This “NOT CLUTCH” blemish on Peyton’s legacy was largely dropped after Manning’s Colts won it all in 2007.

Of course, Manning-defenders conveniently left out that 2007 was statistically Manning’s worst extended playoff run. Manning played like absolute dogshit for two and a half games. Despite throwing 1 touchdown and six interceptions during that span, he was carried to the AFC championship game by a surprise run by their much maligned Bob-Sanders-fueled defense. Normal Manning returned for one half to make a comeback against New England, but then had a decidedly ho-hum game as the Colts running game largely carried them to a win against one of the worst Super Bowl teams in recent memory. Manning’s 81.8 QB rating from that game is in the same ballpark as Josh Freeman, Christian Ponder and Ryan Fitzpatrick this past season. If Manning is better than Marino, it isn’t because he drew Rex freakin Grossman as an opposing QB in the biggest game of his career.

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Plus, Manning’s like, really ugly

For whatever reason, people bury their heads in the sand to any form of logic when championships are involved. Like Manning, LeBron winning a ring knocked a King-Kong sized monkey off his back. Unlike Manning, LeBron deserved the bump to his legacy as a player; he clearly earned his championship MVP 10 times more than Manning. However, why does this erase nine years of him being a total dickweed?

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LeBron has “The Chosen One” tattooed on his back. He reportedly once turned down a high schooler in a wheelchair at a Playboy Mansion function. He made fun of Dirk Nowitzki for having a cold. He still laughs incredulously at the refs whenever they have the audacity to call a foul on him. He infamously said that the majority of the then anti-LeBron public were pathetic normal people with pathetic normal-people problems. He once had the humility to suggest replacing his teammates with clones of himself. Of course, said clones would be programmed to flop like Vlade should anyone touch “the Chosen One”.

Then, there’s the whole issue of LeBron’s free agency, where the television special was merely the cherry on top of the douchebag sundae. LeBron turned his free agency into an unprecedented circus of ego-stroking and coddling with each team making elaborate presentations designed to show LeBron just how far backwards they would bend to cater to his every whim. It’s a shame that Cleveland lost, seeing as they had already decisively proven that they would let LeBron and his entourage of yes-men walk all over them if it increased their chances of keeping the superstar. According to Shaq, the coaching staff was basically afraid to reprimand LeBron for anything, even something as simple as getting back on defense.

He followed this up by throwing a championship rally before playing a single game in a Miami jersey. Remember this? I haven’t forgotten.

What a bunch of pricks. Sweet biceps flex, Bosh.

Has LeBron been less of a cock since winning his ring? A little bit. LeBron did not handle the tidal wave of negativity following the decision well. He has always been a guy who desires to be loved by all, to the extent where he has been mocked at times for about being oversensitive and over-manipulative of his image (seriously, the North Korea-style confiscation of the tapes of that college dude dunking on him was pretty pathetic). Now that the pressure is off a little and his coverage is positive again, LeBron certainly seems to feel more comfortable in his own skin. He is for the most part having fun and playing ball out there now. He hasn’t done anything overwhelmingly douchey in…almost a full year! Good for you, LeBron!

Does that change the fact that he has an ego the size of a small planet? Does it change the fact that he reportedly refers to himself in anonymous text messages as “King James”? Does it change the fact that the allegations of him being overly concerned with his image are perfectly confirmed by that “Look at me being normal fun-loving guy! I can laugh at myself! I’m just clowning around at a small local barbershop! Aren’t I relatable?!?” ad for Samsung? Does it change the fact that teaming up with a future =Hall of Famer and another All Star, all in their primes (2 future Hall of Famer’s if you count Chris Bosh’s opinion) was still kind of a bitch move? No, it doesn’t.

Now that LeBron is finally winning the big games, every good quality he craftily displays most be over-exagerated tenfold. Yes, it was kinda cool that he got so excited for the fan that made the half court shot. No, it doesn’t make him some saint. LeBron has always had that fun-loving, goofy personality. Before winning a ring, it got him criticized that he didn’t have a killer instinct, wasn’t as serious as Kobe or MJ, or just was a bad and overeager dancer. Now, it’s a sign of the exuberance with which he displays his brilliance. Barf.

My god. I don’t care that he’s a great basketball player. I’ve disliked him, for all the reason’s mentioned above, for much of his career. Guess what, he was pretty damn good at basketball then too. The fact that he’s gotten slightly better at basketball earns him more respect as basketball player. It shouldn’t lead me to make a sudden 180 on my take on the person himself. I shouldn’t have some moral obligation to root for the guy just because he’s good at his sport.

LeBron the basketball player deserves respect. He deserves credit. He doesn’t deserve my undying and unquestioning personal support, particularly when he has such an established reputation for being a piece of entitled shit.

Many talk of people as being “bandwagon” LeBron haters. The way I see it, there are far more bandwagon LeBron lovers these days. It’s not enough to just say he’s playing great basketball. We have to like him too. If you don’t like LeBron, there’s supposedly something wrong with you.

Fuck off. I liken it to my opinion of Kobe, another guy I think is both a great player and a total asshole. Watching Kobe play, I see him make several plays a game that make me shake my head and begrudgingly say “He’s good, dammit” to myself because there’s no other way to react to it. That’s the same treatment LeBron gets from me. “He’s good, dammit.”

Shouldn’t that be enough?