There are a few things that are certain when it comes to NBA superstar LeBron James. He’s going to go down as one of the best basketball players ever. He is a philanthropist. He is a role model. While James still has a few top level years left to play (editor’s note, TB is a Lakers fan), one thing is also very clear: LeBron James can’t win. No matter what LeBron does or does not do, there will be a loud chorus of people to complain.
Perhaps this can be traced back to Skip Bayless, formerly of ESPN and currently of Fox Sports, and his daily relentless attack on James the basketball player. Bayless has made a career of riding athletes’ coattails and being the resident contrarian, arbiter of all that is good with sport. But no athlete has felt his brunt like LeBron James. Whatever LeBron did in any situation, it was always the wrong answer. He didn’t have a clutch gene, whatever that is. He passed when he should have shot it because Michael Jordan never did (except to John Paxson and Steve Kerr among others). Despite all of America knowing full well that Skip Bayless is a modern day carnival barker, his LeBron talking points have still helped to shape James’ ongoing narrative.
When it comes to basketball only, at this point you either think Michael Jordan or LeBron is the best ever. I certainly think Kareem Abdul-Jabbar belongs in the conversation, but when it comes to MJ vs LeBron there are two distinct camps. It’s been that way since James was in Miami. No matter what James does, to some, he will never unseat Michael Jordan as the GOAT. To others, he’s already done enough to warrant the unofficial title. And no matter what LeBron does in LA (again, I hope for 2-3 titles at least), nothing will change anyone’s opinion either way. The sides are too divided. Now, to be fair, James has often talked about chasing the ghost of MJ so he’s brought some of this on himself. However, the argument has long since been played out.
LeBron James is unique. He was labeled as “The Chosen One” by Sports Illustrated while he was in high school. You’d have to go back to Kareem to see a high school kid that had those great expectations put on them and actually be as good or better than advertised. The argument can be made that LeBron has played at a higher level for longer than anyone else in NBA history. He’s been top 5 in the league since 2005 and when the 2019-20 season tips off, he’ll still be a top 5 player. And James has done all this while staying scandal free. He’s had the brightest of spotlights on him since his junior year of high school and he’s stayed nearly pristine. In this day and age, that’s amazing.
LeBron James built a school for disadvantage kids in his hometown and critics slandered it. He stood up for racial equality and he was told to shut up and dribble. He’s been as vocal as any athlete about making the world a better place and he’s told to keep his mouth shut. Even when it comes to parenting, LeBron can’t win. In the latest “issue,” some folks are talking about his over-the-top histrionics at his son’s AAU basketball game.
There’s a lot to unpack with his AAU theatrics. First, it’s AAU and, goodness, that is not the most organized level of the sport ever (see the above Twitter thread, some tweets are NSFW). AAU, at times, is the Wild, Wild West of productions where anything goes, so LeBron being over the top isn’t that big of a deal. Critics point out that other dads can’t do what LeBron does and my answer to that is: the other dads are NOT LeBron James. I hate to be the one to break this to you, but some people can get away with things that others can’t. It happens. “But what about the kids?” one might ask “Are they overshadowed?” No. James’ son’s teammates and foes have all come out and resounding said that yes, they enjoy the excitement LeBron James brings.
If we’re going to talk about LeBron James the parent, make sure to highlight this touching moment between James and his son Bryce. Talk about how he’s the cheesy dad with his Taco Tuesdays. James didn’t grow up with a father and maybe that’s lead to him going a bit overboard with his kids. No, he’s not LaVar Ball as some have pointed out. But he seems to be giving his kids his best, a far cry from what he had growing up. Yes, not every dad is going to do what he does with his kids, but not every dad is regarded as the best basketball player of his generation either.
I have no insider knowledge, but I think LeBron is ok with who he is and what he’s doing. I’m not naive enough to know there’s a lot of PR that goes into his public image, but he’s certainly not the type of winner we’ve come to love either. LeBron James is in the ultimate “damned if you, damned if you don’t” part of his life and I think he finally understands that he will never please his critics. One day, he’ll hang up his sneakers for the last time. And one day, he’ll not have anymore sponsor deals. And one day, some time in the future, when the crowds have faded and the commentators are complaining about the next chosen one, LeBron James and his son will look back and remember those good times they had back at AAU ball.