During Game 1 of the NBA Finals Jeff Van Gundy delivered his closing arguments in a year-long battle between Fans v. Lebron. While the verdict will never be heard, it raised a question about fandom’s rationale for hating Lebron. Here are the remarks in their full glory by Van Gundy which were transcribed by Shannon Owens of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

“He’s never gotten into any type of scandal, all he decided to do was to go to a different place to work,” Van Gundy said. “And it just shows you that we celebrate athletes who go through addictions, go through problems with the law. This isn’t what LeBron James has had problems with. He made a questionable decision, at best, to have the decision and then I think the Miami Heat organization did themselves a disservice by having that over-the-top celebration.”

“And just going back to James’ decision, the other part is, wouldn’t every working American want to chose where they want to work and who they work with if they could,” Van Gundy questioned. “And so we resent the thing that we would want in our own profession.”

However, Van Gundy’s remarks oversimplify the vitriol aimed at Lebron. At least mine. But it also reveals a serious flaw in the design of Lebron’s detractors and fans in general. I’ve gone out of my way to deliver punchline after punchline after punchline to Lebron with Manny Pacquaio like efficiency but have been sure to delineate Lebron the person from Lebron the athlete.

Jeff Van Gundy is exactly right about Lebron never getting into any type of off the court scandals. That’s a point for Lebron James the person. Professional basketball isn’t like working at Food Lion. Nobody ever argues over the best bagger at Safeway leaving for a management job at Safeway. There are only 30 teams in the world’s premiere league, the NBA. There are probably more Whole Foods in Alaska than there are NBA franchises. The comparison doesn’t hold up.

The second part of his comments has been discussed ad nauseum since last July. Lebron didn’t just leave Cleveland. He did the equivalent of scheduling an engagement party for Savannah, before asking Meagan Good and Kelly Rowland for their hands in marriage in a Mormon ceremony.

Thirdly, There’s a reason the Redskins don’t sell tickets to Albert Haynesworth’s next pre-trial hearing. Nobody cheers for that. We cheer for the rare occasion he musters the energy for a tackle.

Most of the vitriol is directed at Lebron the athlete. Rather than display the type of hardheaded perseverance that has kept Dirk Nowitzki in the Finals, he opted for a shortcut. It puts an asterisk beside any championship he wins in Miami. When the going got tough, he got up and left. As a competitor, Jordan decided to stick it out and was bestowed with a sidekick in Pippen, a sideshow in Rodman and six NBA titles.

When Kobe had his NBA mid-life crisis in 2007, he pleaded with management to bring a sidekick to him in L.A. When he became a free agent in 2004, his final choice came down to the Clippers and the Lakers. Lebron never embraced the challenge like Kobe or Jordan. I’ll always hold that against him as an athlete not as a human being. It’s the same way I’ll never respect Brandon Marshall as a person but would trade Tim Tebow for him any day. My respect for Lebron James the person has remained intact.

At least Van Gundy didn’t see JJ Hickson twitter timeline after Game 1 and 2. JJ Hickson is still getting ripped three days later for his comments supporting Lebron after Miami’s Game 1 win. Among those was probably @CavsForMavs, an online Twitter account created by disgruntled Cavs fans. Their slogan. Defeat. Pure. Evil. While their account is tongue in cheek and basketball related, there is a surprising number of fans who believe basketball decisions reflect a person’s character and likely take that nickname literally.

As fans, we have to remember to keep perspective and recognize the difference between technical fouls and arrest warrants or leaving your hometown team(Lebron) and leaving your pregnant wife for your mistress(Tiki Barber). It’s not a battle to the death. Lebron the athlete can exist in the same reality as Lebron the person. I just won’t be a fan of both.


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