Commentary

Is this about LeBron or Tim Tebow?

Updated: October 12, 2011, 1:54 PM ET
By LZ Granderson | ESPN.com

I won't pretend to know exactly what's going on in LeBron James' head.

After his free-agency PR debacle, series of curious quotes about his fans and a still unexplainable disengaged Finals performance-- I don't think Dr. Phil could successfully navigate the labyrinth that is James' psyche.

LeBron James
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesLeBron James has been in the spotlight turned on Tim Tebow.

But as I read his recent tweets defending Tim Tebow from the latest round of harsh, on-air criticism -- this time, courtesy of Merril Hoge -- I couldn't help but see a young man still hurting from what was undoubtedly the most difficult year of his career. While I agree with a lot of what he said about Tebow -- "He's a hard worker, a student of the game, a natural born leader and most of all a WINNER!" -- I couldn't help but wonder how much of his expression was about Tebow and how much was really about him. Words he wanted to say, but couldn't or didn't know how to say as he moved on from "The Decision" and the jersey burning and the Finals and Charles Barkley's words on TNT and Seth Meyers' jokes at the ESPYs and everyone else who took shots at him.

Especially when he finished his thoughts on Tebow with, "Guys get on that TV and act like they was all WORLD when they played. How bout encouraging him and wishing him the best instead of hating!"

Given what James has been through, would it not be natural for him to see similarities between the tone of criticism hurled at Tebow and the criticism hurled at him? (A tone, by the way, I find unfair in both cases.)

Am I an apologist looking to garner sympathy for the devil?

[+] EnlargeTebow Statue
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesTim Tebow already has a guaranteed place in Florida football history, and a statue.

Well no, because LeBron is no devil. Neither is Tebow.

If you look at what they've accomplished up to this point in their lives as young men and professional athletes, they're quite remarkable. True, neither has won a pro championship as of yet -- hell, Tebow barely played his rookie year -- but how can you not categorize them as highly successful people? How can you not appreciate the incredible hard work it took both men to not only overcome the odds -- James had a less than ideal childhood, and doctors thought Tebow would be stillborn because of an infection -- but become record breakers in their sports and positive contributors to society?

How? I'll tell you how they're discounted: Their personalities irk the hell out of some people. They were ordained immortals by the media while appearing human to the rest of us. Tebow wears his religion on his sleeve. LeBron sometimes behaves as if he is a religion. All that ticks people off.

How dare Tebow write a memoir before he's old enough to rent a car? Who does LeBron think he is, calling himself "King"?

I'm not saying the two guys are innocent victims, but for a pair of men who volunteer and have never been arrested or even suspended by their teams, they sure get dissed a lot. That's why I feel LeBron's tweets were cathartic as much as a challenge to Hoge and all the other talking heads.

It's very easy to allow the irritating, nails-on-a-chalkboard aspects of LeBron's life or Tebow's life to contaminate everything else about him or justify our selective memory in criticizing him. Like how Tebow supposedly can't pass and has no chance in the pros, despite only being in his second year. Or how the old-school players such as Magic and Jordan claim they would have never joined forces with another superstar to win, but fail to mention they didn't have to because they already had Hall of Fame teammates.

Tim Tebow
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesTim Tebow (No. 15) should be the heir apparent based on his draft position, but their are doubts among teammates, and Kyle Orton (No. 8) is still on the Broncos' roster.

Before arriving in Miami, James had two teammates who made the All-Star team once in his seven years in Cleveland: Zydrunas Ilgauskas in 2005 and Mo Williams in 2009.

And Williams was an injury replacement.

But a lot of critics don't talk about LeBron's supporting cast because, well, a lot of critics don't like James. Just as people's dislike of Tebow seems to erase that Kyle Orton -- the guy ahead of Tebow on Denver's depth chart -- was considered one of the worst quarterbacks in the league his first three seasons in Chicago. If he worked hard and got better, why can't the guy who is arguably the most successful player in college football history?

Or better yet, why won't we allow him to?

It's these kinds of questions that likely prompted LeBron to get Tebow's back via Twitter. It's these kinds of questions he probably would like answered for himself.

LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at lzgranderson@yahoo.com.

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LZ Granderson | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine

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