- Rick Reilly, Columnist, ESPN.com
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This whole We Hate LeBron thing reminds me of a story.
A woman is in front of an apartment house that's engulfed in flames. She's screaming, "Help! Help! My baby's in there!"
A man sprints up and says, "Which floor?"
"Tenth!" she screams. "In the back!"
He rips off his coat and goes running in. Five minutes later, he's back, coughing, choking, and handing the woman the baby.
She looks at the man with a frown and sniffs, "He had a hat."
That's life for LeBron James.
Anything short of an NBA title makes James a useless wad of pre-chewed pork gristle in your eyes. Whatever he does -- three MVPs in nine seasons -- it's never enough.
You hate him -- still! -- for the way he botched the announcement of his free-agent move from Cleveland to Miami.
Forget that hundreds of people move from Cleveland to Miami every year.
Forget that dozens of NBA players change teams every year.
It was only one mistake. Has he showed up in any police reports since? Has he cheated on his fiancée ? Has he left his children stranded in the pick-up circle at school?
Has he refused to speak to reporters after a single game this season? Has he called out his teammates for their poor play, as Kobe Bryant did twice this postseason? Has he gotten his coach fired? Been fined for criticizing refs? Asked to be traded, released or named general manager?
Has he punched anybody? Choked anybody? Screamed at any parking valets? (Mom doesn't count.)
Smashed a chair? Drop-kicked any equipment? Tiger Woods does that on the front nine.
OK, LeBron is not perfect. Threw a Gatorade cup. Punched a walking stick. Carries that stupid little man purse. But if you were to fill a plane with the most spoiled superstars in the country, he'd be boarding in the D group.
You despise him because he passes too much. Imagine that. You hate a modern NBA player for not being selfish.
OK, I'd like to see him use his bag of hoop tricks to drive more at the end of games, too. But it's not like he hasn't done it, dozens and dozens of times, including huge fourth quarters against Boston and Chicago in last season's playoffs.
You people seem to want him to take it every single time, even with Dwyane Wade as a teammate. And Chris Bosh. But it's The Big Three, isn't it? Not The Big One.
And just so you know: In playoff games, LeBron has taken 13 final shots in tight games in regulation and hit five of them to win or tie. Kobe has taken twice that and hit only seven. Can we all just take a Xanax?
Besides, he passes so exquisitely. His passes are clairvoyant, leading teammates to places they didn't even know they were supposed to go. They're as soft and buttery as croissants. Why wouldn't you want him passing?
And why is the hoops world so hypercritical of this one thing when he's so brilliant at every other part of the game? Defense? He's guarded every position against the Celtics -- the 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. "He's guarded everybody but me," says Celtics coach Doc Rivers.
Only Rajon Rondo is even close in all-around brilliance this postseason. James is second in points, fourth in steals, 10th in assists, second in minutes. He leads his team in double-doubles and the league in double standards. Wade missed an open jumper to lose Game 4 in overtime -- how come he's not "scared"?
Last year, you hated him for being a shrinker. Now you hate him for not being a closer. Every game, he must CLOSE. Was Magic Johnson a closer? A few times, yes. Every freaking time? No. And by the way, most of the time James doesn't need to close because he has been so drop-your-popcorn good the entire game.
Aren't we still playing the game of basketball? What happened to attacking the defense where it's softest? What's wrong with looking for the open shot? Aren't his 12 teammates getting paid, too?
People -- enough. This whole "Crown or Drown" thinking on James has to stop. Grown men are actually strapping microphones to their ties and saying that if James doesn't win the title, the Heat ought to be broken up. For what? For making the Finals last year? For making (at least) the Eastern finals this year? James has been with these guys only two seasons. It took Michelangelo four years to paint the Sistine Chapel. You people would've fired him in two?
But I think the reason you hate LeBron James the most is that he just doesn't seem to suffer his failures as much as you'd like him to. You want him to brood like Kobe after losses, glare like Jordan when things don't go his way, scream at teammates like Tom Brady when they're behind.
That's not James. His spirit is too light. He's too much fun. He's a 6-foot-8 pixie, a 27-year-old kid who's addicted to kidding. He's a genuinely sweet person. You think of the great athletes of our generation -- Jordan, Woods, Lance Armstrong. They all had a bit of the jerk gene in them. James is missing it. He is loved by his teammates, not feared. So sue.
That's probably going to work against him in the long run. It will keep him from being Jordan or Kobe or Kareem. It will keep him from being enough.
But isn't that somebody you want your kids to have as their hero?
Hat or no hat?
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