OKLAHOMA CITY, February 19, 2013—As WWE would call it, LeBron James “went heel.” It wasn’t always that way.
LeBron started out the golden boy as a high school superstar, who was the first overall pick in the draft and lived up to expectations. He was drafted by his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, took them to the Finals, won MVPs, and became the best basketball player in the world.
Then his contract was up and he turned down an extension from Cleveland to join the Miami Heat with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The city of Cleveland extended their collective hands and LeBron hit them with a chair shot.
He embraced his new role. He was the villain. Now he was hated, no longer the face of the NBA. LeBron, Wade and Bosh, all three had a pep rally where LeBron famously touted the huge number of championships they would win all before they had played even one game.
Where LeBron used to dance in blowout games and take fake-posed pictures with his teammates before games, he would now play with a scowl.
When the Heat faced the Mavericks in his first year in Miami in the NBA Finals the world rooted against him. How dare he do what he did?
In last year’s Finals, a poll ran on espn.com: Who are you rooting to win the championship? The map of the U.S. was entirely for the Thunder except for Florida and the state of Washington.
LeBron and the Heat won the championship in 2012 and then something happened. Suddenly that weight was off his shoulders and he was having fun again. In WWE terms, he became a face.
Now you don’t just get to decide that you are now a good guy, the fans have to embrace it. There have been plenty of faces in WWE history that had to change because the fans hated them: two examples being The Rock and eventually Hulk Hogan.
But look at what LeBron has done this year. First off, his basketball is off the charts. As good as he was last year, he might be better this year. He’s the first player in history to score 30 points or more while shooting over 60% from the floor for five straight games.
It’s off the court, too. A fan shoots a half-court shot to win $75,000 and gets unsuspectingly tackled by LeBron in celebration. In a game last week, the ball went into the stands where LeBron played catch with the fan wearing his jersey. In Oklahoma City, LeBron spent several minutes after the game signing autographs on his way off the court. Nobody does that, especially superstars.
You may not like what he did. Most would agree his “decision” was handled pretty poorly, but outside of Cavs fans how could you not love what he’s currently doing? He’s the best basketball player on the planet while winning and he’s embracing it with the fans.
Even if you still hate him, you can’t help but give a slight smile when you see this stuff. None of it seems contrived, it seems like it’s just LeBron being LeBron.
But anyone that has watched wrestling knows not to get sucked in too much. LeBron’s a free agent in 2014. Watch out for the chair!
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