I really want to give LeBron James a free pass or at least the benefit of the doubt. After his Cavaliers submitted to the Magic Saturday night, James basically made a b-line for the locker room and left Amway Arena without speaking to reporters. More notable, he left the court without congratulating any of the Magic players on their win.
I know shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries with your opponent after a game is pee-wee, but few professional athletes have been more image-savvy than James and passing on such a simple gesture of sportsmanship might be the first real crack we’ve seen in King James’ armor since his rise to the NBA’s elite.
When James finally spoke to reporters on Sunday, his justification for not congratulating the Magic seemed — at least in my opinion — rather bitter. James said:
It’s hard for me to congratulate somebody after you just lose to them. I’m a winner. It’s not being a poor sport or anything like that. If somebody beats you up, you’re not going to congratulate them. … I’m a competitor. That’s what I do. It doesn’t make sense for me to go over and shake somebody’s hand.
Kind of disappointing and surprising to hear from someone perceived as an all-around guy. It’s like hearing your 2nd grade teacher swear or seeing your pastor at the bar. As an Orlando Magic fan and LeBron James fan, I told myself I could be happy with either team winning the Eastern Conference Finals. Now, I’m doubly glad Orlando won considering James’ reaction to losing, which seems to expose in him some sense of entitlement.
Sure, the Cavs had the best record in the NBA. Sure, he was named the MVP. But no other league sees its teams — I repeat, teams, not individuals — step their game up more in the playoffs than the NBA. It just so happens James led a good team that seemed complacent based on its regular-season performance. They were steamrolled by a Magic team that just continued to get better as the playoffs rolled on.
It would probably be in James’ best interests to fade into the background and avoid any Alex Rodriguez-like interruptions of the NBA Finals. It’s going to be one hell of a series and the last thing the game needs is James playing the role of whiny superstar.