Let me start this with a disclaimer: an ESPN-caliber sports analyst I am certainly not. During most typical “sports talks” around me, I remain pretty quiet, rather than stuffing my foot in my mouth while trying to discuss something I’m not very knowledgeable of. Statistics, history, technical terms for pretty much anything…none of it catches my personal interest. I’ve never fully understood allowing a sports game to ruin my entire day or cause a fight with someone else for their team preference. With that said, I’ve always respected professional athletes for their discipline and perserverence, and I can definitely get into a good game, regardless of the sport. Of all the sports in existence though, the one I find myself being most captivated by has always been basketball.
Since that’s out of the way, let’s discuss the most talked about man right now, on the internet or otherwise: King LeBron James. Even if your sports knowledge is lower than mine, and you claim you couldn’t care less, you’ve probably heard about him and his fellow Cavaliers’ hard-fought victory in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals last night over the Golden State Warriors. LeBron put on a clinic, as he’s done throughout the entire series, proving that he is undoubtedly one of the best all-around players to ever touch a court.
Yet, the immense amount of unfounded hatred towards him from total strangers who have never and will never meet him, continues. My social media feeds are chock-full of Bron-haters’ desperate attempts to discredit the Cavs’ completely legitimate victory, saying backhanded shit like “I still hate him, but he played pretty well I guess” and “he did ok, but he’s still not as good as (insert player from a completely different era)”. It’s almost as if the quieter, “humbler” demeanor of the Warrior’s star player Steph Curry made him an automatic “underdog” when compared to James, prompting haters to root for him immediately, despite the fact that Curry can be just as, if not more, flagrantly arrogant as LeBron has been. Also, let’s not pretend elements of racism don’t play a role in this favoritism either, but my man Truck already thoroughly discussed that aspect.
I’m not acting like LeBron is a total victim or a saint; the man’s ego is bigger than the arenas he plays in. I may not be an expert on his profession per se, but I do have a good enough of a grasp on human nature to understand how confidence at that level can be misconstrued as “arrogance” to the less secure (read: most people), which breeds internal envy, expressed as hate externally. There’s even a (creepily large) Facebook group dedicated to posting stupid memes mocking James. How much time is on these peoples’ hands?
Kobe Bryant, who just retired after an illustrious career, is another one of the most hated, yet objectively gifted players to dribble a ball. He obviously has a “questionable” past personally, but speaking on his athletic prowess alone, the guy is statistically one of the greatest ball players ever. But he’s also a confident, successful black man in America, which usually leads to intimidation and/or envy being morphed into contempt, like I mentioned earlier. He never really conducted himself as “humbly” as a majority of society would have probably preferred.
The same could be said about another one of the best to ever squeak a pair of sneakers across the hardwood, Allen Iverson. While he was essentially carrying an entire team on his back and crossing over Michael Jordan, people were obsessing over his “gangbanger” image, from the cornrows to the tattoos, as well as his disdain for authority and archaic sports rituals (i.e. the infamous “practice” press conference speech). Now, speaking of the man whose ankles were so tragically shattered by A.I., why hasn’t Michael Jordan amassed the level of hate that a LeBron, Kobe or Iverson has, and is widely regarded as THE best player to ever touch the court, despite repeatedly proving to be a pretty shitty human who cares about nothing but money?
It’s because Jordan never stood for shit, in his entire career. He was notoriously non-partisan when it came to politics (which ironically made him one of the most ‘political’ star athletes ever) and shied away from ever commenting on any social/global issues. I’m not saying that athletes/celebrities HAVE to comment on these things; I’m just saying it was this uber ‘safe’ aura Jordan consciously carried that made him so much less ‘hatable’ by a lot of the same types of folks who admonished Iverson, Kobe and now, LeBron. Iverson was the personification of rebellion, bucking authority left and right, but always for practical reasons, inspiring youth to think for themselves. James openly supported the #BlackLivesMatter movement by wearing a shirt emblazoned with “I Can’t Breathe” in memory of Eric Gardner, and he voices his opinions (as any human has the right to do) on social media regularly. Even if social media did exist during Jordan’s prime, I highly doubt MJ would be posting anything that could potentially offend the very people who invest into his overpriced shoes, or compromise his many other endorsement deals.
And then there’s Kobe, who made the “mistake” of being honest about his own prowess on the court, often commenting on his superiority to others and bigging himself up whenever he saw fit, all the while backing it up AGAIN and AGAIN, much to his haters’ dismay; one could say, he was the Kanye West of basketball (West himself even recently compared the two in a verse). Less confident folks don’t like that brazen acknowledgement of one’s own talent; hence a large chunk of the world’s strange, obsessive hatred with the rapper AND the baller in question here. Many people truly believe they cannot be great at anything, or even just feel great about their own gifts or accomplishments; therefore, openly great people, unafraid to go after what they want, are often dragged down by those who can’t relate to their outlook.
To elaborate on Kanye as an example, many of his detractors say they prefer the “old” Kanye, who was goofier, a good deal more humble comparatively, and just generally a “well behaved” black guy overall. But once he began speaking out against the then-president’s neglect of dying black families, or professing how hard he worked to rightfully earn the spot he’s in, or complaining about invasive paparazzi literally trespassing on his property, he’s a “loudmouthed asshole” to these same fickle people. The sad reality of this cruel world is that there will always be a large constituency of unhappy, insecure, bitter people who just hate watching others shine because they are too lazy to achieve any formidable goals themselves, yet manage to muster up enough energy to continuously hate on those they perceive, deep down, as doing “better” than they ever will or can.
Following the recent, tragic death of Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown said:
“Ali didn’t go from America’s most hated athlete to its most beloved until he lost the ability to speak.”
He’s dead on. Ali was chastised by a large portion of the country for being openly opinionated, from his name change prompted by his devout Muslim faith, to the draft he “dodged” simply because the Viet Nam War was a giant crock of shit. He was also very open about just how fantastic he was in the ring, taunting his opponents to play mind games before he defeated them. It was only once Parkinson’s eroded Ali’s motor skills to the point he couldn’t talk that he became more widely embraced, rather than wrongly labeled “overrated”, or “arrogant”, or various other things I’m not going to type.
This mass “hater” mob mentality applies to any other profession outside of sports or music, politics included. Donald Trump exemplifies what these hateful people seem to think LeBron or Kanye actually are: a completely ego-driven, ignorant, selfish sack of shit who is nowhere near as great as he proclaims he is. The main difference is, Trump received a “small loan”, as he put it, of a million dollars from his father to get started in business, and has effectively ran numerous ventures into the ground, where as LeBron and Kanye have the accolades to back up the shit they talk. Trump is, by all means, a failure of a businessman on the books who hasn’t earned a damn thing in his life, spouting off empty boasts about his business prowess and political promises he can’t possibly keep.
And that is where the line is drawn between “arrogance” and “confidence”: being able to back up what you say. If there’s one thing a hater hates more than their targets themselves, it’s when those people keep winning like they say they will. History has proven that the majority of confident folks who dare (read that word sarcastically) to be vocal about their greatness, take a stand against any authoritative force telling them to settle into the mediocrity of “reality”, and then proceed to back up their confidence with positive results, are met with immense hate from those below them on life’s totem pole. Every little failure they may encounter, as anyone striving to succeed is bound to, is met with glee from those who are ultimately too damn scared to even make an attempt at the shit they’re actually doing.
It may sound naive to some, but I can only hope that these poor souls eventually discover that even if they find a successful person’s personality abrasive or disagree with their beliefs, they’d benefit their own lives a lot more by learning from the steps that person is making rather than struggling to come up with new ways to talk down on them. It’s a waste of time and energy that won’t gain the approval of anyone but other negative, stagnant people. As long as one understands that striving to be great comes with receiving hate, and can ignore the crabs trying to drag them back down to the bottom of the barrel, then what can hold them back from chasing a dream they love and excel at? Congratulations to King James and the Cavs on a well-earned championship.
And I swear I didn’t write this piece just because a bunch of rappers I’m better than try to pretend I’m not great.
Ok…maybe that did inspire it. Just a little bit.