Josh Bowman Reflects on What Makes LeBron the Man he is, and Why he is Criticized so Severely
Watching what I can of the NBA Finals with my (much my more knowledgeable) friends Aaron, “Manx Dog”, and Myles, I can’t help but reflect on that polarizing figure, LeBron James.
LeBron is a fascinating man. He is averaging over 30 points a game, almost 10 rebounds a game, and 5 assists per game in the 2012 playoffs (including a huge 45 point game against the Celtics). He has had a monster season, shooting more accurately than ever before, racking up 27 points a game, and being named the 2012 league MVP. He might be the best player in the NBA right now, and quite possibly the best player in NBA history to have never won a championship.
At the same time, James has been a villain since he left Cleveland for Miami, despite having spent seven championship-free seasons with the team. He probably could have handled the move better, but it does raise the question, why does everybody hate LeBron so much?
Outside of “The Decision”, which (let’s keep it real) really only affected Cleveland, LeBron James has not given people much of a reason to hate him (Justin Schultz considers LeBron arrogant and hates his fans, but even he seems to be stretching for qualities to hate).
From his early days at St. Vincent–St.Mary High School, LeBron has been under insane scrutiny. He gets criticized for passing too much or for not passing enough. If he misses shots in the fourth quarter, people say he isn’t a clutch player, even if he has over 30 points in the game (I admit I have also been guilty of this). LeBron is scrutinized when he speaks to the press. He is criticized for being too upset over losing. It goes on and on.
The larger narrative that gets lost, captured nicely by the documentary “More Than A Game”, is of a man who is incredibly passionate about playing basketball. LeBron lives to play, and wants to play with his friends. It is hard to fully understand how tremendously rewarding it must be to find a group of like-minded people with whom you gel so completely. As an improviser, I know how terrific it feels to be on stage with like-minded performers. As a musician, I have experienced the joy of jamming and connecting with my friends for hours.
What makes LeBron James so fascinating is that he wears his heart on his sleeve. He cares about what he does. He passionately wants to win, and he wants to do it with his friends. At St. Vincent– St. Mary, those friends were Sian Cotton, Dru Joyce III, Romeo Travis, and Willie McGee. In Miami, they are Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade.
I believe that LeBron James is criticized for being emotional and being human. We expect him to be superhuman, robotic, and infallible. I am not suggesting that he is a perfect basketball player, but I believe that a lot of his criticism comes from misreading who he is. His emotional commitment is read as arrogance or immaturity. He is seen as having betrayed where he came from, despite spending the vast majority of his basketball playing years at home.
To take this a step further…as a society, we enforce a very strict code of masculine behaviour, which reaches its zenith in professional sports. A picture or video of LeBron James crying is celebrated as a moment of weakness, indicative that LeBron has failed a test of masculinity. When a celebrity loses their temper, or a player loses their composure; when a grown man is seen to be playing or is genuinely enthusiastic, or any tears are spilled; these are moments when we collectively shake our heads, disappointed in another man who didn’t keep it together under pressure. A man who succumbed to emotion.
LeBron James is not perfect, but that’s the point. He is a man capable of mistakes, emotional outbursts, and poor decision-making from time to time, just like the rest of us. He is also phenomenally gifted and driven, and it is his emotional commitment and passion which make him such a force on the basketball court. Truly understanding what makes him tick will help us understand what makes him great, and hopefully also help us begin to dissect the rigid code of masculinity that we enforce on ourselves and each other every day.