I was a huge LeBron hater. I’ll admit it. No shame. Well, maybe a little shame. I guzzled deeply from the well of haterade. Massed ill-omened jinns against him in my deepest wishes. Screened private reveries of career-ending ankle injuries in my head. I don’t think I have ever coughed up equal gallons of bile and invective and four-letter words at a single person living or dead, public or personal. What can I say? I’m an emotional guy. Something about LeBron had knifed so deeply into me I couldn’t yank it out.
My beef was two-fold, time-stamped from the Post-Decision era. First, Team LeBron seemed to be relentlessly shoving storylines down our throats. Remember LeBron the villain? LeBron going to college? If the true Homeric mythmakers of our time are Nike’s marketing team, they were putting in the hours trying to make us love him again. That's what I didn’t like, scripting reality and trying to tweak emotional reactions to sell sneakers – just let us dislike him, for god’s sake.
And then there was Miami – the least Cleveland-like place possible, I thought at the time. There was the distinct feeling that LeBron’s exit was injury enough, but his choice of location was in its very un-Clevelandness a rebuke of Cleveland itself. In that, LeBron wasn’t like any number of sons and daughters of Northeast Ohio who take whatever talents they have away. That exit, however, contains no small amount of shade aimed at home. And here LeBron was doing it on an international stage.
Here’s where this story gets interesting. A few years after LeBron departs for The Heat, this LeBron hater actually moved to Miami himself. I worked and was good friends with Heat superfans. I passed by the American Airlines Arena everyday on my way to work. I literally lived in fucking South Beach.
And I dragged my LeBron loathing with me like a trunk of bricks. Get a few beers in me, I was a one-man badmouth machine, the city of Cleveland’s collective id in a real-time campaign to avenge our insult by annoying the hell out of as many Miami Heat fans as possible. Picture me on an outside patio on a beautiful night near the beach, raving some mad lunacy about the league fixing games for LeBron or Nike’s conspiracy to make us like him again or how he was a soulless corporate product. I remember seeing this flat look filling my friends’ eyes when I got going – as if they’d stopped paying attention and just filed me away under “Angry Cleveland Fan.”
But secretly, during those years LeBron and I shared the 305, I think somewhere inside I must have realized that we were probably both living through similar feelings of dislocations, two Midwestern humps out of our clime. Did LeBron feel awkward too when strangers he’d never met went in for the besos on him? Was he freaked out when he saw his first flying cockroach? Did he eventually realize that a tropical summer can be just as shitty as a northern winter?
My beef with LeBron ended before either of us came home. In 2013, when the Heat fought the trophy away from the Spurs, my anti-LeBron noise was at peak. Twitter shit talk. Facebook sour grapes. But then I caught pictures online of a buddy of mine – Miami-born and bred – at the victory parade with his two young sons. Seeing how happy those kids were, their faces lit like fireworks, seeing that same look all over South Florida, hearing those pots and pans banging away, I felt a sharp sorrow that could only have sprung from envy. I was anti-LeBron because I wanted what he’d given so many people, but you can’t blame a guy when the joy and magic he gifts to others doesn’t get around to you. You let him be. And one day, maybe, that joy and magic gets around to you too.