There was something a little unsettling throughout the NBA season, the playoffs and into the championship round about the amount of hatred directed toward the Miami Heat in general and LeBron James in particular.
When the final series ended Sunday night with the Dallas Mavericks hoisting the trophy, it seemed that spirits of all U.S. sports fans (and a number of German ones) were lifted at the same time.
What is difficult to figure out is why people cared. Or, at least, why they cared that much. Every professional sports team is comprised of opportunistic vagabonds who, understandably, try to navigate their careers in such a way as to win the most championships and make the most money. Not necessarily in that order.
Maybe the LeBron antics that surrounded his departure from Cleveland and arrival in Miami were over the top, even by the tacky standards of the NBA, but the underlying motivation was no different than that of anyone else who voluntarily changes teams. This will be better for me, me, me!
Criticizing someone for leaving Cleveland - after giving it a genuine effort for seven years - is like criticizing someone for trading in a car that keeps leaving you stranded by the side of the road. Seven seasons. That's giving it a good shot. It isn't as if he arrived as a rookie and demanded a better winter season location than the shores of Lake Erie.
John Elway, Eric Lindros and Kobe Bryant all petulantly picked their spots entering the pros and none of them took the amount of abuse - although the French Canadians did hate Eric wicked - that James received when he decamped from Ohio after seven professional seasons.
As said before, James did himself no favors with that whole "Decision" nonsense, but a professional athlete having an inflated sense of his own importance is not news. Was it annoying? Sure. Did he get some bad advice on that one? Oh, yes. Should we really care? I don't see why.
There is always the notion that people like to see the exalted humbled and the humble exalted, whether in the King James version of the Bible or some other. But what if it had been Philadelphia where LeBron chose to land? What if he had said, "Me and Iggy and Jason Kapono decided to get together and make some history"? What then?
It's still gets back to the laundry. Fans in San Francisco supported Barry Bonds until his steroid-addled head nearly exploded on his neck. Fans in Cincinnati supported Pete Rose long after it was clear he lied about betting on baseball. Fans in various NHL cities cheered for Matthew Barnaby, even though he was one of the bigger dirtbags to ever play the game, which is really saying something. And after Michael Vick began to display MVP talents for the Eagles last season, a lot of fans in Philadelphia began to tell each other, "You know, I've really always been more of a cat person."
This went deeper than just partisanship, however. If the Finals had been between Dallas and Boston, how many fans outside those cities would have really been worked up by the outcome? Not nearly so many.
It isn't as if the Mavericks are that appealing, and don't give me that happy-for-Dirk malarkey. Bleep Dirk Nowitzki. And it isn't as if Dallas is some pure franchise that deserves support. Let's have a big round of applause for Jason Kidd, who broke his former wife's rib and smashed her face into the dashboard of the car. Now, there's a good guy.
No, the Mavs just happened to be the other team. It was like the famous W.C. Fields observation about political elections: "I never vote for anybody. I always vote against." The opposition to the Miami Heat would have won the popular support in a landslide, whichever team represented the Western Conference. So much anger.
As with many instances in which the rich are perceived to be acting as if wealth gives them special status, there is an undercurrent of envy in the reaction to LeBron, the Decision and the Heat. There is an undercurrent of resentment. Admit it or not, there is also an undercurrent of racism. Maybe the Mavericks have black players, too, but damn if they were that uppity.
It's all that, and James might understand the negative reaction better than anyone. After the last game, he was asked if it bothered him that so many people didn't want him to win.
"Absolutely not. Because at the end of the day, all the people that was rooting on me to fail . . . they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today," James said. "They can get a few days or a few months or whatever the case may be on being happy about not only myself, but the Miami Heat not accomplishing their goal, but they have to get back to the real world at some point."
The real world is that some people are richer than others, some are more talented than others, some can get away with things that others cannot. The real world is that LeBron James doesn't get emotionally involved in your successes and failures. Why should you get so worked up about his?