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LeBron and the Culture of Sports Hatred

Why do we hate LeBron? Is it really his doing?

Edited by Tiffany Villigan

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

It's been four years since LeBron James decided to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers in free agency. He was branded a national villain because of "The Decision" to join the Miami Heat and win not one, but two NBA titles over the length of his contract.

I find it hard to hate him, but it seems that LeBron may be the most hated player in the NBA.

I write this on the eve of the possibility of "The Decision 2" and LeBron "taking his talents" away from South Beach and creating more spurned fans who will choose to take out their frustrations in various crazy ways. It doesn't matter what team he decides to play for. People are going to hate LeBron.

I have to admit that I have never had a problem with his decision to leave Cleveland or even the spectacle of the hour-long ESPN special that "[slid] the knife into his home state of Ohio." I believe that the reason he chose to broadcast his decision came more from a place of trying to raise money for the Boys and Girls Club of America than from a place of narcissism. This is not to say that he wasn't stroking his ego and didn't make a terrible PR move by having The Decision, but rather that it wasn't all bad. If most guys were offered the chance to raise $6 million for their favorite charities in exchange for an hour of their time, my guess is that they would say yes. I get why the Cleveland fans would be upset by LeBron's decision and the broadcast, though, since I remember how Seattle fans reacted when Alex Rodriguez left the Mariners in free agency.

Still, I, for one, don't understand how or why people can hate LeBron, and I totally "hate" many sports figures. In my mind, LeBron James is a devoted family man who has never gotten into real trouble. I agree that his team has sheltered him from much of public life, but he became a millionaire immediately after graduating high school, has never had a DUI, has never been arrested, there are no allegations of domestic abuse, he married his high school sweetheart, seems to be a devoted father, played for the US Olympic team three times, and has never had a real issue on social media, which is legitimately impressive in the smartphone era. Oh yeah, he's also a four-time NBA MVP who has won two NBA titles, two NBA Finals MVPs, a scoring title, two Olympic gold medals, and, most impressively, swung the value of the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers by almost $180 million after his arrival/departure in 2010.

He's a businessman who knows his value, knows he's underpaid relative to that real value, and wants to be paid the maximum amount possible to provide his services. What's wrong with that?

This is a direct quote from a friend of mine as we were talking about LeBron's free agency today: "LeBron is an insult to the sport and the league we love. . . He put a team together and quit on them. Period. . . He's a stain on the league and sports in general."

What? Why? I don't understand this level of hatred for LeBron, even though I genuinely dislike many athletes' public personas. I remember how much fun I had booing the Benedict Arnold of Seattle sports upon his return. I got caught up in the mob mentality that day and being amazed by how 50,000 people could be so venomous toward a single person. I remember feeling betrayed and devalued as a fan when the Sonics were sold to Clay Bennett and after the city settled its lawsuit, but I still don't hate these people irrationally.

I'm not sure if social media has played a role in this, but I do believe that fans now have a platform that they didn't have before. There are Jimmy Kimmel's "Mean Tweets," and a constant barrage of insults on Facebook and Twitter.

Why do we choose to broadcast to our friends in a public forum messages about people we don't actually know? LeBron hasn't made a single public statement about his free agency. Is it really his fault that the sports media world focuses on him this much?

Am I missing something? Why can't we have a rational conversation about this athlete?

What do you think? Why does the sports world love to hate LeBron James?