LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat looks on during a preseason game against the Orlando Magic at AmericanAirlines Arena on December 18, 2011 in Miami, Florida.
Photographer: Mike Ehrmann
Copyright Getty Images
With the NBA Finals coinciding with the US Open, I began thinking about the strange contrast in public support for Tiger Woods and Lebron James.
Both players were discovered at an early age, were stars in their respective sports as teenagers, dominated their sport like few ever have, and both are constantly compared to arguably the greatest ever to play their sport.
Tiger was closing in on Jack Nicklaus' record of major titles, and Lebron was well on his way to helping his home town its first championship since 1964. Then both made a decision (or several in Tiger's case) that would affect the public's view of each of them for the rest of their lives.
A strange incident that began with Tiger crashing his car into a fire hydrant in his neighborhood at two in the morning eventually led to a very long investigation into his personal life, revealing a long, long...long list of women with which he had affairs. Next came the divorce (which netted his ex $750 million), losses of nearly all his endorsements, and Tiger still hasn't won a major title since.
Tiger has had some recent success, showing signs that the "Old Tiger" is still there, despite everything that's happened. But look at the fan support for him after his win at the Memorial Tournament, or after he went into the third round of this weekend's U.S. Open with the lead, and you can see that the public is itching to see that trademark fist pump and smile that made Tiger one of the most beloved athletes ever.
Kind of strange considering he defiled the sacred bond of marriage hundreds of times over.
Now look at Lebron. Did he make a poor choice when he held "The Decision," an hour long special to tell everyone what team he would choose to play for following the 2009-2010 season? Yes. Did he callously cast aside his home-town and the team he gave his first seven years in the league to? Yes. Has he been giving the public a reason to dislike him ever since proclaiming himself "King James" as a 16-year old? Yes.
But look at the facts: he took less money to play with his friends and give himself what he thought was the best chance to win a championship. Was it traditional? No. Would Jordan/Magic/Bird or any other NBA great aside from Wilt Chamberlain ever have done it? No. But he made a calculated choice in where he wanted to play, and he's competed for a championship in the two seasons since (so technically he made the right move).
Still, he gets booed nearly every time he touches the ball in every city besides Miami, and NOBODY in the history of the league has gotten criticized more for every decision he makes (on or off the court) than does Lebron.
I really don't get it. I've never been a fan of Lebron's, and I'll admit when he made "The Decision" I was as critical as anyone, but the continued public hatred towards him absolutely baffles me. Every interview he's done during these finals gives you the sense that he wants to avoid controversy at all costs. And while that's what we want of our athletes today, it's boring as all hell. I want to see personality, good or bad. I want to get to know these guys, but the way Lebron has been treated by the court of public opinion for the last two years has nearly stripped him of all that.
I think both people made a mistake, no question about that. I'm just saying that I think Tiger's mistake merits getting booed every time he steps up to sink a birdie putt the same way Lebron gets booed shooting free throws at the end of games in Cleveland.
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