Heavy is the head that wears the crown and for the first time in his professional career we are seeing that crown take a toll on the mental and emotional stability of LeBron James.
James’s Cleveland Cavaliers have struggled to win games the entire month of January posting a 7-8 record, while simultaneously James, his owner Dan Gilbert and his teammates have publicly jarred back in forth in the media.
A week ago TNT analyst and NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley was critical of James for his constant complaining to the media about his team’s needs. The always outspoken Barkley who never minces words had some choice words for the four-time Most Valuable Player:
“Inappropriate. Whiny. All of the above,” Barkley said of James last week. “The Cleveland Cavaliers, they have given him everything he wanted. They have the highest payroll in NBA history. He wanted J.R. Smith last summer, they paid him. He wanted Iman [Shumpert] last summer. They brought in Kyle Korver. He’s the best player in the world. Does he want all of the good players? He don’t want to compete? He is an amazing player. They’re the defending champs.”
Now this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Barkley comment on something James has done as it pertains to his basketball career. Barkley went as far as to say that James, who is often compared to Michael Jordan, would never ascend to “top five” status in NBA lure and was highly critical of James when he elected to leave the Cavaliers to join the Miami Heat. Barkley was quoted as saying it was a “punk move” on James’ part.
James who is outspoken in his own right is usually calculated when he speaks. His response to Barkley wasn’t one we expected from him, but one we should have seen coming:
“He’s a hater, “he said. What makes what he says credible? Because he’s on TV?”
“I’m not going to let him disrespect my legacy like that,” he told ESPN. “I’m not the one who threw somebody through a window. I never spit on a kid. I never had unpaid debt in Las Vegas. I never said, ‘I’m not a role model.’ I never showed up to All-Star Weekend on Sunday because I was in Vegas all weekend partying.”
James added: “All I’ve done for my entire career is represent the NBA the right way. Fourteen years, never got in trouble. Respected the game. Print that.”
“There’s a new sheriff in town,” said James. And with his impassioned speech James sure proved to Barkley who that new sheriff in town is.
Or did he?
On a micro level it appears James put Barkley in his place and if you’re gullible and feed into the narrative that Barkley offers harsh commentary from a bitter, envious place then you’re going to love James’ response. But on a macro level if you pay attention to LeBron’s comments he did something most people do when they’re either losing an argument or there’s some truth to an argument. What James did is an example of an ad hominem, which is when someone directs their argument at a particular person rather than the position that person is maintaining.
James attacked the messenger in Barkley, as opposed to the actual message.
His rant was rooted in personal emotion and totally unrelated to Barkley’s gripes with him. If you read in between the lines, James’ comments were indicative of two things that I think are really tell-all signs.
The first is that LeBron James senses that he’s on the back nine of his career and is struggling with the realization that his window of dominating the NBA and being unequivocally recognized as the best player in the NBA might be coming to an end. The second is that the writing has been on the wall for James to blow up at something or someone, but it didn’t just happen overnight. The seeds were planted in the offseason.
Since James broke into the NBA he was heralded as a Phenom with big talent and even bigger expectations to accompany that talent. His career since day one has been measured by championships, rightfully so, and James has delivered and in some eyes exceeded expectations by making seven NBA Finals appearances, including six consecutive years. (2010-2016)
He’s spoiled us.
But being the hunted, being that great, being on a quest to rival Michael Jordan in NBA infamy can be mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting.
Then James looks out West and sees a team in the Golden State Warriors who made the biggest splash in free agency during the offseason by acquiring Kevin Durant, which probably doesn’t happen if the Warriors don’t blow a 3-1 lead in that series.
James views the Warriors as his biggest antithesis to winning a championship this year and the biggest threat to unseating him off the throne he’s rightfully occupied over the last decade. And once you add all those realizations together they equal fear.
When people are afraid they tend to lash out. Now in a literal sense James isn’t afraid of the Warriors’ players, but what he is afraid of is losing. He’s afraid of what happens next if he loses. He knows what will be written if he loses, which intensifies those fears in his head. It heightens the level of pressure he puts on himself.
Nothing about what Barkley said was out of bounds because he was offering his opinion based on what he was seeing and hearing from James. But James knew there was actual merit to Barkley’s comments and he posed and interesting question to James that James didn’t answer because he was too busy drumming up past grievances of Barkley, deflecting from what’s the real issue at hand.
The truth hurts. People hate the truth. People hate the truth because the truth hurts. Well here’s some more truth for King James. This notion that anyone who is critical of you is automatically a hater is not true.
James is mature enough to know that and even though he’ll never admit that, we all know what the truth is.
So does LeBron.
Marcus Lamar is a Washington D.C.-based sports journalist. You can check out his podcast “Marc My Words” on Soundcloud, YouTube and coming to iTunes soon. Follow him on Twitter @iam_marcuslamar.