"I know I'm the easiest target that we have in sports, I'm aware of it. I really am. I believe it."
-- LeBron James in an interview with ESPN's Michael Wilbon on Friday
The minute he couldn't move, the second he stood on that baseline unable to take another step, the instant they began to carry him off the court, you knew it was about to happen. Twitter. FB. Instagram. Google Plus. Sports bars. Sports radio. "First Take." "SportsCenter." Another universal and public annihilation of LeBron James.
"#cramps. #lebron. So this is why LeBron isn't in Space Jam 2." Picture of him in full body cast with #cramplife underscored. Gatorade tweeting: "The person cramping wasn't our client." The Atlanta Daily World calling it a "total bloodbath on social media." Memes of people " LeBroning."
If there was ever a wrong time for the wrong thing to happen to the wrong person, this was it.
But there is more to this than a public opportunity for millions to take shots at LeBron. This recent incident is possibly final proof for us (and LeBron) that, as much as he might be respected and honored as a basketball player/iconic athlete and as much work as he's put in to become the "global icon" he told us from the beginning he was striving to be, he will never be loved or beloved.
The hate for LeBron began way before "The Decision." It happened the second he became the youngest player to be the subject of Slam's High School Diary and has continued with every "youngest player to ? " milestone that has followed. It happened when ESPN aired his high school games. It happened when his mother purchased him a Hummer for his 18th birthday. It happened when he didn't openly apologize for being so good so young and for living up to a degree of hype that was almost purposely set up for him to fail. It happened when he gave himself the name King James.
The belovedness that should have been unconditionally associated with someone of LeBron's stature, worth, value and appeal didn't happen for him. Instead of understanding, empathy, sympathy, benefit of doubt or any other human form of fair judgment, LeBron got scrutiny as his frenemy. And the sometimes lack of humility that comes across in his responses to criticisms of his play or behavior remains one of the primary reasons the world has never accepted him with open arms (and never will, as witnessed with Crampgate).
He'll never get the love of a Lionel Messi, but he catches twice the hell and hate of Cristiano Ronaldo. He's much closer to understanding A-Rod's public pain than Derek Jeter's public adoration. Wayne Gretzky, Cal Ripken Jr., Roberto Clemente, Tom Brady and California Chrome -- that type of love will never happen for LeBron. He will never get the chance or understand what that kind of acceptance feels like.
And here's the sad thing: LeBron James might one day become greater than Magic Johnson, but history will never know it because the people who write history simply aren't going to feel about James the way they did (and still do) about Johnson.