LeBron finds himself in that weird and unusual space of being a fascinating player but not someone we are fascinated by. His Nike sales are through the roof, but his TV ratings always tend to be low in comparison to other global superstars. And as subjective as that might be, that has almost as much to do with why he'll never be ultimately loved as anything else.
Tiger Woods fascinated us. Ali fascinated us. Ruth, Pele, Mays fascinated us. And Jordan?
Which is probably why this continues as the one LeBron comparison with Michael Jordan that goes undiscussed. It is important to the overall LeBron dialogue because this "unlove" LeBron can't escape is so much a part of his existence that it eventually will affect his legacy. If it hasn't already.
Reputation can be a gift and a curse. In LeBron's case, in times like this, it has become what he has to compete against. The bad Boston games are revisited. Previous losses in the Finals to San Antonio and Dallas are brought up. When he walked off the court at the end of the Orlando series and refused to shake Dwight Howard & Co.'s hands. Every time he either missed the shot or didn't take it to win a game (which translated into "ran from it" in most people's minds) gets rehashed, and the whole "no clutch gene" criticism, it all comes back into play.
And gets held against him.
There's a great graph in an Ethan Sherwood Strauss piece that reads: "It's easy to believe that winning a ring just makes all the ill will go away, that the hoisting of a trophy is a magic spell that turns your haters into fans. The truth is a little more complicated. LeBron doesn't win hearts and minds overnight because winning people back is different from winning them over in the first place."
Damn. I so wish LeBron could do something to change the course of this, but it's too late. If him catching cramps causes this much venom, what is going to happen once he doesn't win another championship? Hell, what's going to happen if the Heat happen to lose this series in seven and all the blame comes back to the last 3:59 of Game 1?
So when LeBron says, as he did Friday at the post-practice media junket, "you guys should know me by now (pause) ? I don't care. I really don't. I don't care what people say about me," he is telling the truth. His truth.
But what they feel about him is something that is going the haunt him for the rest of his natural life.