LeBron James' talents have helped Miami back to the NBA Finals. Two years after "The Decision," will you root for him and the Heat?
No rooting for NBA's villain, Heat teammates
By Kate Fagan
No, I won't. And I imagine few people -- outside of Seattle -- will be. This year's matchup between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat is the most interesting NBA Finals in a long time.
You have the good guy (OKC's Kevin Durant) versus the villain (LeBron James); everyone loves following that story. You have the Thunder, a franchise that has developed itself slowly through great drafting, versus the Heat, which burst onto the scene through free agency. In our culture, it is much easier to root for the franchise that did things the old-fashioned way rather than the one perceived to have taken the shortcut.
There is no denying James has done just about everything right, except "The Decision" of course, but none of the rest of that seems to matter. He is one of our sports villains, and that's darn good for the NBA's ratings.
No, for now, but LeBron can turn the tide
By Jane McManus
Fans root for winners. If you live in Miami, or if you are a Heat season-ticket holder, you have been rooting for LeBron James all along. But will James ever have the appeal of Michael Jordan, who drew basketball fans from across Illinois state lines as their own teams lost in the postseason? By the NBA Finals, plenty of people gathered at their local watering hole or watching at home were de facto Bulls fans.
The answer is not yet. After the disaster of "The Decision," James has to show he can take it all the way. With a few more 45-point performances and Miami steamrolling the upcoming NBA Finals, the phrase "taking my talents to South Beach" will become less of a punch line.
There will always be people who root against the front-runner -- be it the Bulls in the 1990s, John McEnroe, Nancy Kerrigan, the Cowboys in the 1970s, the Patriots in the 2000s or Martina Navratilova. James seems to have attracted the anti-fan before he won over the fan. But it's not too late.
Rooting for Durant to win title, accolades as top player
By Graham Hays
I don't find any motivation to root for LeBron James and the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, but I have more and more difficulty understanding the motivation to root against him if you don't have an Oklahoma zip code or didn't spend a substantial portion of your youth emotionally invested in Larry Nance, Hot Rod Williams and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
James is enjoyable to watch, in the same way Aaron Rodgers, Roy Halladay, Sidney Crosby and a couple of dozen other stars in the four major pro leagues are enjoyable to watch as athletes capable of doing things beyond the abilities of most of their peers. Like those stars, James seems like a decent enough human being, to the degree that's ever discernible from a distance. And like those stars, there is little reason for me to take sides. James doesn't play for my team, and he isn't trying to eliminate my team (mostly because he did that two rounds ago, when I was patently rooting against him).
Any movement to paint James as a sympathetic figure is as grating as the one that attempted to paint him as an object of scorn to anyone but Cavaliers fans in the first place. "The Decision" was annoying. The introductory celebration in Miami was curious and comically excessive. So what? Many athletes provide better reasons to loathe them for greater failings as human beings. To root for him now is to buy into that narrative, even if only as part of the backlash against the scorn directed at him the past two years.
I'll watch James for the same reason I'll watch Kevin Durant; they are better at what they do at the moment than anybody on the planet. Two years after "The Decision," that's the extent of my rooting interest.
No pick here, just hoping for good basketball
By Mechelle Voepel
The Hawks left for Atlanta in 1968, and the NBA hasn't returned to St. Louis. The Spirits of the ABA were in St. Louis for only two seasons and didn't survive the NBA merger. Thus, in those most critical childhood years of hard-wiring one's fanaticism for a team, I didn't have an NBA favorite.
I've always been a nomad in the league, with no specific rooting interest other than enjoying the way some teams play more than others -- or by discerning that a team or player is rather unlikable and villainous.
And I just don't feel that way about LeBron James. I can understand Cleveland's unwillingness to forgive him for the way he left, but I empathize even more with the pain of Seattle fans after the duplicitous Clay Bennett took away their team. (I grew up a St. Louis Cardinals football fan; Bill Bidwill was my Clay Bennett.)
James, despite his massive misstep with "The Decision," is an amazing all-around player to watch, and I never find myself rooting against him. While I think the Thunder should still be the Sonics in Seattle, they're a likable young group of stars who have thrilled a state that never had this kind of pro-sports spotlight before.
So there it is, my statement of muddled neutrality for the NBA Finals. I just hope they're all fun games to watch. And if James gets his championship, good for him.
Head versus heart in my rooting interest
By Adena Andrews
This NBA Finals matchup has me torn. The journalist and basketball fiend in me wants LeBron James and the Miami Heat to take home a championship to finally shut up the naysayers. All the chitchat about LeBron not being a great player or not being clutch should simmer down once the Heat win a ring. Finally, LeBron will have fulfilled his destiny as the Chosen One and his "Decision" won't seem so bad after all.
However, my heart wants to see the young gun, Kevin Durant, lift the Larry O'Brien trophy. I have a special place for young achievers such as Durant. By winning a title, the Thunder would be a testament to the statement that age doesn't always equal expertise.
Whether I go with my head or my heart, the end result will make me laugh and make me cry.
LeBron fan no more
By Sarah Spain
I used to be a big LeBron James fan. I was amazed by his skill and size on the court and captivated by his charm and enthusiasm off it. I loved his pregame photo op antics with the Cavaliers, his Hammer Dance at the ESPY awards and his Solid Gold skit on "Saturday Night Live." I rooted for this hometown boy who looked like he might finally be the one to lead Cleveland out of a painful championship drought.
Then, everything changed.
"The Decision" made LeBron seem heartless, classless and weak. The Cavs and the city of Cleveland deserved a proper farewell and enough time and warning to recover from his departure. They got neither. Kevin Garnett, who never got the support he needed to win in Minnesota, handled his departure to a title contender with class. LeBron, on the other hand, burnt every bridge between Cleveland and Miami. Rumors that LeBron had made a pact with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh years ago made his many visits with other franchises look self-indulgent and cruel. The preseason pep rally was embarrassing and unnecessary. LeBron's prediction of "not one, not two, not three ..." championships was premature and obnoxious.
LeBron has lost every ounce of authenticity. He knows he is being judged -- often unfairly -- at every step, and that awareness has made him posed, self-involved and fake. He was great at being a beloved superstar; he is terrible at being a villain. He wants to own the hate and he can't. Deep down you can tell he wishes he were still the happy-go-lucky guy who joked around with teammates before the game and drew laughs on late-night talk shows. Even if I had forgiven him for his big, bad "Decision," which I haven't, his flopping, whining and posturing are enough to turn me off.
You don't have to look too far to see the kind of player I root for. He'll be on the court wearing No. 35 for the Thunder.
Anything-but-evil LeBron has my support
By Melissa Jacobs
LeBron James versus Kevin Durant. The NBA couldn't have asked for a better matchup in terms of talent and star power. Most of the NBA world will automatically become huge Thunder bandwagoners over the next couple of weeks. I will not.
I love rooting against notoriously evil empires such as the Yankees or Cowboys, teams with obnoxious owners, players or a fan base with a superiority complex. The Heat are not that. If you take an honest look through a prism, you'll find that through most angles LeBron James is likeable.
In eight seasons in the NBA, the most trouble James has encountered was with how he announced his decision to leave Cleveland. Big deal. There have been no domestic disputes, DUIs or a litany of other issues that seem to have plagued many a superstar. Most recently, James did something rare for an elite athlete; he took a political stand by posting a photo with his teammates in hoodies to make a statement about the Trayvon Martin shooting.
In addition, the Heat fan base is the opposite of obnoxious. It's nonexistent, like ghosts.
More important than any of that is the fact that in sports, particularly the NBA, the best player winning a championship is the best outcome for a league's success. That's why I am rooting for LeBron.
Loyalty lies with Durant, OKC
By Amanda Rykoff
I'm absolutely and completely rooting for the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals. As I said on Facebook after the Heat eliminated the Celtics on Saturday night, "We are all Thunder fans. Except for people from Seattle." I do not want LeBron James and the Miami Heat to win the title.
Yes, I realize I'm a Yankee fan and supporting a "super team" should be second nature to me, but this Heat team just isn't one I want to root for.
Kevin Durant represents a mirror image of LeBron. Both are supremely talented superstars -- a three-time scoring champion and a three-time MVP, respectively. LeBron is absolutely one of the most gifted players I'll see in my lifetime, but being talented does not translate to likability. The media and fans destroy him no matter what happens. If he doesn't take the final shot, he's scared; if he takes it and misses, he's not clutch. LeBron put himself in that position with "The Decision," and he has to live with the ill-will and scrutiny it brings.
Durant hasn't had those issues. He has been the model player and signed a long-term deal with the Thunder. Basketball fans have enjoyed watching his game evolve as the team has matured and established itself as a contender under his leadership. Fans of teams around the league admire Durant's persona and his game. He doesn't have to try or put on an act. Durant is naturally charismatic.
Ownership issues aside, this Thunder team is extremely likable and easy to root for. Sorry Seattle, but I'd like the OKC fans to celebrate and the King to be denied his crown again. Heat fans will have to console themselves with table service and the beach.
And by the way, let's not forget this NBA Finals should be fantastic. Whether you're rooting for or against LeBron, this is going to be some great basketball with two stars in their prime. Let's all enjoy that.