Watching live NBA games this week there is one game that really stood out and drew media and online attention for all the wrong reasons: The Cleveland Cavaliers V Miami Heat game on March 29. Superstarter Lebron James didn’t feature in the pre-game announcements -apparently he was in the restroom – instead ‘appearing’ on the bench just before the game kicked off.
I was one of the many basketball fans who was surprised by his decision not to acknowledge the massive crowd before the game. Although I think it’s a sad day in sport if a team’s prize player, especially in a league as prestigious as the NBA, doesn’t respect his old fans – and current ones – I do understand why he felt like he didn’t owe the crowd anything. Yet his choice not to feature attracted more negativity from the crowd than if he had participated in the usual pre-game announcement.
The commentators, totally shocked, immediately started ‘bagging out‘ Lebron for choosing not to partake in the highly anticipated pre-game ritual. It was the same online, with many Twitter followers attacking Lebron’s choice and (seemingly) ignorant behaviour.
So there may have been many reasons why he chose to do a no-show, with Lebron himself claiming ‘he had to go to the bathroom’, however the general feeling was that he didn’t want to run out to a crowd that hated him with every fibre of their being. Why should Lebron give a hostile crowd any opportunity to affect his game by having to open with a crowd who (now) loves to hate him?
Now for those of you who don’t know the history between Lebron and Cleveland Cavalier fans, read this EPSN NBA article about how he left to join the Miami Heat after not winning a championship title after seven years. Or you can watch his Nike video on Youtube which has an interesting take on the whole thing.These classic signs made by former fans listed on CBS Sports are also worth a look. To many the switch was justified, yet Cavs fans will never let Lebron forget his choice to bail-out.
Watching the game, although Lebron played well, he was obviously affected by the crowd’s lack of affection for him now that he has switched sides.
It takes an enormous amount of focus, courage and strength to ignore thousands of screaming fans, especially when every one of them is waiting for you to make an error.
But I can’t remember Michael Jordan ever pulling a ‘no-show’ at any game he was playing, or anyone else for that matter.Many athletes have to deal with a crowd that obviously hates them but each chooses to deal with it in their own way. Often this can be through social media, online forums, or by defending their actions in the media, however I still think the best way to keep a crowd silent is by putting on your most amazing performance.
I have to admit I felt a bit sorry for the way Lebron was ‘bullied’ by the crowd. Despite the perhaps futile attempt to avoid the boos, it backfired in a big way with Lebron singled out the rest of the game. But fans are, and always will be, a crucial and much needed part of any sport as without them the game would not exist. It’s important for athletes to respect and entertain the crowd, even if the crowd doesn’t respect them.
Athletes can make one or two big decisions in their career that can change their brand forever. Lebron is such an amazing athlete this will undoubtedly be just another beat-up that won’t make any difference to his endorsements, yet I doubt any other player could really get away with something like this. (In fact, this incident will probably only add to his notoriety and commanding power as a brand.)
Although it was entertaining, and made for an interesting start to a highly anticipated game, it wasn’t an example of good sportsmanship. Even if he was in the toilet.
What do you think? Does an athlete have any right to retaliate against a hostile crowd? Have elite athletes lost sight of the reason they are playing sport in the first place?