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Fans can paint LeBron as villain, but others just want to play with him

Hestar LeBrJames is best player his generatibest team player NBA boot. | Wilfredo Lee/AP

Heat star LeBron James is the best player of his generation and the best team player in the NBA, to boot. | Wilfredo Lee/AP

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Updated: July 16, 2014 6:28AM



I’ve been writing columns in support of LeBron James for years, an exercise that always seems odd to me, like writing columns in favor of good deeds
or water.

But that’s where we’re at with the guy, who still is getting blasted for ‘‘The Decision’’ despite being the best player of his generation by far. He’s also the best team player in the game, a man willing to share the spotlight and the ball, a rarity for a superstar. The hatred is crazy, but then so is the world.

The hate very well might get worse for LeBron — and not because the Spurs have outclassed his Heat so far in the NBA Finals. ESPN.com reported last week that the Heat are trying to figure out a way to add Carmelo Anthony to their roster, which also features Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. An embarrassment of riches? An embarrassment for the league? Lots of people think so.

Yet some of the same people who are outraged about this are not outraged about the possibility of Anthony leaving the Knicks and taking less money to join the Bulls. Or of Kevin Love leaving the warmth of Minnesota winters to experience the warmth of Chicago winters.

That freedom is how the game is played outside the lines. Players can go where they want to go when their contracts are up. If Anthony heads for Miami, LeBron surely will be painted as the villain, but he’s no more villainous than anybody else. Or we’ll be told the system is the villain. It’s not. It’s called the free market.

Isn’t it interesting that we usually rail against athletes for being greedy, but now we’re railing against them for sacrificing earning power in the hope of winning championships? Well, which is it?

What it is, mostly, is LeBron. He is so clearly the best player on the planet that it doesn’t seem fair when he chooses superstar teammates the way a home decorator chooses paint from a palette. It’s the problem that’s not a problem. What we’re seeing is AAU basketball taken to its logical end. Or, if you prefer, the Chicago Public League taken to its logical end. High school stars want to play with other high school stars.

Same thing here. Players want to play with James. They know he’ll make them better because he makes everyone better. They know he’ll be competing for NBA titles because he’s that good. They want to compete for NBA titles. It’s simple logic.

Not everyone wants to play in Chicago or with Derrick Rose, for any number of reasons. Weather. Rose’s knees. Big-time free agents don’t flock to Chicago, they fly
over it.

I wonder how quickly the hatred for LeBron in Chicago would evaporate if he decided to join the Bulls. Many Bulls fans are so emotionally invested in the idea of Michael Jordan being the best player of all time — and thus in the idea that LeBron can’t hold Michael’s Air Jordans — that they’ve led the charge against James’ reputation.

But what if LeBron decides to opt out of his contract and become a free agent this summer? And, further, what if he decides he wants to bring his talents to Oak Street Beach? I’m guessing Bulls fans wouldn’t mind that ‘‘Decision,’’ though they’d have to do contortions to get out of the box of hatred they’ve built for themselves. I’m guessing they’d learn to love James quickly.

And I’m guessing the system that seemed so unfair when James and Bosh joined Wade in Miami in 2010 wouldn’t seem so unfair anymore.

LeBron isn’t Jordan. I wish people would stop thinking he is. Two different players. And if you don’t think the ultra-competitive Jordan would have recruited superstars to Chicago if he could have, then you weren’t paying attention to his need to win.

A lot of people are saying the Spurs have done things the ‘‘right way,’’ meaning, among other things, that they didn’t stack superstars. Fine, but they’ve also been lucky. When David Robinson missed most of the 1996-97 season with back and foot injuries, it meant the Spurs had a good chance of getting the No. 1 pick in the draft. They got that first pick and chose Tim Duncan. Some called the season a tank job by the Spurs. I just know that teams are built in different ways. The players happen to be running the latest way.

Get used to it. And hope some of those players run to Chicago.



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