If you were to poll each NBA player and ask him to write down the name of the best player in the world, all 450 of them would likely say “LeBron James.”
Even the best player in the world would jot down his own name, as he reminded us Sunday night in the press conference after Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
“I feel confident (despite being down 3-2 in the series) because I’m the best player in the world,” James said. “It’s that simple.”
LeBron’s response drew a lot of criticism.
He’ll get a chance to back his words up Tuesday night in Game 6 against Golden State when he tries to put the Cavaliers on his back yet again and even the series 3-3.
LeBron lovers have their fingers crossed.
LeBron haters don’t, hoping to see him fall to 2-4 all-time in NBA Finals.
With LeBron, there’s not a whole lot of neutral ground.
You love him.
Or you hate him.
(There’s a third group, a much smaller one, of folks who simply respect his game.)
Regardless of what he does the rest of this series, it’s probably not going to change which group you’re in.
For some, he’ll never be what he proclaimed to be Sunday.
But his words were true.
He is the best player in the world.
Try substituting any other player in the league on Cleveland’s team in place of LeBron, and Golden State would’ve won this series in four games. (And the Pelicans would have had their head coach, Warriors’ assistant Alvin Gentry, on payroll a week ago.)
SHOULD LeBron have said it?
At least not if he wanted to win over those fans who don’t like him.
It gave them yet another reason not to like him.
His fans called it self confidence.
His haters called it cockiness.
Richard Sherman has it. Floyd Mayweather has it. Muhammad Ali had it.
But the NBA hasn’t really had it from one of its superstars.
Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant never lacked in the self-confidence department, but they never actually came out and said it.
He isn’t trying to pick up any new fans at this point.
He’s like the villain in wrestling and seems to have accepted the fact that some people are just never going to like him.
His body of work, including four MVP trophies, two championships and five straight trips to the finals, speaks for itself.
Other than “The Decision” to go to Miami, he’s really done everything else right off the court.
He’s never had any legal issues. He’s never had any issues of infidelity.
As far was we know, he’s been a devoted husband and a father. He has a long list of charities. He returned to his home state because he knows what an NBA title would mean to Cleveland. We’ve heard the stories of all the things he does for his teammates. He isn’t afraid to take a stance on social issues; unlike many athletes who are afraid to do so because of how it may hurt them in getting endorsements.
Normally, that’s good enough to make someone the “good guy.”
But LeBron, arguably the most polarizing star of our generation, hasn’t done things quite like NBA stars of the past.
And those who grew up on the stars of the past are quick to point it out.
He doesn’t have that smile like Magic.
He doesn’t have the rings like Mike and Kobe.
He’s a giant, but just not a gentle one like Tim Duncan or a jolly one like Shaq.
Some say he whines too much.
Some say he doesn’t hit enough shots in the clutch.
Others say he hasn’t won enough titles.
And even if he rallies the Cavaliers in this series, it still might not be enough for some.
He’ll still be loved by some. Hated by others.