If only Radio Raheem was around to see this. Back in ’89, Do The Right Thing, Radio elaborated the concept of love versus hate with the assistance of five-finger rings and a big-ass radio.
He was talking about true hatred, the hate that begets stress and the type of violence that would eventually cost him his life. But today, the word “hate” in pop culture has been watered down to something more like criticism. Every small-time rapper, every wannabe “businessman,” every high school kid imagines they have thousands upon millions of “haters,” because not everyone has supported them. And if that fuels your success, fine. Just know the difference between true hate and petty hate.
LeBron James is the most hated man in basketball. And not on the level of somebody like Tim Donaghy, the symbol of corruption in the game, or Jerome James, the symbol of apathy, or Donald Sterling, the symbol of putting money over winning. LeBron is hated in that no matter how great he becomes, somebody is always there to nitpick his game and shout to the mountaintops that he’s not all that. If not truly hated, he is undeniably hated-on more than anyone else in the game today.
I don’t know when the tipping point was. Maybe it was when LeBron averaged like 40 points, 8 boards and 8 assists in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals and was still blamed for Cleveland losing the series. Maybe it was when he skipped out on the dunk contest. Maybe it was when ESPN compared him to Michael Jordan one too many times or ran the “Could LeBron play in the NFL?” feature one too many times. But at some point, LeBron vaulted Kobe Bryant — still the most polarizing figure in basketball since his supporters love him with a cult-like devotion — as the game’s most hated/hated-on figure.
Just watch. LeBron has already led his team to its second straight season of 60-plus wins, he’ll win his second straight MVP in a couple of weeks, but when he’s presented with that trophy — or worse, if the Cavs don’t win the championship — the haters will come swarming like fruit bats. It’s a shame, too, because we’re watching somebody who could realistically become the best player the NBA has ever had, and too many people can’t appreciate it.
The rest of the 10 Most Hated Players in the NBA…
1. LeBron James — Loved by media, coaches, players and fans who truly know the game. Hated by fans who feel he’s been given too much too soon.
2. Kobe Bryant — Bounced back from being hated by media to being loved. May still be hated by players and coaches. Fans are split. The one person on the list whose game is respected by all, his personality just causes the divide.
3. Manu Ginobili — Hated by opponents and fans for his flopping and general knack for being a thorn in one’s side. Loved by teammates. If you want to know why soccer still isn’t catching on in mainstream America, it’s because every soccer player acts like Manu.
4. Vince Carter — Hated by the entire city of Toronto and possibly all of Canada. Critics get on him for settling for jump shots, even though every other high-flyer before or after Vince has been encouraged to adjust their game eventually and take more jumpers. Call him soft, call him lazy, but then he drops 40 or gives you a game-winner and your point becomes moot.
5. Nate Robinson — Hated by his own coaches, hated by jaded fans. I like Nate, and I’m not saying he’s an All-Star or even a starter in the League, but where people usually want to see the little guy succeed, it seems people want Nate to fail. When he was picked No. 1 on Eric Snow’s list of all-time dunking point guards, haters harped on the idea that he doesn’t have that many in-game dunks, and downplayed the fact that he’s the only player in history to win three NBA dunk contests. However, there wasn’t much mention of how Spud Webb didn’t have many in-game dunks, either.
6. Tracy McGrady — Hated by media and fans who wanted him to do more with the talent he was blessed with and spend less time on the injured list. I still contend that at his peak, T-Mac was right on-par with Kobe, but it’s hard to argue for him for too long when he’s never been out of the first round of the playoffs. Hall of Fame talent; jury is still out on whether it translated to a Hall of Fame career.
7. Carlos Boozer — Hated by fans in Cleveland who feel he stabbed their team in the back, love/hate relationship with fans in Utah who appreciate his talent but don’t really trust him, hated by neutral fans who feel he’s overrated. Tough to argue with 20-and-10 numbers, though. A Dime reader commented the other day that Boozer was handed “an All-Star career” by Deron Williams, even though Booz was selected for the U.S. Olympic team while D-Will was still in college.
8. Kevin Garnett — Once universally loved, recently hated by non-Celtics fans. It was the ring. When KG finally won the championship we all wished he would win someday, his perception went from that of the underdog warrior to a bully now that his team was the top dog.
9. Allen Iverson — Hated by media, possibly by teammates, likely by coaches, and now a growing number of fans. Even more startling than fans turning on KG was how so many of them turned on A.I. when things started to go downhill for him. Could you call him a ball-hog? Sure. Selfish? OK. Immature? I see where you’re coming from. But any basketball fan who grew up without a silver spoon in their mouth and is of “normal person” size has some love for Iverson, even if he’s disappointed you along the way. The worst example of hating I’ve seen on Iverson was when someone argued “anybody” could have accomplished what he did in the League. My response: So why didn’t just “anybody” do it?
10. Rajon Rondo & Shawn Marion (tie) — The symbol of being underappreciated by people who only look at scoring. True: Rondo can’t shoot and Marion can’t create his own shot. But to say Rondo is only considered an All-Star player because he’s had Pierce, KG and Ray, or that Marion is only considered an All-Star because he’s had Nash, Kidd and Marbury, is just dumb. Watch how Rondo passes the ball, watch how he creates havoc defensively, watch how he rebounds for a point guard. His Hall of Fame teammates aren’t doing that for him. Watch how Marion rebounds like a PF while playing the three, watch how he defends PG’s and fours equally well, watch how he is the straw stirring his team’s drink without having a single play run for him. The point guards he’s played with aren’t doing that for him. Maybe “hate” is too strong of a word for Rondo and Marion, but they could definitely use some more appreciation.