You are correct, LeBron James. Nobody has faced the type of scrutiny you and the Miami Heat have faced since you decided to take your talents to South Beach in 2010. This year’s Lakers certainly have not endured the same criticism you experienced in those first two seasons in Florida, and which you continue to experience, to a smaller degree, since you won your first championship last June.
Here is the thing about comparing scrutiny or criticism or adversity: It’s tricky. Those actions come in so many different forms that judging which one is “worst” is sensitive, if not impossible. Calling one experience the most trying adversity ever is like comparing the worst pizza you ever ate to the worst way to die. Everything is relative only to itself.
See, we know this, which is how we know that when James says, “No one will ever be able to compare to what we went through. … Nothing. Nothing compares to it,” we know he is not saying the denigration of the Heat was greater than the discrimination faced by Elgin Baylor during his early NBA career. We know this is different. We know what James meant — or what he thinks he meant — and accordingly, nobody freaks out.
Likewise, comparing the Heat’s early days to the Lakers’ predicament is still awkward, because they are two different animals. James and Chris Bosh brought the scrutiny upon themselves when they agreed to join Dwyane Wade in Miami. Many fans hated the Heat because of what they stood for: a new era in which the players determine where they play while the teams (their employers) watch helplessly and hopefully. Those fans hated the Heat simply because that happened to be the name on the front of James’ jersey. The franchise itself could not have been more irrelevant.
People despise these Lakers because — well, because they are the Lakers. Stocking up on stars like Dwight Howard and Steve Nash in the offseason may make the Lakers look comparable to the 2010 Heat, but that is not the determining factor in the hatred. The Celtics memorably went all-in with a host of All-Stars in 2007, and they have paradoxically become a people’s champ since then. Like Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to Boston, Howard and Nash went to Los Angeles via trades — or at least sign-and-trades, anyway — so they have dodged most of the indignant, who-do-you-think-you-are venom spat at James.
Hop in a time machine, go back to any decade since the Lakers moved from Minneapolis in 1960, and ask a basketball fan which team they like least. The Lakers will surely be up there, along with the dynastic Celtics, one of the occasional juggernauts from Philadelphia, the brutal Pistons or the excruciatingly unbeatable Bulls. The Lakers are a franchise defined as much by their haters as by their fans. Howard makes them easier to hate, perhaps, but they were far from universally loved when Kobe Bryant and the likable Pau Gasol were their only stars.
This is the mistake James makes when he compares what he “went through” in Miami with what the Lakers are going through now. He created the situation and birthed the vitriol toward a previously immaterial expansion franchise. The vitriol toward the Lakers came ready-made. Howard and Nash simply walked into it and fanned the flames.
Smart fans recognize this, so while they may revel in the Lakers’ struggles this season, they reserve a special place for James in the darkest corners of their hearts. In that way — and that way only — James is right.