One day after the Cavaliers defeat at the hands of the Orlando Magic, LeBron James is coming in for considerable criticism for his actions in the wake of the loss. After the final buzzer had sounded signaling the end of the Eastern Conference finals, James did not offer any congratulations to the Magic players. Nor did he wait for the post-match news conference, preferring to let Mo Williams handle the questions. Instead, he quickly changed into his street clothes , put on his headphones and slipped away into the night.Uncharacteristic behavior from someone who has been one of the most approachable , personable and polished athletes in pro sports.
After the team returned to Cleveland, he said ” It’s hard for me to congratulate somebody after you have just lost to them.I’m a winner. It’s not being a poor sport or anything like that. If somebody beats you up, you’re not going to congratulate them. That doesn’t make sense to me. I’m a competitor.” I don’t agree with those comments but I am not one of those who would dump on James in this moment of defeat.
It is true that he could have and should have handled it differently. ( See my previous post on Rafael Nadal). Certainly, he must have been alive to the strong likelihood that the Cavaliers had reached the end of the line. After all , it is very rare that a NBA team has been able to bounce back from a 3-1deficit. With the possibllity of a season ending loss looming large, he might have steeled himself for it’s aftermath.It is the custom for players , losers and winners, to shake hands with each other , for the winners to accept congratulations and to commiserate with losers on a well played series.James played heroically and almost single-handedly was responsible for Cleveland getting as far as they did. He left it all on the floor.It would have been right and proper for him to have swallowed his frustration and disappointment and stuck around for the post game handshakes and interviews just as the Hawks and Pistons did after losing to the Cavaliers.Granted James might have been more gracious in defeat but we should chalk it up as a momentary aberration.This one incident should not overshadow his past history.Surely we can forgive this sportsman this one lapse.
I think we hold our sports heroes to impossibly high standards. We expect them to be fierce competitors , modest in victory and gracious in defeat — all the time. We don’t make allowances for the fact that they are very young men and women , that ego is what pushes them to greatness and that it is very difficult for such personalities to accept defeat. Most of the time they do the right thing but we do not forgive them even an occasional aberration. Roger Federer was for years the epitome of the professional athlete, invincible , graceful and beautiful to watch and he said all the right things , win or lose. Then he lost to Nadal in an epic Australian Open final and couldn’t control his tears at the prize ceremony. All of a sudden he was branded a whiner and a crybaby by an unforgiving public.Nadal himself was understanding and consoled Federer at the ceremony but many of Nadal’s fans have had nothing but scorn for Federer since then.How unfair is that ?
It behooves us all be a bit more realistic, a tad more tolerant in our assessment of our sports icons and not ask of them what we ourselves would not be capable of.