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Is LeBron James the most polarizing NBA athlete of all-time?

It’s possible.

Lebron has in my experience, surpassed Kobe as the most polarizing NBA player of all time – measured by the amount of people who idolize him vs the amount that hate him.

I would say that while Kobe has many haters, there are still way more fans than haters, judging from the amount of Kobe worship on social media. Basically any time is Kobe is not brought up in any conversation, their fans will say ‘the disrespect to Kobe! but what about Kobe! Did y’all forget about the Mamba!???’ etc so while Kobe is polarizing, I would say he’s still a net positive athlete in his image. His death earlier this year (RIP) just reflected how idolized he was around the world. Kobe’s positive traits (his 5 rings, scoring accolades, “mamba mentality”, work ethic) tends to be much more well remembered than his negative ones (most missed shots all time, not the easiest teammate to get along with, missing the playoffs in his prime, losing a series while up 3–1 etc).

Another example of how much more net positive Kobe is viewed than Lebron is seen in the fact that Lebron gets blamed for not meeting Kobe in the Finals – because he lost in 2009 to the Orlando Magic – despite that team being completely carried by Lebron and nowhere near a Finals caliber team. Whereas Kobe gets absolutely no blame for getting swept in 2011 to the same Dallas Mavs team – and FYI guarded by Jason Terry (who actually guarded Kobe, not Lebron since he’s an SG) – that people criticized Lebron for losing to in 6 games. Kobe could have met Lebron in the Finals that year – and he was the defending champ that year – and no one ever brings this up but brings up Lebron’s 2009 loss to the Magic.

Lebron on the other hand – seems to have more haters than idols. I’m in several basketball social media groups, I’m active on Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc and let me tell you the amount of people that hate on him is just ridiculous. There’s literally people on social media who dedicate each and every day to making some kind of hate meme or post about him. Then they will call anyone who defends Lebron a ‘bronsexual’ which is both immature and childish. And it’s always about the exact same reasons too, “Lebron joined a superteam” “Lebron needed help to win” “Lebron is soft, whines and is a crybaby” “Lebron is 3–6 in the Finals and is the biggest loser ever” “Lebron choked in the 2011 Finals” etc like a broken record.

Contrary to Kobe, these people focus on Lebron’s negative traits and never his positive ones, never ever praise him when he wins, and always blames him when he loses. When Lebron wins, it’s always his teammates carrying him. When Lebron loses, it’s always his fault. For Kobe, it’s the opposite – whenever he wins, it’s all Kobe and his mamba mentality doing the work. Whenever he loses, it’s because his teammates didn’t step up or were crap (Smush Parker and Kwame Brown always get brought up despite the fact that Lamar Odom was a pretty good player as well).

Also, people always hate on Lebron for only scoring 8 pts in a Finals game in 2011, well there’s lots of other greats who have similar bad performances in the Finals that never get brought up. Kareem got demolished by Moses Malone in 1983 Finals, Magic turned into ‘Tragic’ in the 1984 Finals, Bird had only 8 points in game 3 of the 1981 Finals, Kobe only had 8 points in game 5 of the 2000 Finals and also shot 38% in the 2004 Finals and shot 6 for 24 in the 2010 Finals game 7, Wilt had perennially choking performances in the playoffs and Finals, Duncan missed that potential game winning layup in the 2013 Finals etc in fact out of the top 10 players in NBA history only Russell and Jordan could be considered ‘truly’ clutch as they had next to no bad performances in the Finals.

Heck the Finals record as a measuring stick, came into being because of Lebron. Prior to 2014, no one on social media ever talked about Finals record for any other player. Not Kareem, not Magic, not Bird. But because of Lebron, now they start talking about Finals records – the reason being that they can take an accomplishment that is uniquely Lebron’s – going to more Finals than any other player in recent history – and turn it into a negative. And it’s one that Lebron can never win, because his teams were always outmatched in the Finals, and his own teams always overachieved, it’s a way the haters can turn something that would be celebrated for any other player (for example, Iverson’s lone Finals appearance is considered the crowning achievement of his career despite him losing), and turn it into a point to criticize. It’s also implying that losing before the Finals would actually be better in order to preserve the Finals record – but that idea is blatantly ridiculous, as anyone who has played sports knows. You play to win and in order to win you have to reach the Finals. Only one team can win, so there’s of course a chance to lose. But to focus on Finals records implies that missing the playoffs would actually be better. That makes no sense.

There’s literally nothing Lebron can do to better his image with these haters. If Lebron himself didn’t do well, then it’s because he choked and lacked ‘killer instinct’. If Lebron’s teammates didn’t do well, it’s because Lebron is a toxic teammate and didn’t make them better. If Lebron does well, it’s because he flopped and referees favored him and he ‘stat padded’. If his teammates do well, it’s because Lebron needed to form a ‘superteam’ to win and they ‘saved his legacy’. It’s a lose-lose situation whatever Lebron does.

Why do so many people on social media spend their every waking moment to hate on him? If I had to guess there’s a few reasons:

-Lebron gets too much media attention, and people get annoyed by that
-Lebron’s too successful, and that makes people envious of him
-They don’t like Lebron’s fanbase and thus they don’t like Lebron either for creating that fanbase
-Lebron is threatening their favorite idol (usually Jordan or Kobe) and they don’t like that Lebron has a chance or is currently surpassing their idol’s legacy
-Lebron habitually beat their favorite teams (usually the Raptors or Celtics but pretty much any team since Lebron has a winning record against almost every team)
-Recency bias. Lebron is fresh in people’s memories, and whatever he does on the court (or even off the court – I even read some posts where people blamed Lebron for Nike’s sweatshops, said he was a communist sympathizer and letting his son smoke weed which is ridiculous) is scrutinized unlike any other player before. Jordan played in an era without social media, and Kobe’s era was when social media was just starting. They never had the microscope of billions of users like Lebron does.

I can’t explain any other reason why these people would spend so much time to make hate memes and posts every day, it’s not like Lebron ever did anything to them personally or anything, and perhaps it’s proof of how successful Lebron is that he has so many haters. For example nobody hates on John Paxson or Kyle Korver – because they are not superstars. Only successful athletes become hated.

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Sports

Who would you say was the greatest NBA players of each decade for the past 40 years?

1950s:

Bob Pettit – George Mikan, Bob Cousy runner ups

Yeah I’m going with Pettit over Mikan and Cousy. The reasoning being: Mikan had no competition for his time and it was pre shot clock, pre goaltending era, he was playing in a baby version of the NBA basically. Cousy was a great player but he was overshadowed by his teammate Bill Russell.

Pettit – one of the most underrated players of all time – I feel that he is the best player of the 50s, he won 2 MVPs in the decade and was the only player to beat Russell’s Celtics in the Finals. He also would have *dominated* Mikan if he was playing at the same time. And was an alpha dog on the team unlike Cousy. He never averaged below 20 pts a game and he holds the third highest rebounding average all time. It’s definitely him.

1960s:

Bill Russell – Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West runner ups

The only other choice is Wilt Chamberlain here. Now I love Wilt but if I’m looking at the achievements only by this decade, Russell has to take it. He won every single ring of the decade except for one year. He led the league in defensive win shares almost every single year. You might say that Russell had a better team than Wilt most of the time – which was true – but Russell had intangibles that Wilt didn’t have. Wilt had all the tangibles – all the stats, athleticism etc – but there is the fact that Russell is 10–0 in Game 7s. It’s not like his team was that dominant that he demolished Wilt or West’s teams every year, there were many many times where Russell’s Celtics came close to elimination – and Russell pulled through almost every time – he was 17–2 in elimination games. Russell was the Jordan of centers. He had that killer instinct that no one else had. He was the leader of the most dominant dynasty in all of pro sports. I have to put him here.

1970s:

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – Julius Erving, Artis Gilmore runner ups

Kareem won 5 MVPs, 1 Ring, 1 Finals MVP in the decade and starred in Game of Death with Bruce Lee. How can you beat that resume? Really the 70s is generally the hardest decade to rank because of how divided the league was and how much parity it had. There was no clear superstar of the decade like there was for the 80s and 90s. That said – although Kareem had a tendency to get outrebounded and outworked on the glass by guys like Dave Cowens and Moses Malone and Bill Walton and old Wilt Chamberlain – he still outscored them all and was still a stellar defensive player no less. I’m taking Kareem.

1980s:

Magic Johnson – Larry Bird, Moses Malone runner ups

I’m taking Magic over Bird. He had 8 Finals appearances in the decade – that’s literally every year except for 1981 and 1986 – and won 5 of them. He beat Bird’s Celtics 2–1 in the Finals that decade. He also has 1 more Finals MVP than Bird. So yeah I’m going with probably my favorite player of all time – Magic.

1990s

Michael Jordan – Hakeem Olajuwon, Karl Malone runner ups

Do I really need to explain this one? 6 Finals, 6 rings, 6 Finals MVPs during this decade. Nuff said.

2000s:

Kobe Bryant – Tim Duncan, Shaq runner ups

Really Tong? I thought you hated Kobe, so why is he on here instead of Duncan? Let me explain. Yes I do think Kobe is overrated by the vast majority of fans but we’re talking about just the 2000s decade alone? Duncan’s dominance was spread out through 3 decades – which is incredible – while Kobe’s dominance was mostly focused in the 2000s. That’s the basic reason why I am picking Kobe here. If this was about who was the all time greater player – I’m taking Duncan – but here we’re talking strictly about the 2000s then I’m taking Kobe by a slim margin. Duncan was 3–0 in the Finals in the 2000s, had 2 MVPs and 2 Finals MVPs, but Kobe was 4–2 in the Finals in the 2000s, had 1 MVP and 1 Finals MVP. He had more Finals appearances and rings than Duncan, but less MVPs and Finals MVPs. It’s a very tough decision, but I gotta go with Kobe because having twice as many Finals appearances as Duncan in the same decade is not something to throw away – I value Finals appearances whether they end up winning or losing, which I will take into account for my next player here.

2010s:

Lebron James – Kevin Durant, Steph Curry runner ups

What else can I say here, this guy went to every single Finals of the decade except for 2010 and 2019. Unlike Magic, he did this with 2 different teams which is actually more impressive since usually it takes time to gel and build chemistry with a team, but Lebron is just amazing, he takes two completely different rosters and takes them to the Finals every single year. I don’t think there’s any other reasonable pick for this decade. I like Durant and Curry but they aren’t Lebron James.

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Sports

Why does everyone have Kobe Bryant top 5 all time?

In a recent poll of NBA players here’s the results

Wow! Kobe is in 3rd place! As the GOAT! And Allen iverson and Kevin Durant being on the list is a surprise to me. Keep in mind these are NBA players that did this survey. What the heck?

And not only that but the fans seem outraged that Kobe isnt in 2nd place over LeBron.

 

Wow look at that! How many fans are praising Kobe!! He must have the most die-hard fanbase ever.

But this seems at odds with ESPN and Sports nations own rankings..

Why is there such a big gap between where sports analysts rank Kobe and where casual fans and even NBA players rank Kobe?

I think there might be a few reasons why.

  1. Kobe was the best marketed athlete of his generation. He was advertised everywhere. He even came with his own buzzwords “cold blooded assassin” “killer instinct” and “mamba mentality” and even won an Oscar after his playing days! This kind of marketing is obviously going to influence a lot of casual NBA fans.
  2. Kobe won alot of rings and winning is the most important thing to casual NBA fans. Kobe has 5 rings. That’s more than most players. And casual fans don’t bother to think about the nuances of what kind teams he was on versus which other teams, only that he won.
  3. Kobe scored alot. Scoring is the most important stat to casual NBA fans. They don’t care about efficiency or advanced stats or defensive stats as much. Raw points is the boxscore that comes up the most often and that’s the one that most fans see. Kobe holds the second most points scored in a game at 81. That’s good enough for most fans.
  4. Kobe played for a large market team and played very flashy. I mean this is one reason why Duncan doesn’t get mentioned very much. Not very flashy, and played in a small market town, never drew attention to himself, despite his credentials being at least as good as Kobe’s.
  5. Kobe played in a different era. Sure LeBron and Kobe’s careers overlapped. But Kobe is seen as a “tougher” player than LeBron is and that’s due to the different eras. LeBron flops to get more points in the current era. That (fair or not) leads people to label Lebron as “weak”
  6. Kobe is seen as more clutch than Lebron. I say “seen as” because Kobe actually isn’t as clutch. He’s only 7/28 in last 24 seconds of 4th quarters (in postseason) and has no highlight clutch finals move like LeBron’s last second block on Andre Iguodala in closing seconds of 2016 finals. But nevertheless because of effective marketing many fans believe Kobe is money in the clutch.
  7. Kobe is seen as a harder worker and more “skilled’ than LeBron and I think this stems from the fact that he’s a guard and thus more relatable to most people than LeBron is, who is a 280lb freak of nature. Big men never really get their due. That is another reason why Duncan doesn’t get mentioned as often as Kobe and Jordan is seen as more skilled’ than Kareem or Wilt.
  8. Fans think Kobe was robbed of MVPs of course this isn’t true. Kobe wasnt on the MVP voting ballot in 2005 and was 4th place in 2006 but this doesn’t stop fans from thinking that there was a media conspiracy against him
  9. Kobe is the closest to Jordan in terms of skillset and play style. Of course this doesn’t mean he’s the second greatest by that definition but a lot of casual fans think that automatically makes Kobe second best.

Those are the main reasons I think why casual fans rank Kobe much higher than sports analysts do. As for NBA players ranking Kobe higher – most NBA players are actually not all that different from casual NBA fans who happened to be really good at basketball and get drafted. What’s more there’s an obviously a bias towards recent players – note the lack of Kareem (1% in the poll), Russell or Wilt. Iverson over Wilt or Russell is a travesty in any case but most NBA players are young and it shows. Many of then grew up idolizing Kobe which is why Kobe ranks highly for them too.

Kobe is like the JFK of basketball players. The average fan is always going to rank them higher than the experts do. Experts can open any stats book and see that LeBron destroys Kobe in any statistical matchup but what casual fans care about and what basketball analysts care about aren’t necessarily the same things – hence why Kobe is as high as #2 for so many people.