In old western movies -- the kind before Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood revolutionized the genre -- the good guys wore white hats and the bad guys wore black. So maybe it's fitting that the Miami Heat are draped in black from heat to toe, because they are becoming a true villain in the NBA, led by LeBron James.
Last night, as the Cleveland Cavaliers -- James's old team -- were losing to the Lakers in both record and embarrassing fashion, James took to Twitter decided it was the appropriate time to twist the knife:
Crazy. Karma is a b****.. Gets you every time. Its not good to wish bad on anybody. God sees everything!
Now, if you know the history of what's gone down since "The Decision", it's most likely that James's words were directed entirely at Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who famously wrote a long and vitriolic anti-LeBron screed the night of July 8th. But still, the words seemed less those of someone who wanted to move past this summer, and more the words of someone who is feeding off the hate.
Now, during LeBron's Cavaliers career, there were some moments where you could see him channelling "hate" into better play, most famously in the "it's your fault" game against Chris Bosh and his girlfriend in Toronto. But this year is the first time in his career, and really his life, that LeBron has been consistently cast as the villain. Prior to his visit to Cleveland, James seemed uncomfortable in the role, and it showed in his on-court demeanor. But there is no doubt that something changed in that game.
I can't get inside LeBron's head -- I'm not sure anyone can -- but I get the sense that he went into that Cleveland game thinking he could somehow still win the crowd back. Maybe not that night, but eventually, over time, they'd come to love him again. But anyone who watched that game, with that crowd, knows that's not the case, and LeBron figured it out that night too. He realized that now, in this new reality, there will always be people who hold "The Decision" against him, and hate him because of it, so he embraced the hate.
Since that game, the Heat have lost just once and are winning in dominating fashion, with James playing his best basketball of the season. He's been jawing with courtside fans on the road, and in Portland on Sunday, he slapped his own ass after making a three, then took a detour to the Heat huddle before a timeout, taking time to give the fans an up-close glimpse of the King and conquerer.
In James's Nike commercial before the season, he asked "Should I accept my role, as a villain?" while wearing a cowboy outfit. But James had the wrong movie. He didn't need to look to the old west for villainous inspiration, when it was right there in Miami, in the form of "Scarface."
You need people like me. You need people like me so you can point your fuckin' fingers and say, "That's the bad guy." So... what that make you? Good? You're not good. You just know how to hide, how to lie. Me, I don't have that problem. Me, I always tell the truth.
That's LeBron, right there. Telling the truth, being pointed at as the bad guy, and just doing his thing. And over the last month, he's embraced it; he loves it. And I love him for it. He didn't set out to do it, but in embracing the villain role, James is making the NBA more interesting. Without his tweet last night, Lakers-Cavs is just a depressing blowout. Now it's a flashpoint for every sports talk show, every blog (yes, even this one) and every NBA writer in every city, whether they cover the Heat, Cavs, Lakers or none of them.
Will it translate to a championship for the Heat? I don't know. No one will know until June. But for now, it's sure fun to see LeBron doing this.