National Basketball Association players are invariably subjected to taunts on the road. Established stars, in particular, find themselves the targets of colorful language from extremely partisan fans. And, of all the marquee names, LeBron James arguably engenders the most visceral reactions. That he does is no surprise, really; considering that he has been such a thorn on the sides of opponents, and for such a long time, it’s next to impossible to ignore him. In fact, he not only expects to be roundly booed in every stop outside of the Staples Center; he welcomes the icy stares and harsh words, having long learned to draw strength from them and use them as motivation to achieve.
Which, in a nutshell, was why the sight of spectators in courtside seats at the State Farm Arena peppering James with jeers last Monday proved to be the same old, same old for him. If anything, he relished the development; because of varying health guidelines across city and state jurisdictions, only a third of franchises have been allowed to welcome patrons in their home arenas. He had been missing the interactions, and was only too glad to experience them anew in the Lakers’ set-to against the Hawks, their last of a seven-game, 12-day away trip.
That said, James would probably not have noticed Chris and Juliana Carlos throwing brickbats his way had the stadium been filled to capacity. Given limited seating and the proximity of the couple to the floor, he wound up not just hearing them, but engaging in a back and forth that caught the attention of referees. After a lengthy stoppage in play, the game arbiters ejected the Carloses along with two other Hawks fans from the arena for disorderly conduct. The fourth quarter then continued with him putting up an assist, a block, a rebound, and nine points to lead the Lakers to victory.
James gladly talked about the incident in his post-mortem with scribes. He didn’t sound angry or irritated; rather, he indicated that nothing the Carloses said or did was new to him, and that he wished they weren’t banned from the bowl. There was ample reason for them to be, however; apart from showing the extent of their offensive vocabulary, they were deemed to have violated safety protocols. Juliana then vented on social media; her Instagram posts, since deleted, were replete with curses and included messages that didn’t sound good, especially on the first day of Black History Month.
Naturally, the Hawks investigated the turn of events, with no further sanctions meted the longtime Hawks supporters. James took everything in stride, simply noting in a tweet that “Courtside Karen was MAD MAD!!” Meanwhile, Juliana apologized, and that was that. To be sure, he will be waiting for a next time, and he will act accordingly. Just like he did late last month, when he was propelled by an overly exuberant cheer of his missed shot by Cavaliers chief of staff Jason Hillman to put on a show in the crunch.
In short, James likes to be the focus of even the wrong kind of attention. As far as he’s concerned, it’s yet another opportunity for him to prove his critics wrong. He knows well enough to bet on himself under similar circumstances, and he very rarely loses. It’s why he’s first among equals, and why, even at 36, he sees himself remaining the best of the best for some time to come.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.