Kyrie Irving may be leading an uprising.
LeBron James has chosen his path, and in doing so has chosen a path often traveled. He has chosen to play the role of the bully in NBA High School, and in the end King James will likely experience the same fate as many others who have done the same.
James’s power as a bully is only so because of his dominance on the court. So far, Lebron has been able to attract players to play with him, because playing on a roster alongside LeBron has meant a guaranteed trip to the NBA Finals.
For the last seven years, anyways.
The consensus amongst his peers in the Eastern Conference has been the old adage “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”
But what if they didn’t have to anymore?
The fact is, NBA forces may be starting to align against him. As he gets older, and as the Golden State Warriors lay waste to the league and leave little doubt as to June’s outcome, LeBron’s championship promise becomes less convincing. The eventual result may be a turning of the tide, with players around the league conspiring against the King to knock him from his pedestal.
If they start thinking they can beat LeBron, why would they join him?
The behavior of a bully is well-documented. Rather than focusing their energy on forging positive friendships and finding common ground, individuals instead use physical and emotional intimidation to achieve the results they want, always at the expense of their peers.
The focus is almost always on the victims of bullying, and rightly so—the effects of prolonged bullying are catastrophic. But it is also worthwhile to consider the bully themselves, particularly the lifespan of their role and how it comes crashing down on them at the end.
LeBron’s behavior has also been well-documented:
After the 2009-10 season, when Cleveland exited in the second round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs, James was publicly critical of Mike Brown’s offense. Brown was fired, one year removed from 66 wins and an NBA Coach of the Year award.
James, who was set to be a free-agent that offseason, famously announced that he would be joining the Miami Heat.
While in Miami, reports indicate that LeBron expressed dissatisfaction with coach Erik Spoelstra–even walking right through Spoelstra entering a timeout–only to be told by Team President Pat Riley that Spoelstra was his guy and that he, and only he, would be the one to make personnel decisions.
Before his departure from the Heat, James urged to team to draft Shabazz Napier, point guard from UConn. They did, LeBron re-joined the Cavs, and Napier was a bust.
In his return to Cleveland, James’s bullying went from rumor to on stage, most memorably in his relationship to coach David Blatt. The two could be observed disagreeing openly, and in several instances James’s body language broadcasted obvious contempt for his coach, himself a proven winner at the position.
Blatt’s time in Cleveland included an Eastern Conference Championship and a 40-10 start to the following season but will be remembered most for James discarding Blatt with a shove during an argument with an official in front of the Cavaliers bench, boasting after a game-winning shot to beat the Bulls in the playoffs that his coach had drawn up a play but that he (Lebron) had “scratched it,” and for berating Blatt on the bench in Game 5 of the Finals, a confrontation that ended with Blatt erasing the play he’d drawn up and crafting another.
In the end–which came in the middle of his second season–Blatt was fired and the job was given to Tyronn Lue, a 39-year-old with no head coaching experience.
And this season, when LeBron and Co. played the Knicks in New York on November 13, James dunked an alley-oop pass and collided with NYK rookie Frank Nkitilina on his way back up the floor. James hovered menacingly over the rookie while Nkitilina pushed him away repeatedly. Center Enes Kanter confronted James and addressed his intimidation tactics post-game.
In the aftermath, James and Kanter have had a war of words that’s been centered on James’s apparent expectation that his reputation precede him heading into every game and afford him an elevated level of respect from his opponents.
He has even gone so far as to spar publicly with the front offices of other teams. In 2016-17, James feuded with Phil Jackson, then President of the New York Knicks, over culturally insensitive comments from Jackson, and even with Jackson no longer in his position, James has taken shots this season, commenting that Mavericks rookie guard Dennis Smith, Jr. “should be a Knick,” and took to Twitter to defend recently fired Memphis Grizzlies coach David Fizdale.
It is all a pattern of behavior that would be wholly unacceptable and downright ridiculous coming from just about any other player in the league. Because of his place as the King of the NBA Mountain, James has more and more taken on this role as player-ambassador, being outspoken on social issues and even engaging President Trump on Twitter.
But James’s behavior ultimately amounts to a case of bullying, and for this Lebron will eventually have to pay a price. High-school bullies meet their end when school ends and their victims move on to successful careers and lives, leaving the bullies behind to stare at themselves in the mirror, lacking in prospects.
Lebron has already achieved enough in the NBA to be considered among the greatest of all-time, and certainly that’s always what he’ll see when he stares in the mirror, but his treatment of the rest of the league may leave him wanting more at the end.
Kyrie Irving was the first to announce that playing with Lebron wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Winning is great, but so is having fun playing basketball.
By the looks of it, Lebron has a lot of wins left in the tank. The question posed by Kyrie Irving to the rest of the league, though, is this:
How much fun will it finally be to beat this guy?