LeBron James is arguably the best player of this generation and has been at the top of the game for well over a decade. The three-time NBA champion has endured 13 years in the league and encountered a number of different players that have impacted him both on and off the court. As with most sports, being the best player brings about a multitude of supporters but also a fairly sizeable number of critics. After being one of the last players drafted directly out of high school, James polarized the league and almost immediately had a target on his back. With the media pushing him as the next Michael Jordan, it seemed clear that some players weren't ready to deal with yet another transcendent talent.
Remarkably, it only took three years for King James to appear in the playoffs for the first time and he hasn't missed a single postseason since. His first stint with the Cavaliers saw him carry many relatively weak squads to a number of deep playoff runs. And this once again meant that LeBron was the target of constant trash talk and hard fouls. Two things which he would become accustomed to as the years went by. But for every flagrant foul that King James sustained, there was a teammate to help him back up. And while it's one of the sports' biggest cliches, there's no way LeBron would be where he is today without his teammates.
So let's take a look at the players that LeBron loved on his team and those who he despised more than anything.
17 Hates: Steph Curry
Steph Curry is easily one of the most popular players in the NBA. His exciting style of play and fast rise to the top means that he will be the face of the league for many years to come. Naturally, LeBron hasn't been too fond of the Warriors and their claim to be the most successful regular season team in NBA history. When the Warriors finished with a 73-9 record, Curry took home the MVP award but LeBron was more than skeptical as to whether he deserved it or not.
He said, "I think sometimes the word ‘valuable’ or best player of the year, you can have different results." James is a four-time winner of the award and has always been in contention to win it, thanks in no small part to his PER of 27.61, a mere 0.3 behind Michael Jordan. But even with the likes of Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving, LeBron still has to make things happen on the court.
Curry's challenge to LeBron's throne has been fast and near effortless. His casual demeanour contrasts LeBron's "do-or-die" attitude, so it's easy to see why James isn't the biggest fan of Steph Curry.
16 Loves: Kyrie Irving
Many have antagonized LeBron for his inability to come up big in clutch situations. Arise, Kyrie Irving, who drained the three-pointer in Game 7 of the Finals which ultimately led to King James' third NBA title. But Kyrie represents something which LeBron hasn't had before; an All-Star teammate who can be a franchise centerpiece for the rest of LeBron's career. While James had both Bosh and Wade in Miami, neither were young enough for LeBron to sign a long-term contract and know that they will continue to succeed and win titles.
Throughout his six years in the league, Irving has been named an All-Star on four separate occasions and averaged 25.2 points and 5.8 assists this season. Irving holds his own on the court and continues to flourish as LeBron looks to facilitate more during the regular season. In fact, their usage rate is near identical with Irving hitting 30.8% for the season while LeBron sits on 30%. At just 25 years old, LeBron knows that Irving has a bright future ahead but more importantly, knows that he can stay with the Cavaliers late into his career and not worry about carrying the team.
14 Hates: Lance Stephenson
From one iconic shot to something more of a moronic shot, Lance Stephenson has always been a thorn in the side of LeBron James. At least while he's on the Indiana Pacers roster. While LeBron was with the Miami Heat, he faced off against the Pacers in three consecutive postseasons and this (in)famous incident occurred in Game 5 of the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals. A strange tactic, one that LeBron said he had only ever used on his wife. But in the end, it seemed to work, as Stephenson held James to just seven points as the Pacers went on to win 93-90.
Just one game later, Stephenson touched LeBron's mouth and LeBron was not happy following the incident, describing it to be "uncalled for" and leaving him "at a loss for words." But where did it all begin? The 2012 Eastern Conference Semis, where Stephenson made a choking gesture after LeBron missed a free throw. The Pacers went on to win the game but according to Danny Granger, many veteran Heat players showed up outside the Pacers locker room because of the disrespect. With such a tainted history, it's easy to understand why LeBron wouldn't be best buddies with Lance.
12 Loved: Ray Allen
It's one of the most iconic shots in NBA Finals history. Game 6 in Miami and San Antonio is looking to finish off the Heat and secure their fourth NBA title since 2000. With the Spurs leading 95-92 and less than 20 seconds remaining, LeBron missed a three-pointer which would have finally silenced the critics who argue that he lacks the clutch gene. But fortunately for him, Chris Bosh grabbed the offensive board and found Ray Allen who drained the corner three with just over five seconds remaining.
Allen didn't have the flashiest stats while he was with the Heat, but all it took was one shot for LeBron to be forever indebted to the then 37-year-old. The game would eventually go to overtime where the Heat emerged 103-100 victors and go on to win the series. This marked LeBron's second title in three years with the Heat and reaffirmed that he made the right decision to leave the Cavaliers in search of greener pastures.
11 Hates: Jason Terry
Jason Terry is a player who is never afraid to speak his mind and has been one of the best trash-talkers of this generation. He backed it all up in 2011 as the Mavericks defeated the LeBron-led Heat to win their first ever NBA title. In the deciding Game 6 of the 2011 Finals, Terry dropped 27 points off the bench while shooting an astonishing 69 percent from the floor.
Prior to Game 4 of the Finals, Terry questioned whether LeBron had the durability to continue playing defense for a full seven games. Fast forward five years later and Terry was still going at LeBron, this time from behind a microphone on SiriusXM NBA Radio. In reference to the Cavs and Warriors NBA Finals, "The JET" said that "he [LeBron] gets rattled and that’s why Draymond did what he did and said what he said. Because obviously it gets under his skin. He does not like it.”
Terry now plays for the Milwaukee Bucks and is a veteran in a young locker room but many agree that LeBron ended his career years ago with this alley-oop over Terry in Boston. It's safe to say LeBron had the final word on this beef.
10 Loved: Chris Bosh
They might have been on rocky terms following LeBron's exit from Miami, but there's no denying the love he had for Chris Bosh as the pair won back-to-back titles. Bosh joined the Heat via trade but was a genuine superstar while with the Raptors. He was named an All-Star in all but two seasons while in Toronto but had the most to lose when joining the Heat. His scoring dropped a full 5.3 points per game and Bosh was forced to reinvent himself. But his transformation from interior presence to outside scorer did wonders for LeBron. It opened up the floor and kept defences honest. Bosh went from averaging 0.3 shots from deep with the Raptors to attempting 2.8 three-pointers in LeBron's final year with the team. Bosh was a more than capable of taking over when LeBron needed to rest and proved to critics that he was more than just a third wheel.
His zany personality also made for numerous laughs for LeBron and the rest of the NBA universe, primarily through his photobombs in post-game interviews. And let's not forget that it was Bosh who grabbed the offensive rebound that led to Ray Allen's clutch three against the Spurs.
9 Hates: Joakim Noah
Joakim Noah is yet another trash talker on LeBron's hit list. While he's essentially a non-factor now that he's with the New York Knicks, his nine seasons with the Chicago Bulls led to some fiery encounters with LeBron. It started out early when James was with the Cavs, as a benched Noah started talking to LeBron while he attempted a free throw. Noah got under the skin of James, as he walked over to the bench despite the Cavs being up 19 points. Noah clearly wasn't trying to make friends in Ohio when he told reporters later in the season that “I’ve never heard anyone say that they’re going on vacation to Cleveland.”
Noah continued to talk smack to LeBron, even after being dunked on in the 2015 Eastern Conference Semis. On the play PRIOR to the dunk, Noah gave LeBron an earful which he thought was certainly crossing the line. James said that "I think the words he used to me [went] a little too far. I'm a father with three kids, you know, it got very disrespectful." Coming off a season where he was sidelined due to injury, one would hope Noah won't try to anger LeBron any further when the next season comes around.
8 Loved: Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Zydrunas Ilgauskas was a staple of the Cleveland franchise well before LeBron was even drafted. While a number of injuries slowed down the Lithuanian, he formed quite the partnership with LeBron during his time in Cleveland and even signed with the Miami Heat when LeBron took his talents to South Beach. The 7'3" big man could finish well inside and, like most European big men, knock down a midrange shot. Ilgauskas was LeBron's early partner-in-crime and was a mentor both on and off the court. His veteran leadership helped LeBron develop into the player that he is today and the two grew together as friends as well as teammates.
On the court, James thrived as Ilgauskas protected the rim and caused constant problems for the opposing big men. He was always a threat to notch a double-double and LeBron appreciated his low maintenance demeanour. In 2014, "Big Z" had his jersey retired and LeBron jumped at the chance to attend the ceremony in Cleveland for his close friend. He said, "I felt like for me to be there for eight of his years, being a good friend, there was no way I was going to miss it if I had an opportunity to [attend]." LeBron has a lot of love for Big Z.
7 Hates: Jaylen Brown
As if LeBron needed another reason to hate the Celtics, Jaylen Brown is heading down a path he is not going to enjoy. The Boston rookie had a decent season averaging 6.6 points and 2.8 rebounds in under 20 minutes of play. He showed some signs of promise and could be a key player as the Celtics continue to build a championship side. But Brown should know that players who feud with LeBron don't normally win. Before Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals this year, Brown called LeBron "just a regular guy" and said that "there’s bigger threats in my neighborhood than LeBron James, so I have no fear — I have no fear whatsoever of LeBron.”
While Brown ended up having a decent game, scoring a team-high 19 points, the Cavs would blow the Celtics out of the water and emerge 130-86 winners. The Cavaliers led by 41 points at halftime which marked the largest deficit in playoff history. And LeBron finished the first half with a plus-minus number of plus-40, the largest in his career. This could be the beginning of the end for Jaylen Brown.
6 Loves: Mike Miller
Another role player who came up clutch when it mattered most. Mike Miller was huge in Game 5 of the 2012 NBA Finals. He knocked down seven three-pointers en route to 23 points off the bench, missing only one shot from downtown. While it looked likely that the Heat would close out Oklahoma City without any trouble, the extra firepower was certainly welcome. The Big 3 and Miller combined to score 93 of the team's 121 points as James went on to win his second title in Miami.
Sure, the Heat probably would've won the title without the heroics of Mike Miller anyway. But LeBron has a soft spot for Miller and their friendship started young when Miller would attend some of James' high school games in Ohio. It grew as the pair played for Team USA during the Olympic qualifying tournament and oddly flourished further when Miller opted to wear James' shoes in spite of DeShawn Stevenson's protests (but more on him later). LeBron even gave Miller a shoutout at the White House with President Obama and eventually courted him to join the Cavs once he had left Miami. The pair make for quite the odd couple.
5 Hates: Stanley Johnson
Another rookie who really shouldn't be trying to make enemies with arguably the best player in the game is Stanley Johnson. The Pistons swingman was a rookie when tasked with guarding LeBron in the first round of the playoffs last year but certainly bit off more than he could chew. After losing the opening two games to the Cavs by a combined 22 points, Johnson was adamant that he was holding his own against King James defensively. He said, "I'm definitely in his head, that's for sure." Despite LeBron scoring 27 points on an efficient 66 percent shooting, the University of Arizona product stuck by his words when further pressed on the issue.
"It's up to him how he wants to react to whatever he does. I think I'm in a good place. He had a great night. He's had a couple great nights. He made a couple tough-ass shots."
LeBron would downplay the issue and do his talking on the court as he averaged 22.8 points, 9 rebounds and 6.8 assists throughout the series as the Cavs swept the Pistons effortlessly. James doesn't waste time his breath with mortal fools such as Johnson, but the trash talk certainly didn't help.
4 Loves: Matthew Dellavedova
Not exactly the biggest name to appear on this list but the grit and determination of Matthew Dellavedova certainly earned him the admiration of King James. The Australian replaced Kyrie Irving in the starting lineup for the 2015 NBA Finals and did well to keep up with MVP Steph Curry. "Delly" turned in a fantastic defensive performance in the first two games and made things difficult for Curry before exploding in Game 3 back in Cleveland. The 26-year-old finished with 20 points and 4 assists as the Cavaliers took a 2-1 series lead over the Warriors.
Following their 2016 NBA championship, LeBron was full of praise for Dellavedova and was quick to shut down those who criticized him. He said, “that’s a guy who’s dedicated, who never cared about guys saying, ‘Delly’s not fast enough, Delly’s not strong enough, Delly can't shoot it well enough, Delly’s not an NBA player.’ Well guess what? Delly's a champion, thank you Delly.”
That's pretty high praise for a player who averaged 7.5 points per game in the regular season. And while he might now be on the Bucks, the Cavs still show him love.
3 Hated: DeShawn Stevenson
Quite possibly LeBron's earliest feud but hands down the funniest one to date. It all began when LeBron said something about Stevenson to former Washington teammate Drew Gooden, who passed it onto Stevenson who naturally wasn't happy. The two exchanged words and Stevenson went on to call LeBron overrated. LeBron fired back by saying that Stevenson is like Soulja Boy and will never be near the level of his friend Jay-Z. The swingman hit back at LeBron saying that he'll buy Soulja Boy front row seats to their next game and that LeBron needs to stop copying his beard. Remember that these were two adults who got paid millions to play basketball and not kids in elementary school.
In the end, Jay-Z had the final say in the matter, dropping a pretty sweet diss track backing up LeBron. Stevenson was part of the Dallas Mavericks squad that won the title in 2011, knocking off LeBron's Heat but by then the feud was all but over. And funnily enough Soulja Boy later dropped a track titled "LeBron James" in which he compared himself to the King. Talk about loyalty. Stevenson has joined Ice-Cube's star-studded Big3 League while LeBron is looking to win his fourth NBA title - so there's no doubt that LeBron came out on top after this one.
2 Loves: Dwyane Wade
Who else but Dwyane Wade? It all started in Chicago before the 2003 NBA Draft, where Wade had to wait an hour to see a doctor but LeBron walked right in and was inspected almost immediately. "He walked right in and they seen him," said Wade, drafted four spots behind LeBron. "We kind of kicked it off from there. It's just something that happened – there's no way to really explain it."
Of course, LeBron would join Wade in Miami in 2010 and the pair, along with Chris Bosh, would go on to win back-to-back NBA titles. Wade was the perfect foil to LeBron, able to step up in the clutch when he was needed most and he took a substantial amount of pressure off LeBron. After carrying the Cavaliers for so long, LeBron was more than happy to take a small step back and let someone else take on the scoring load.
The pair were fantastic teammates with incredible chemistry and are even closer off the court as they are often seen on vacation together. And take it from Wade's wife Gabrielle Union who said that Flash would score higher on "The Newly Wed Game" with LeBron than he would with her.
1 Hated: Delonte West
Who else but Delonte West? If DeShawn Stevenson holds the title for funniest beef with LeBron then Delonte West holds the title for the weirdest one. During the 2010 playoffs, the Cavs were shockingly eliminated by the Celtics despite LeBron shooting 54 percent from the field in the first three games. However, prior to Game 4, rumors suggested that LeBron found out that Delonte West had a sexual relationship with his own mother, Gloria James. This reportedly led to a significant split in the locker room and disrupted the chemistry of the squad. The Celtics, who were down 2-1 at the time, stormed back and won three straight games to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
In 2014, West was interviewed by Vice Sports and asked why he didn't name his son Delonte West Jr. to which he replied: "I don’t want my son going to school and people making fun of him for something his daddy did, “Oh didn’t yo daddy have sex with LeBron James mama?’ Man, I don’t want to deal with all that."
A number of media outlets jumped at the phrase "something his daddy did" and insinuated that West essentially confirmed the rumor. While certainly farfetched and probably twisted to fit the sentence temporally, you can't blame LeBron for being mad at West after everything.