King James is a global brand. The Cavs superstar dominates the NBA on and off the court in every respect, transforming himself from High School prodigy to a national icon. But for all the championship success with Miami, the gold medals at the Olympics, the huge endorsement deals, movie roles and adulation on his return to Cleveland, LeBron isn’t revered around the country compared to other great contemporaries.
Why is this exactly? Is it the arrogance he displays on the court? Could it be about the amount of media exposure he dominates over other players deemed more worthy? Whichever way you cut it, LeBron divides opinion like few others in the NBA. Many of the best that reach the top of the mountain have to drag some people down along the way and James has his fare share.
One of the most consistent aspects of this hatred centers on his ability to shape his image and write the narrative. Many people in his position would do likewise, orchestrating media events, giving sound bytes to the media that deflect attention away from his poor performances and responsibilities, and generally making himself to appear like a respected team man.
At different stages of LeBron’s career some of this would have been true. Parallels can be drawn to Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant as a major player in the game, but even the greats have their moments of weakness and regret. For all that he’s achieved in the great game of basketball, no one can be this prominent for a long stretch of time without falling down at crucial moments. He is only human after all.
With the spotlight firmly on King James delivering that much needed championship in Cleveland, lets take a moment to look at the top 15 most humiliating LeBron James moments of his career to date.
15 Booted Off High School Team
Put this down to being young and naïve. The best youth prospect in basketball made headlines in 2003 when he was stripped of his eligibility after accepting two sports jerseys from a store in Cleveland during his time with St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron. The shirts were worth a reported $845 and while it only proved a bump in the road, it was an insight into how a young prospect can be put in a very awkward position. It’s fair to say LeBron could not only buy those jerseys at the drop of a hat these days, but purchase that store out 20 times over.
14 2004 Bronze Medal
LeBron had only barely started his career in the NBA with the Cleveland Cavaliers, but he impressed enough to make the USA squad for the 2004 Athens Olympics. America had always banked on a gold medal for the basketball tournament for obvious reasons and once again went to Greece as unbackable favorites. But it didn’t go according to script, with LeBron only providing 14.6 minutes a game to average 5.8 points and 2.6 rebounds seeing the side falter to Bronze. The press castigated James for his poor attitude and not acting like a team player, not the first time he would be accused of doing this.
13 ESPYs Hosting Outfit
In 2007 LeBron James decided to spice up the pretty bland affair that is the ESPYs award show. He channeled his inner 1980s rapper vibe and rocked leopard-skinned pants, black jacket, gold bling and Vanilla Ice styled haircut while doing a funny little dance number on the stage. We think it was supposed to be funny and ironic, but the still images tell a different story.
12 Yankees Hat at Indians Game
It’s not worthy of being called something ridiculous and over-the-top like “Cap Gate” or anything scandalous, but this wasn’t a good look at all. In 2007 LeBron was a beloved son of Cleveland and was viewed as a beacon of the city. Sitting in the crowd during the MLB playoffs between the local Indians and the New York Yankees, James had the temerity to wear a Yankees cap. One fan told the press, “The guy is the face of Cleveland sports and he’s not even rooting for a team that’s 100 feet from the building he plays in!” Fair point. Perhaps it was an early insight into his passion for brand King James rather than a love for his city.
11 Confiscating College Kid Dunk Tape
WARNING - LeBron James and Nike do not want you to watch this video. Why is that? As the global brand had brought King James under their wing to form a formidable partnership, the Cavs star took some time out to play against a collection of College sophomore kids. One of them, Jordan Crawford, schooled James with a huge dunk over the top of him. Under normal circumstances this would be laughed off, but both Nike and James went out of their way to try and confiscate the tape and wipe it from the history books. The first bit was embarrassing, the next was outright humiliating.
10 Delton West Scandal
LeBron’s had a number of humiliating moments, but on this occasion it was clearly not of his own making. Perhaps this was a key part in his departure to Miami, as revelations emerged that Cavs player Delton West was having a secret affair with LeBron’s own mother Gloria James. It would be a number of months later that this would be proven, but the tension simmering beneath the surface would have been tough to handle and quite the awkward situation in the dressing room. No wonder West was cut not long after the 2010 playoffs were over. LeBron didn’t wait long to pack his bags either.
9 Quitting the Cavs
In the NBA and professional sports, players are free to move around from franchise to franchise as they see fit. But LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers weren’t just another player/franchise partnership. The long suffering town was desperate to build a championship winning side and for James to know this and run down his contract, putting himself on free agency to get the best deal possible and move to a team with the same ambitions, it told the world that Cleveland’s needs came a distant second to his. The jersey burning demonstrated how gutting this was to the Cavs faithful.
8 Making Heat Move A Media Fiasco
“THE DECISION!” Brand LeBron had carefully manipulated a situation where the NBA were collectively holding their breath to see where the basketball superstar would move to as ESPN built up the coverage week after week. The exhaustive process was all designed as an attention grabbing fiasco to put his name up in lights and looking back, it didn’t paint LeBron in a good light. “In this fall, man this is very tough,” James said with a smirk on his face, “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach and (I am) going to Miami Heat.” And that was that. A single press conference or media release would suffice next time, even a tweet!
7 Mavericks Finals Loss
Heading into the 2011 Finals Series against the Dallas Mavericks, LeBron was expected to be the key architect in delivering the Heat that championship he was so hungry to get his hands on. After seeing Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant take out another title a year previous with the Lakers, this long quest for glory was stretching out and the pressure was building. But it would end in tears for James, being heavily criticized for going missing against a Dirk Nowitzki-led Mavs to bundle out 4-2. While Dwyane Wade stood up, James was far below his best.
6 Pulling Out of Dunk Contest
He has since gone back on his word to state categorically that he regrets doing this and wants the chance to enter it, but in 2012 LeBron wanted everyone to know that the Slam Dunk Contest was below him. With a championship on the line with the Heat, he told Fox Sports Florida that the event was something that could only be a hindrance rather than a help. “No, it’s over with. I’m getting too old for that. There were times when I wanted to do it. But I came into All-Star Weekend a few times banged up and I didn’t want to risk further injury.”
5 Spurs Finals Loss
Whereas in 2011 James departed from his high standards and was found out badly, in 2014 the finals series loss to the San Antonio Spurs was a case of putting in for nothing. His 28.2 points per game had daylight between him and the next best in the form of Dwyane Wade at 15.2. Greg Popovich’s men took the series 4-1 in a dominating display of teamwork and harmony, contrasting to the one-man LeBron show. The Spurs had great all-round contributors in Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard and Tim Duncan.
Even though his stats were outstanding over the series, LeBron’s cramping up in Game 1 of the 2014 finals became a huge talking point. Everything from the failure of the San Antonio air conditioning to a war of words with Gatorade took all the headlines and set the negative tone for the Heat. The forgettable moment outlined how much was at stake as LeBron told reporters, “I have nothing to say about that sports drink group. I’m not even gonna say their name.” Two brands feuding, what a time to be alive!
3 David Blatt Sacking
It all depends whether you believe LeBron James or don’t. If you fall into the camp of the former then you will view his denial that he had anything to do with the sacking of Cavs coach David Blatt as truth. “It sucks that people want to throw my name in the dirt,” replied LeBron to the speculation that he was a key figure in the coach’s ultimate demise. Then there are a host of figures inside and outside the game who believe this is classic James – having previous friction with the clipboard guy and pulling his weight over who coaches the team. There did seem to be a clear breakdown in the pair’s relationship and it can’t be any coincidence that it resulted in Blatt leaving the franchise.
2 Golden State Finals Loss
The 2015 Finals loss to the juggernaut Golden State Warriors was a hammer blow to James. His return culminated in the Cavs dominating the Eastern Conference and the only thing that stood between him and the fairytale ending was Steph Curry and the young hotshots from the Bay Area. 6 games later and it was all over, despite James posting an incredible 35.8 points per game. For all the differences between the 2014 Heat and 2015 Cavs, LeBron’s personal exploits weren’t enough to win a championship.
1 Golden State Regular Season Loss
The 2015 Finals defeat was one thing, being blown away 132-98 in the regular season of 2016 was something else. It not only proved to be the final nail in David Blatt’s coffin, but it demonstrated that the LeBron-first mantra can turn foul at the first sign of trouble. Rumors of unrest and pitiful team morale came to the boil as last seasons champions showed Cleveland that they had a mountain to climb if they wanted to reach their level. As humiliations go, this was monumental by NBA standards as the Warriors showed that the West still reigns supreme.