There's an interesting discussion between Bill Simmons and Brian Windhorst on their recent B.S. Report podcast in which the two recount the evolving personality of Miami Heat forward LeBron James. Windhorst, of course, has covered James since his early high school days, moving to Miami when James bolted the Cleveland Cavaliers last summer.
While James is tearing it up in the playoffs -- scoring 10 straight points to eliminate the Boston Celtics and advance to the Eastern Conference finals, where he will face the Chicago Bulls -- it wasn't always smooth sailing. Windhorst described a withdrawn, unemotional James early in the season and catalogues some of the vitriol that he received on the road. One of the first cities that comes to mind is Portland and the two discuss what impact that night had on James' personality and season.
Here's a transcript of the exchange.
Brian Windhorst: "He was really surprised that he got booed everywhere he went."
Bill Simmons: "I agree. I think he was shocked."
BW: "There was a night in Memphis and, believe it or not, that was one of the places they really booed him. There were a couple of surprising places. Portland, they were just all over him in Portland in mid-January.
"He got booed in Memphis one night and they lost that game, it was a rough night, that was the night Udonis Haslem got hurt, they lost on a last second shot, Rudy Gay hit an amazing shot coming off of a screen, LeBron was all over him, Rudy just made a great play. They were struggling, they'd started their rough start. LeBron was like, 'I don't understand why people are booing me in Memphis. I mean I get it in Cleveland. I never said I was going to come to Memphis. I never had any involvement with these fans.' He was legitimately surprised by it, he was legitimately taken aback by the dislike he was getting everywhere."
BS: "By the time he got to that Portland game, which I watched, in mid-January, I felt like he had now decided to embrace it. That was the first game I remember him actually toying with the crowd, kind of, 'bring it on' so to speak."
BW: "He tried but it didn't stick. After that game, you're right, when the crowd was booing him, he led a comeback, they won that game in overtime. He actually had a remarkable game that night, he was playing center guarding Marcus Camby in overtime. It was remarkable. When the crowd was booing him, he was gesturing, 'Go ahead, keep booing, keep booing.'
"After the game, we sort of asked him, 'Are you embracing this now?' And he sort of said gave an answer like, 'Yeah, yeah, I'm embracing it, you've got to embrace it.' So I wrote all that. The next day, I heard from somebody in his camp. 'Why are you writing that LeBron is embracing the villain?' I said, 'Because that's what he said last night.' I could tell even the people close to him didn't think he was doing that.
"He sort of backed off of that over the next few weeks. He's sort of gotten to the point now where he's numb to it. [The booing has] been tempered a bit too, it's not quite the same as what it earlier in the season.
"It took him awhile to get used to that. He came around in December. They won like 22 out of 23 games. That obviously helped. He was not anything like himself for the first six or eight weeks of the year. It took him a little to get numb, to just flat out getting booed, to being disliked. He was used to being cheered everywhere."
BS: "I think it definitely hardened him a little bit."
Here's the Media Row Report from that night. The video of James spanking himself during that game was, unfortunately, removed from YouTube.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter