Friday, June 22, 2012

The Cristiano Ronaldo Effect, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love LeBron

Within hours of one another, two of the most disliked professional athletes on the planet turned in elite performances to push their teams onwards and upwards. Cristiano Ronalo, with a delightful header, scored the only goal in Portugal’s 1-0 victory over the Czech Republic. His nation advances to face the winner of the Spain-France game. LeBron James notched a triple-double to help clinch his first ever NBA title.

Within minutes of these events, the hate had already started. Haters use the same slew of tactics: arguments ad hominem and devaluations.

For Ronaldo, it is always the same arguments. Critics cite his arrogance and childish attitude, but even more cuttingly, they compare him to a certain diminutive Argentinean. “He will never be as good as Messi,” haters proclaim with a sense of self-satisfaction, as though that is enough to win the argument. It all became too much for Ronaldo himself, causing him to snap and exclaim, “You know where he was at this time [last year]? Do you know? He was being eliminated in the Copa America, in his own country. I think that's worse, no?” after Portugal defeated Denmark in the group stages.

He was immediately accused of jealousy, of being annoyed, of many other crimes. But is simply an issue of one man breaking after relentless comparisons. What is the point of it all? In the modern era, where bloggers and tweeters can render an opinion easily and instantly, it has become far too popular to hate (pot calling the kettle black, yes, but the point remains).

Is it that impossible to acknowledge that Cristiano Ronaldo is an amazing player, easily the second-best in the world, and one of the greatest of all time? It would seem so.

LeBron’s case is much different. He is incredibly unpopular for his decision to join the Heat, and “The Decision.” I point the finger at all of us. We are just as guilty as he is, though, for his fate. He is a modern-day version of Shelley’s Frankenstein: built up from his teenage years by a relentless hype-machine. His celebrity is a creation of a relentless 24-hour news cycle, and an unparalleled freedom of expression on the internet. When our creation snapped in Game 5 against the Celtics several years ago and turned against us, like Dr. Frankenstein, we sought to destroy him with the only weapons available to us. Not pistols, fire, and angry villagers bearing pitchforks, but Twitter, ESPN, Facebook, and blogs.

And the weapons are in full force again. His NBA title is being attacked already, either by merit of the shortened season, or the length of time it took him to win the title. Never mind the fact that playing 66 games in 120 days is possibly more grueling than a full NBA season (coming to a game every 1.87 days rather than a game every 2.09 days in the full season), or the fact that LeBron DOMINATED this shortened season with one of the best statistical lines in NBA history, or the fact that the playoffs (the ultimate judgment of success) weren’t shortened at all, even the fact that it took Jordan 6 years and a fundamental shift in his entire playing philosophy to win a chip. These facts are unimportant, because he’s LeBron, and we hate LeBron. In fact, I’m sure that somewhere at this very moment, Skip Bayless is preparing his rants for the next 2 months.

Why? Why do two of the most incredible players in their respective sport have to deal with such invective? Ronaldo understands it very well, saying “I think that because I am rich, handsome and a great player people are envious of me. I don't have any other explanation.”

And he is right. At some level, the hatred is motivated by a subconscious jealousy. LeBron and Cristiano Ronaldo are not bad people, by any stretch of the imagination. Certainly, genetics and fate blessed them in certain aspects, but there have been countless other athletes with similar gifts who’ve never achieved their potential. Both LeBron and Ronaldo are the combination of years of dedication, hard work, and natural ability. They should be lauded for proving the merits of these virtues.

Alas, it will probably never happen, because simply put:

Haters gonna hate.

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