In the NBA, players often get criticized once they reach superstar status, which is even more apparent if you are LeBron James.
Over the years, James grew his fanbase and his so-called “haters” in the process. But no matter what his haters say about him, nothing will change how former Washington Wizards big man Etan Thomas’ sees the kid from Arkon.
LeBron knows how to share
Some fans believe that James has been a diva ever since he reached the heights back in his Cleveland Cavaliers days. Thomas, who also played with Michael Jordan in Washington for two seasons, begged to disagree.
According to Thomas, what fans witnessed in the epic 2006 Eastern Conference first-round Game 6 duel between the Cavs and the Washington Wizards was how James disrespected Arenas in the dying seconds of the game.
Looking back at that specific game, James famously whispered, “If you miss these, you know who will end the game” to Arenas, who was shooting a pair of game-winning free throws with 15.1 seconds left in the game clock.
Thomas said that fans did not realize that all signs pointed to James going for the winning shot, but the then-21-year-old didn’t hesitate to trust his teammates and passed the ball.
“I was on court in 2006 for his first career playoff game when a 21-year-old LeBron put up a triple-double with 32 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists,” Thomas vividly recalled in a piece he wrote for The Guardian in 2020. “But he has never been merely a great player. He was also a great teammate.”
“For the entirety of that series, my teammate Gilbert Arenas had been heckling – and dominating – Damon Jones to the point where the Cavaliers guard’s performance dipped and he was benched,” he continued. “LeBron took action. Gilbert had two free-throws to help seal Game 6 and level the best-of-seven series at 3-3. After he missed the first shot, LeBron strolled up to Gilbert and whispered in his ear: ‘If you miss these, you know who will end the game.’ Gilbert did miss and I could only watch as, on the next play, LeBron drove the middle of the lane and kicked it out to Damon, who sank a 23-footer from the baseline to eliminate us from the playoffs. At just 21, LeBron knew he shouldn’t be the one to seal the series. Instead he wanted Damon to be the hero and reclaim some pride after Gilbert had embarrassed him. Even though that ended our season, I respected how LeBron had his teammate’s back.”
The King has a big heart
Two years later, Thomas witnessed the unbelievable character of James once again. This time, it’s outside the basketball court.
“[James] He showed that empathy again when we faced the Cavaliers in the playoffs in 2008,” Thomas added. “I had recently had heart surgery, and LeBron took the time to ask me how my recovery had gone. He joked about not having to come up with a game plan against me after the surgery but he was also sincere as he said I should think about my health first and foremost.”
“So I find it strange when people so confidently think they know the personality and character of an athlete like LeBron from what they see on TV or read on Twitter,” he continued.
People may have different perceptions of James. Fortunately for Thomas, he witnessed firsthand who the real “King James” is both on and off the court.