It’s become almost impossible to ignore conversations about NBA stars not being all that thrilled to play alongside LeBron James. Kyrie Irving demanded a trade out of Cleveland. Paul George spurned James twice. Kawhi Leonard chose playing for the Clippers instead of teaming up with James and Anthony Davis. And those are all just guys we know for a fact turned down such opportunities — that list might be even longer.
ESPN: There have been some players, like Kevin Durant, who’ve come out publicly and said, “I won’t play with LeBron because of all the other stuff that comes with it.” Why was it something you did want to do?
AD: I don’t really care about the media attention. You know, I just want to play. And, obviously, playing alongside one of the future Hall of Famers in LeBron makes it a lot easier. So, I know it’s gonna come with the territory, but at the end of the day, I focus on the end goal, and that’s about winning the championship.
As great as it is to hear this from Davis, the fact remains that James has cultivated a media environment that can grow tiresome over time for his teammates.
What does that functionally mean? Well, it would seem some journalists seem to have traded out their objectivity in exchange for access to James and his camp. I’m obviously not going to name names here, but whoever you’re thinking of, well… yeah.
(backs away from subject slowly)
It’s important to note this isn’t the only example of such a relationship between the person or entity being covered and the people covering them. Hell, the Lakers, and every other NBA team, partners with TV channels in relationships that create wave after wave of propaganda painting said franchise in as positive a light as they possibly can, because partners can only be so objective. That’s just coverage of the rich and powerful in 2019, and to be fair, the way sports have always operated on some level due to the nature of regional sports networks and rights fees. Although it does feel like this homer-ism has gotten worse, not better.
But where it might get understandably annoying for teammates — especially teammates of superstars — is when the analysis from pseudo (or actual) public relations arms skews how they are viewed. When some analysts with major platforms are unwilling to criticize James and instead spend their time looking more closely at how his teammates let him down, that’s going to get old, and quickly.
Now, the upside to playing with James is that, more often than not, you know you’re going to be on a very good team. But even there, that likely means the stakes are going to be higher and the criticism louder should you not live up to James’ (and his water carriers in the media’s) expectations.
As Davis points out, though, his decision to not only force his way to the Lakers, but do so publicly and in a way that drug his own name through the mud to get there despite James’ presence on the roster renders a good chunk of concern that some players don’t want to play with him moot. If he and James are able to succeed this year, and that draws another star’s interest, well, that even further proves the point Davis made.
But right now, this is a sentiment that exists around James to a greater extent than other NBA superstars. It’s a sentiment he has spent his entire career cultivating and benefitting from. It’s probably something Davis will have to deal with, too. How Davis handles that will go a long way in deciding how effective he and James are together.