There's no denying that three years ago, LeBron James was the biggest villain in sports. Hell, Heat fans themselves were treated as rouges just for daring to root for him. But after two back-to-back championships, LeBron's public image has recovered. Of course, the sports media always needs a villain, and Grantland's Andrew Sharp has given that dubious distinction this season to Dwyane Wade.
"There are millions of basketball fans in America who still hate LeBron James more than any athlete in sports, but when you look at why they hate LeBron, the guy they really hate is Dwyane Wade," he writes. "The one who's overrated, whiny, and flops constantly. Cocky when he's good, petulant when he's not, always in need of a good ego massage. He gives himself nicknames, he dresses like an asshole. Hollywood as hell. That's Wade, not LeBron.
"He's the villain. The best villain we have in the NBA," he continues. "Dwight Howard may drive people crazy, but he's really more of a punch line. Wade? He's just successful enough so that we have to respect him, and that makes him twice as unbearable."
Of course, Wade is the guy who stayed with the team that drafted him. The guy who looked around the league, decided he probably couldn't become the next Michael Jordan, but knew he could be at least a better Scottie Pippen than Scottie Pippen ever was. The guy who stood back and handed over the "face of the franchise" status he could have held onto for another decade.
But in Sharp's view, Wade has tried to make himself a martyr for doing just that.
"There are plenty of reasons Wade is ridiculous and unbearable -- the cheap shots, the whining, the flopping, extra-small capris and extra-large pocket squares -- but the biggest reason comes back to the two issues above," he writes. "Not only is he depressing to watch next to LeBron every night, but then the games end and he wants credit for a sacrifice that was fundamentally made out of self-interest."
(Side note: Can we please stop harping on Wade's wardrobe?)
However, Sharp then goes on to praise him. He says that Wade has "maxed out his talent better than maybe any superstar we've seen in the last 20 years" and that his tendency to come up big when it matters will guarantee the Heat another championship this year.
"That's the thing about great villains. You hate them, but you never stop fearing them."
Though, we're not really buying that line.
In our mind, there are two versions of the sports villain:
1. The guy whose off-the-court antics, ego, and/or temperament prevent the game from being played on its highest level. (Objective.)
2. The guy on the team you happen to hate. (Subjective.)
Guys who fit the first criteria will always be the bigger villains.
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Dwight Howard is a punching bag, but there's serious frustration among basketball fans that he's a guy who could deliver on his talent so much more but lets his ego and childish decisions get in the way.
But in Sharp's view, Wade is the bigger baddie because he did the exact opposite and occasionally gives answers to the same handful of questions about playing alongside LeBron that seem to hint at martyrdom. Also, he sometimes wears pink.