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It’s Time To Stop Hating Tiger Woods and LeBron James

Tiger Woods has made a liar out of you. Out of me, too. So it would be more accurate to say Tiger Woods has made a liar out of us. He won the Memorial last week, and we tuned in. He’ll play in the U.S. Open this week, and we’ll tune in. Because we lied when we said we were done with Tiger Woods.

Now it’s LeBron James’ turn to make a liar out of you. And me. Us. Actually, he already has made a liar out of me, because I’m over The Decision. I’ll never understand why he left Cleveland the way he did, I’ll never respect with the way he teamed up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, but I’m done rooting against LeBron because of it.

Rooting for him? No, I wouldn’t say I’m doing that. Rooting for LeBron and the Miami Heat this week would be tantamount to rooting against delightful Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant, humble Thunder coach Scott Brooks and the most charming fan base in the NBA — and I can’t do that.

But rooting against LeBron James? Wanting him to fail, just because he’s, you know, LeBron James?

Those days are over, which means I’m a liar. Two months before he chose to leave Cleveland, but when the signs were becoming too much to ignore, I got my feelings hurt and said he’d never be “LeBron” to me again. “He’s James to me. He’s lost the first-name privilege,” I wrote in May 2010.

And that July, when he went on national television to team up with Wade and Bosh? I freaked out, called him “a coward, not a king — and I can’t root for a coward.”

I’m telling you that not to revisit his history, which you know all too well, but to revisit mine. To show you where I’m coming from — where I’ve been — with LeBron. And I’ve been to some angry places.

Same goes for Tiger, frankly. When his personal life imploded in late 2009 — and with it, the personal lives of his wife and children — it was riveting, but not in a good way. Over time, it became depressing. So before the 2011 Masters, I decided I was done with Tiger Woods. I was “hoping he goes away entirely. … Retire. Take up fishing. Move to the Galapagos Islands. Just drop from sight, would be my preference for Tiger Woods.”

Liar. Me. Because when Tiger won the Memorial last week, I was watching. And not out of horror but appreciation — appreciation for his skill level, and appreciation for what that skill level means for golf. What does it mean? It means people like me, casual golf fans who play the game badly and follow the PGA Tour loosely, are watching the sport again. Other than a major, the final round of the Memorial on June 3 was the first round of golf I’ve watched on TV since, um, since the Tiger Woods story broke in November 2009.

Eight months later, in July 2010, LeBron James announced The Decision.

And here we are, almost two years later, both stars on the threshold of greatness. How will you react? I know how I’ll react — I’ll react like it’s 2008, before the Perkins waitress, before The Decision. Back in those innocent days when Tiger Woods was famous because he was without question the greatest golfer on the planet, and LeBron James was famous because he was quite possibly the greatest basketball player on the planet.

They’re still those guys, somehow. Tiger 2012 isn’t Tiger 2008. Not yet, and maybe not ever again. What he went through was worse than any injury he endured, worse than the knee or neck or Achilles. A golfer can come back from those, same as before. The worldwide humiliation he suffered after the scandal? A golfer can’t come back from that. Nor should he, or he wouldn’t be human. So this Tiger isn’t the Tiger of 2008 — he’s not, he can’t possibly be, as psychologically bulletproof as he once was — but still, this Tiger has skills nobody else has. And when he starts the U.S. Open in pursuit of his first major since 2008, a victory that would get him back in pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major titles, I’ll be watching. Because he’s Tiger Woods, and November 2009 was a long time ago, and I’ve moved on.

Well, I’ll be watching when I can. See, I’ll also be in Oklahoma City, and then Miami, for the NBA Finals. I’ll be watching LeBron too. And that’ll be fun, watching this all-time great pursue the NBA championship he needs to escape the territory of Karl Malone, John Stockton and Charles Barkley — greats who never won a title — and join the club of Julius Erving and Michael Jordan, greats who did. Greats whose jersey numbers he has worn in the NBA, first Jordan’s No. 23, now Erving’s No. 6.

I won’t be rooting for LeBron — not a LeBron thing so much as a Thunder thing — but I won’t be rooting for him to fail. The Decision was awful, nobody will ever convince me otherwise, but that’s all it was: a decision. A mistake LeBron has said he’d not repeat if he could go back. It wasn’t a crime, wasn’t a sin, wasn’t anything to hold against him forever. Not to me, anyway. In Cleveland? Listen, I’m not telling Cleveland what to think, how to react, when to forgive. In Cleveland, that wound remains open, and who am I to tell Cleveland it’s wrong?

For me, the wound has closed. LeBron’s wound. Tiger’s wound. I’ve moved on. The week ahead is big for both of them, and my statute of limitations has expired.

How about yours?

By Gregg Doyel


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