There's a secret to a good villain, and it might not be what you think.
When we think of iconic villains, we tend to think of the cool ones: Boba Fett. Michael Meyers. Tywin Lannister.
But in many ways, cool villains are not villains at all.
In one sense, they are failures as bad guys.
Because the secret to a great bad guy isn't that he is bad.
The secret to a great bad guy is that he makes you want to see the good guy win.
A great villain is not the bad guy you love to hate. He's not funny or cool. He (or she) is profoundly unlikable. He is the bad guy you want to see fail.
Boba Fett is a great character, but he's not a great villain because he is cooler that most of the good guys he faces. We end up cheering for him.
Not only that, he's tough and competent and single-minded and courageous and professional. How can you complain about that? You can be opposed to him, but you can't really dislike him.
That's why I think LeBron James is a great real-life villain.
He's not just a great player. He's also a great player that is easy to dislike. There was the controversy over "The Decision," an hour of television where he picked the team he was going to go to when his contract ended. There was his behaviour during the 2011 finals when he and Wade mocked Dirk Nowitiski's cold as well as his speech to the haters about them 'having to go back to their lives.' There was his tendency to disappear or shrink from the moment during crunch time in close playoff series.
All of that makes it easy to see LeBron as a man who is spoiled, arrogant, and entitled. And since most of this behaviour happened before he won a championship, it was easy to see him as someone who hadn't earned the right to be arrogant, especially given his tendency to disappear in close games.
We could see him as a choker, which made him even easier to dislike.
In short, he could be profoundly unlikable.
But being a villain is about more than that, and LeBron took things one step further.
When people talk about LeBron James' basketball greatness, they sometimes point to the way he
makes his teammates better. But I've noticed something else about LeBron.
He also seems to make his OPPONENTS better (*).
You couldn't say that about Michael Jordan. When Jordan's Bulls were done with them, Barkley was a guy who wasn't quite good enough and Malone was a choker.
But LeBron's opponents?
Until 2013's conference finals, I couldn't name a single Indiana Pacer. I thought of them as the Trailblazers East.
The year before, he made the Celtics, who had been written off as washed-up seem a title threat and nearly made a star out of Rajon Rondo.
Last year's Spurs looked more like a championship team than ANY of the Spurs teams that actually won the title.
And two years earlier, for six games, we all thought Dirk Nowitski was the Greatest Basketball Player on the Planet.
Who else could make a seven-foot tall German, not just into the hero? Who else could make a seven foot tall, sharpshooting first ballot Hall-of-Famer into an underdog? The San Antonio Spurs have been written off as a boring team for fifteen years despite unfathomable success. Who else but LeBron James and the Miami Heat could turn them into the most dynamic team ever put together?
A true villain, that's who.
LeBron James is the Ric Flair of basketball.
I'm glad he's here for us.
(*)The 2012 Oklahoma City Thunder are the exception that proves the rule. Before the Heat series they were the Next Big Thing. Afterwards--even before the Harden trade--they Weren't Who We Thought They Were.