But James' refusal to shake hands with the Magic proved that he is not, in fact, above criticism. Columnists have pounced on the blatant lack of sportsmanship, contrasting James' post-game demeanor with that of the superstars before him. The irony here, though, is that it wasn't leaving the floor that has doomed James. What's drawn the preachy lectures and fleeting controversy was his defense of it the next day:
"It's hard for me to congratulate somebody after you just lose to them. I mean, I'm a winner. That's not being a poor sport or anything like that. Somebody beat you up, you're not going to congratulate them on beating you up. I'm a competitor. That's what I do. It don't make sense to me to go up and shake somebody's hand."
Yes, after the game, James should have done what columnists have retrospectively advised. But none of that would have mattered if he had woken up Sunday morning and texted one reporter that he regretted his actions, that he was wrong to act like a prissy Little Leaguer. Doesn't matter if he meant it, nor does it matter if he felt no remorse. Athletes say a lot of things they don't mean.
The moral of the story isn't to be gracious in losing, even though that's fine and dandy. It's that James should learn to stop the PR blaze before it gets really hot — that's when he was burned. -- Deadspin
You don't get to dictate the terms under which you're going to be gracious. You either are gracious, or you're not. I have no doubt that you were incredibly hurt, and angry, and frustrated after Game 6. But you know what? Karl Malone and John Stockton were hurt and angry and frustrated after losing the Finals, twice. Jerry West was hurt and angry and frustrated after he lost in the Finals eight times. Eight. Six times to Bill Russell's Celtics. After the last, in 1969, according to Robert Cherry's biography of Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell held West's hand, and John Havlicek said, "I love you, Jerry."
Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing and Dominique Wilkins and Mark Price and Clyde Drexler and Gary Payton and Reggie Miller were hurt and angry and frustrated after each one of them was vanquished -- in some cases, multiple times -- by Michael Jordan and the Bulls in a playoff series. Kobe Bryant was hurt and angry and frustrated last year, after his Lakers got a 37-point beatdown by the Celtics in the final game of the Finals.
They all shook hands. They all spoke to the media afterward. -- David Aldridge
Pistons legend Isiah Thomas admits that he and his team probably should have shook hands with the Bulls at the end of the 1991 Eastern Conference finals. Among the most quotable things said, Thomas expressed regret for the way he and the Pistons "passed the torch" on May 27, 1991 at the Palace, when the Bulls finished sweeping the team that eliminated them from the playoffs the previous three seasons. "That was the sportsmanlike thing to do. But at that time, sportsmanship and all that wasn't a big thing in the NBA. ... The example that should have been set, and the example you want to send to your young kids and everything else is, you know, when you lose, shake the other guy's hand." -- Detroit Free Press