Skip Bayless is the co-holder of the Cable TV Hot Take Championship, alongside former partner Stephen A. Smith. The two, even apart, are dedicated to the fine art of choosing seemingly indefensible territory and digging in for the long haul.
Some local personalities around the country are likely even wilder than Skip. But when it comes to national personalities, even Stephen A. doesn’t quite take it to the same level on First Take as Skip regularly does on Undisputed. Case in point: Skip’s long, sordid history of tearing down one of the greatest NBA players of this era, LeBron James.
Skip Bayless’ long history of over the top LeBron James hate
Skip Bayless’ borderline obsessive LeBron takes, ironically, come most consistently when James is at his best. Sometimes, it has a gleeful edge to it. But other times, the pattern comes off as downright spiteful.
When LeBron James led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a shocking game seven upset against the stacked Golden State Warriors in 2016, Bayless had a hot take ready. “please don’t tell me LeBron James, great as he is, will ever even sniff the legacy of Michael Jordan,”
He wasted no time tweeting, “who went 6-0 in Finals with 6 MVPs.” Bayless had no problem comparing one-time LeBron partner Dwyane Wade to The Great One, of course.
As LeBron returned to greatness after a rough initial year with the Los Angeles Lakers, Bayless was locked and loaded. “Carmelo Anthony, with a game-winner tonight, is making the case he’s the NBA’s best 35-year-old,” he inexplicably said. This, during a season where LeBron is a frontrunner for MVP for the first time since 2013.
He even criticized LeBron for putting on a dunk demonstration at one of the younger James’ high school games. “He upstaged this poor kid. I don’t know what he was thinking,” Bayless said on Undisputed the next day. There is no LeBron James moment, no matter how heartwarming or monumental, that Skip won’t find an angle of attack on.
Does Skip Bayless actually believe what he says about LeBron?
The takes above are just a taste of Skip Bayless’ talent for riling up viewers. But does he mean any of it? Or is it just a show, to bait viewers into tuning in for more rage material?
Similar to his previous ESPN partner Stephen A., Bayless comes from a newspaper background. At the Chicago Tribune, he still peddled sports takes similar to the ones he does now, if slightly soberer. And a particular moment gives insight into his personality.
When Tribune editor Ann Marie Lipinski limited Bayless’ column space to just 650 words, he bristled. Some of his columns would simply need much more room to breathe. Condensing him down was a compromise. So he left the paper immediately.
This says two key things about Bayless. One, he has always been passionate about sports writing, reporting and commentary, with uncompromisingly wild takes from day one. And two, he really is an intense person, the kind who will walk away from a lucrative job at a moment’s notice.
That lends credence to the idea that Bayless is mostly serious, but has learned to lean into his takes to play up the entertainment value.
How the objective facts of LeBron’s career undermine hot takes
Is Skip Bayless right to go against the grain on LeBron James? Is he a lone voice that will be vindicated in the future? When the media narratives on Cleveland’s favorite son are removed from the heat of the moment, will Skip Bayless suddenly make more sense?
Probably not. Because LeBron’s actual stats and achievements don’t align with Skip’s approach to covering him. Take the 2020 Lakers spin, that LeBron isn’t MVP material. In his last ten games, LeBron is putting up 30 points on average according to ESPN’s stat tracker.
Is his 2016 NBA Finals win a lesser achievement than what Michael Jordan did during his career? Jordan won six championships, that is undeniable. But LeBron winning against the 2016 Warriors, with the rest of the borderline hapless Cavs behind him? One can credit Anthony Davis with opening up the space for LeBron’s 2020 resurgence. But for that 2016 win, he didn’t exactly have Scottie Pippen as his sideman.
LeBron James is a top player in the league today. He’s one of the best players of all time, if not with a resume as untouchable as Jordan’s. Skip Bayless, relentlessly poking holes in LeBron’s accomplishments, doesn’t actually have much ground to stand on. But it sure is fun to watch him try anyway.