The ‘Disappointing’ Decision
The Commish comments on the past two outrageous weeks…
So why Miami? I think it’s because Dwyane Wade is there and that’s what disappoints me. LeBron is unlike Chris Bosh or Joe Johnson or Amar’e Stoudemire or Paul Pierce or any other star in the League save three — Kobe, Kevin Durant and Wade. These four players have a chance to enter rarefied air, they have the transcendent capability to be mentioned with the “greatest of the greats.” But you have to be wired a certain way. And we expect certain things out of players on a mission to be in the same strata as Jordan and Magic and Bird and Kobe and Duncan — we want them to accept a challenge. Kobe was so bent on experiencing the challenge of leading “his” team to championships that he was willing to, directly or indirectly, break-up a dynasty.
To be mentioned with the “greatest of the greats,” to be one the game’s greatest champions and heroes, the superstar has to not only bear the productivity burden, but also the leadership and responsibility burden. In fact, they don’t just have to bear it, they have to invite it. “Yeah, it’s on me — bring it on.” By all means, demand that your organization get you talented, well-tailored help, but ensure that you’re still the sole captain of the vessel. That’s the situation Bron had in Chicago. He had an All-World point guard getting better, a seasoned, All-Star power forward, a hardworking, franchise role-player center, a Swiss-army knife wing, a young, explosive workhorse, a defensive mastermind coach with championship pedigree — it was a treasure chest. What he didn’t have, however, was some one to share the blame whenever they fell short of a Larry O’Brien trophy. He didn’t want “winning with responsibility.” With the Bulls he’d have had an All-Star supporting cast, with Miami he has a co-headliner. He’d rather go to a team with less overall talent if it meant a lighter responsibility-load.
What does it mean? It means we will never get to see LeBron — or Wade, really — fulfill their true potential, because we’ll never know exactly how much they could have achieved as leaders of their own juggernaut outfits. As a sports fan and someone who cherishes quests for greatness, above all else, that disappoints me.
THE LEBRON PARADIGM: So much of who LeBron is and what he does is unprecedented. We’ve never seen a player built like Karl Malone play like a cross between Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley. It’s arresting to watch him play basketball.
But LeBron James the “entity” — so to speak — is also still a foreign concept. And I think our unfamiliarity with LeBron the entity has been part of the reason we all react in such visceral ways to some of the things he’s done throughout the free agency process.
What I’ve come to realize is that LeBron’s idol isn’t Jordan, it’s Jay-Z.
When Jay-Z hopped on Kanye West’s “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” in 2005, he was a “retired rapper, turned full-time mogul,” he owned clothing lines, clubs and had just taken over as president of Def Jam, hip-hop’s most storied record label. Rightfully, he was feeling himself, so he spit: “I’m not a business man, I’m a business, man!”
You know you’re large when you make so much paper, conduct so much big-time business, that you, the man, become an actual business. That’s not where LeBron is headed, that’s where LeBron is.
Look at how his free agency courtship went down. Every team that he met, came to visit HIM in Cleveland. They didn’t meet him at his crib or in a conference room at the Four Seasons. They met him in HIS offices at LRMR, LeBron’s marketing company that is after partnerships, not endorsements. The teams’ contingents — usually the coach, the general manager AND the owner — make “pitches” to LeBron. These pitches have as much to do with business as they do with basketball.
The New York Knicks’ failed pitch was a presentation that showed LeBron he could make close to $2 billion in salary and endorsements as a Knick. The Nets billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov and, yeah, Jay-Z tried to woo LeBron with plans to make him the “global icon” he said he wanted to be years ago.
So, it wasn’t just the hype surrounding LeBron’s free-agent status that made these past couple days unprecedented — it’s the nature. LeBron will never be as great as Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson the basketball players, but he seems almost assured of surpassing them mogul-wise.
The same way Jay-Z is more a “business” than a rapper, LeBron, as is evidenced by the free-agency process, is now as much a tycoon as he is a basketball player.
The dude was/is so brand-conscious and biz-oriented that his team approached ESPN to turn his announcement in to a branding and corporate-partnership event. Self-indulgent? Sure? But, Miles Ahead? Yes. Trailblazing? Yes.
“An hour-long, nationally televised, prime-time special to announce where he’s gonna play? Who does that?” We probably asked similar questions about the first kid who held a press conference to announce where he was going to college. Now that’s the norm. I don’t ever want to go through a two-week free agency period like this again, but LeBron is now the dude forging the path for future generations to follow — the past two weeks will soon be the norm.
A STILL-FUZZY FINAL PERSPECTIVE: I remember sitting in the media room after LeBron’s last-second, 50-foot game-winner over the Orlando Magic in the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals. Someone asked him a question about the supposed curse on Cleveland sports franchises and the effect it’s had on the forever worried and pessimistic fanbase. The reporter mentioned “The Shot” — MJ’s game-winner over Craig Ehlo that still haunts Cavs fans. LeBron responded that Cavs fans need not worry, that the Chicago 23 was gone and there was a new No. 23 here to save them. He was their hero, their savior. So you can imagine the pain and despair they feel now that he’s gone.
Today on Good Morning America, LeBron described his relationship with Cleveland like this: “It’s almost like a relationship you may have with a lady where you’ve been with that person for seven years and you’ve seen it all. You’ve grown together. You’ve been through the ups and downs. And one day you guys just don’t see it the same way. You have to move on for the better.”
If we’re using this analogy, put it like this: Lakers fans’ relationship with Kobe is like a trust fund kid (the fans) smitten with a gorgeous fly-girl (Kobe). That dude worships that girl, protects that girl from jealous hate, cherishes that girl. If she leaves, the guy will be heartbroken and crestfallen, but he’s lived a swell life and, eventually, things will get good again. On the other hand, Cavs fans’ relationship with LeBron was more like a woman (the fans) who’s been abused, mistreated and under-appreciated her whole life, falling in love with a dashing, “knight in shining armor” (LeBron) who rescues her from a desperate and tragic life. Can you imagine how depressed that woman would be if/when that man left for a more glamorous chick and she goes back to her sucky life? You’d probably have to put her on suicide watch.
Burning jerseys is bush-league and all, but, as a Bills-fan Buffalonian, I feel for you Cleveland.
Vincent Thomas is a columnist and feature writer for SLAM, a contributing commentator for ESPN, writes the weekly “From The Floor” column and co-hosts the Hang Time Podcast for NBA.com. You can email him your feedback at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @vincecathomas.