The King of Contradiction
LeBron has decided but questions remain.
by Adam Sweeney
The inmates have officially taken over the asylum and we handed them the keys.
Thursday night, LeBron James, a player whose talent level and hype seems to know no limits, took the term heartbreaker to a new level by making the announcement that he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to head to South Beach with the Miami Heat in a television special. With that decision comes hyperbole to no end, as ESPN has already stated the trio of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh is one of the great trios of all time before they even played as a team in an NBA game together. But if James has become an addict of celebrity, and it certainly appears that way, then we are the ultimate enablers. This isn’t a LeBron James hate article. If anything, we put the needle in his hand.
Anyone who needs proof that America can’t get enough of the summer LeBron-athon needs to look at the SLAMonline website. The top four features all involved LeBron James. No, the irony of this article in itself is not lost on me. I feed the beast just as much as the next fan. It’s a matter of supply and demand when it comes to sports coverage. We recognize what you want to see and then slam it down your throat until you pick another flavor. Now swallow your poison.
There is nothing wrong with LeBron James choosing to go for a ring. It’s common knowledge that you can’t win a title without two to three exceptional players. Jordan had Pippen. Kareem had Magic. Kobe had Shaq and Gasol. Now LeBron has his co-pilots. The black eye to James comes in how he conducted the entire process, right up to the ultimate “Decision.”
If LeBron wants to add another sponsor in his quest for world domination, maybe Gold Bond Medicated Powder would be happy to throw themselves at his feet. It is really the only practical choice, seeing as the poor guy must be chafing from how many teams and fans rode his jock so hard, as if James needs more money. The “selflessness” of James when it comes to taking less money is laughable. He still stands to make over $80-100 million in this contract if he wants. The big money comes from endorsements. Don’t forget that James, Bosh and Wade are all Nike guys. The real winners in this choice may be Phil Knight, CEO of Nike, and the Swoosh symbol. Let’s also not forget about the Don, Pat Riley, who pulled a great sell job to make this happen.
The Cleveland Cavaliers shouldn’t blame themselves. They did everything they could to help James get a championship. The sad truth is that you are who you are. Cleveland just isn’t a top-tier city or franchise. James was not selfless or naïve enough to think he could win a championship on his own. Had Chris Bosh wanted to play in C-Town there is no doubt James would have stayed. That wasn’t happening and so James was left with little choice but to leave. Cleveland lost their high school sweetheart and now gets to look at the love letters and highlight videos of the “LeBron years” in the aftermath. You can always break out the Mark Price and Shawn Kemp jerseys, Ohio. Cough. And please don’t feel bad for the New York Knicks or any team besides Cleveland that lost in the LeBron sweepstakes. They cut off their nose to spite their face. The results are to be expected. They are now a bloody and ugly mess.
Still, there is contradiction in The Chosen One’s pick. James stated that a team isn’t built around just three guys but his decision screams otherwise. Yes, Wade and Bosh are two of the 20 best players in the game but what else does Miami have? The best choice in terms of depth was Chicago, especially once they grabbed Carlos Boozer. Somebody strike while the iron is hot and print a picture of the aforementioned trio that says “Friends first” or “Miami Thrice.” (Props to my friend Nick for the latter nickname.) This is what James is saying with his pick. Going to Miami says that he thinks superstar egos can co-exist and winning matters but don’t say that he chose the best team scenario. It simply isn’t true.
It would be foolish to crown James a champion, though haven’t we all been doing that since he was a high school phenom? Expectations don’t always equate to reality. The Heat still have to fill their roster out around the new “Big Three.” Don’t forget about the Steve Kerrs, Michael Coopers and Robert Horrys of the world. Mike Miller, who now looks ready to come along, gives them a much needed shooter. Can Pat Riley lure other veterans in to the fray? The kneejerk answer is a definitive yes. But don’t underestimate the egos of NBA players. How many true impact players want to sit on the bench and play ten minutes at best a night? We will see.
What made James’ situation novel was the polarity involved. The most unique physical specimen in basketball came from the trenches of Ohio to carry the hopes and hearts of the most jaded sports city in America. We haven’t seen a hometown boy more hyped up since Anakin Skywalker rolled out of Tatooine in Star Wars. Now it’s James who has seemingly turned to the dark side.
The made-for-TV special could not have been any more audacious if they had carried James in to the room on a throne. Was it really necessary to title a press conference concerning an athlete’s deliberation over free agency “The Decision?” Harry S. Truman deliberating over dropping the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima is a decision. This circus show should have been called “Just tell us already!”
James had to be aware of what he was doing to Cleveland by making his decision in to a spectacle. Offering up the show’s profits to the Boys & Girls Club smelled both of desperation and self-preservation. I kept waiting for LeBron to kiss a baby and say, “Don’t forget that I’m a good person, Cleveland.” The bleachers filled with children served as a false backdrop to a stage where James has now changed from hero to villain In the eyes of many. The Miami Heat have now become the Empire, an odd juxtaposition to the superpowers of teams with tradition like the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. Any rebellious team who takes down King James and his roundball table will be respected.
The never-ending conversation of who is the greatest of all time also has turned itself on its head. James has shown that rings overcome loyalty, which shows that he is aware of his place in history. Kobe Bryant’s last two titles have seemed to erase the memories of hoop fans everywhere. Anyone who says Bryant wouldn’t have dragged this situation out forget his temper tantrums thrown on sports radio and his infamous statement about Andrew Bynum in a mall. It’s funny how winning changes history.
In King James’ quest to grasp the Holy Grail of public opinion, he has also lowered his respective ceiling in the G.O.A.T. conversation. James can’t win in this situation. Critics will say LeBron can’t win it by himself without superstars around him if he wins in Miami. “He had to acquiesce to Dwyane Wade to do it,” they will say. If he fails to get a title with the Heat, which is a real possibility, he will move ahead of players like Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley and Karl Malone in terms of great players who couldn’t earn a ring. Is it an unfair paradox? Maybe, but LeBron has made his own bed by dragging teams along on a two-year courtship.
The true greats of the NBA stayed at home. Michael Jordan stuck in Chicago during the prime of his career. Magic Johnson did it. Paul Pierce is now a Boston hero because he held down the fort in the wake of despair. The consensus philosophy also lies in the fact that to be the best you beat the best. You don’t join them. James could have been a legend by staying in Cleveland or winning a title in New York because he would have done it alone. What this says about James’ legacy remains to be seen. Titles seem probable to come but the Association’s greatest? That’s a title that seems to be getting away from James.
LeBron James made the most fitting choice for who he has become now. He has brought a hurricane of controversy, urban legend and expectations to South Beach. Get ready, Miami. Change is coming. We have to wait and see if it will end with championship parties on the beach or a hangover even Mike Tyson couldn’t knock out. You know that we will be watching every overexposed step of the way.