LeBron’s Decision: Not That Bad

Phillip Barnett —  July 9, 2010

July 08, 2010 - Greenwich, CONNECTICUT, United States - epa02241970 Photo made from television screen showing LeBron James (L), NBA's reigning two-time MVP, as he ends months of speculation and announces 08 July 2010 on ESPN 'The Decision' in Greenwich, Connecticut, USA, that he will go to the Miami Heat where he will play basketball next 2010-11 season. James said his decision was based on the fact that he wanted to play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

They ended up with that split-screen of the King’s jersey burned live on his infomercial, as this sad, lost robot sat in a leafy suburban gymnasium with children as props and the world watching, those empty eyes masking a lost, dazed LeBron James. This was the champagne shower for the Championship of Me, an exercise in self-aggrandizement and self-loathing that will have far-reaching implications for the NBA and James. What a spectacle, what a train wreck.

As the worst idea in the history of marketing unfolded, James looked trapped somewhere between despondence and defiance. His bumbling buddy Maverick Carter had walked him into the public execution of his legacy, his image, and there was a part of James that clearly wished he could turn back through the doors and hide. Only, it was too late. No going back now. James goes to the Miami Heat, Cleveland goes into a basketball Hades and LeBron’s legacy becomes that of a callous carpetbagger.

-Yahoo! Sports, Adrian Wojnarowski

It took me a while to make sense of this whole LeBron James debacle. I couldn’t stand the fact that he was taking a full one-hour segment on ESPN just to announce a decision. I thought this whole thing had been over blown and over hyped. And when he finally made his decision, my knee jerk reaction on twitter was not of kind words. However, now that I’ve had some time to sleep on it, I’ve realized that LeBron James’ decision was not so bad. In fact, I think he might have made the right move for him. As much as I want to share the sentiments of Wojnarowski, I just don’t. I don’t necessarily like the way he went about letting people know his decision, but I can’t be mad at him for joining the Miami Heat.

The reality of it is, this was one of the most culturally relevant decisions in sports history. It didn’t really change the balance of power in the NBA as much as it changed the balance of power between star athletes and everyone else – including owners, general managers, coaches and fans. One man, LeBron James, held the basketball world in the palm of his hand for months. There were grown men begging for him to join his respective city, creating custom made cartoons, Soprano’s episodes, songs were written, rallies were thrown and for what? For LeBron [bleeping] James. Can we be mad at the way he decided to let the world know where he would play next season? Sure. But should we? Not at all. For there to be a “king”, there have to be subjects willing to bow down – and during the course of LeBron’s basketball career, from high school to the NBA, we’ve seen a fair share of people bow down in the name of LeBron James.

Again, I’m not mad at him, I’m intrigued by the possibilities. Not just by this upcoming Heat season, but for seasons to follow. Yes, I think following the Heat will be absolutely fascinating, but following how star players build their own teams from now one will be more fascinating. If star players were watching this free agency period, and I know they were, I believe that we’re only scratching the surface of something quite revolutionary – players building their own teams. Amar’e Stoudemire has already said that he’ll be reaching out to Carmelo Anthony to join him on the Knicks next season. Chris Paul will have an interesting decision to make when his contract comes up and the same for all of the high marquee players. What this free agency period has taught us is that general managers are willing to clear cap space for star basketball players, and will overspend on others when they realize that they’re not going to get the star.

The fact of the matter is, what LeBron James did is not worthy of crucifixion. All he did was rip the collective hearts out of the Cleveland fan base, he ripped the hearts out of the people of his home town. And to me, that’s not a big deal. As a Lakers fan, I can respect that sense of ruthlessness, because it was Kobe Bryant who admittedly said that he wanted to rip the collective hearts out of Philadelphia back in 2001. You need to be that kind of ruthless to win NBA Titles. Look back at past champions, the Kobes, the Duncans, the Jordans, the Magics and Birds – they all showed no mercy, and it didn’t matter who was on the other side of the ball. It was all about winning for these guys, and now for LeBron, it has become all about winning. He has combined with the two best teammates he possibly could while sacrificing millions of dollars in the process, destroying his brand and adding a “yeah, but” in the minds of millions of fans if he does eventually end up winning the big one. But now, more than ever, he does have that chance. And to this point, Pro Basketball Talk’s John Krolic says it best:

Obviously, that wasn’t what happened, and all of a sudden there was no getting around the truth: LeBron James had failed. He had all the tools to win a championship at his disposal, and he ended up failing miserably. LeBron James was supposed to be the next golden boy of the NBA. He will never be that player, and that would have been true regardless of what team LeBron decided to go to. LeBron James, Golden Boy died the moment LeBron lost to the Celtics in this year’s playoffs. The decision LeBron made on Thursday night was nothing more than LeBron’s acknowledgement of that reality.

For the first seven years of his career, LeBron James desperately wanted to be all things to all people. He wanted to be the hometown kid who loved his town, loved his mom, but could still be a global icon. He wanted to be a team-first player while also establishing himself as a dominant individual force. He wanted to be a goofy kid and the NBA’s big man on campus. After he failed to deliver a championship, his all-encompassing persona didn’t work for anybody anymore. You can’t please everybody all the time, especially if you don’t have a championship. Somewhere along the line, LeBron realized that.

… LeBron James has left his hometown, and did it during a one-hour television special celebrating his move to greener pastures. He is trying to take the easy way to a championship. He’s given up his hometown and his undisputed alpha dog status in order to give himself an easier path to the rings he was supposedly destined to earned. He is a quitter. He is an egomaniac. He is every bad thing that you want him to be.

And this is where we stand in this LeBron James ordeal. Yes, he essentially stabbed Cleveland in the back. Yes, he added a new level of ego-centralism by having a one hour show on ESPN to announce his decision and yes, he joined Dwyane Wade’s team effectively killing his opportunity to win as “the man,” but he now has an opportunity to win. And in the history books, a champion is a champion. If he does go on to win one, that’s what he’ll be. A lot of us will always have that “he didn’t win one alone” argument in our back pockets when the ubiquitous Kobe v. LeBron debate comes along, but in reality, no one ever has. LeBron felt that this was the right team for him, and there is no reason to fault him for that.

Phillip Barnett