LeBron James Sacrifices Legacy, Dignity For TV Spot
LeBron James is the biggest star in the NBA and one of the most famous athletes in the world. He has legions of adoring fans, including many from competing cities. But in 15 seconds, he ruined 7 years of goodwill (and his legacy) for nothing more than a 60 minute infomercial on ESPN.
On July 8th, roughly 30 minutes after 9pm Eastern Standard Time, LeBron announced his intentions to sign with the Miami Heat, joining fellow All-Stars Dwyane Wade & Chris Bosh. In doing so, he betrayed Cleveland fans and left the franchise gutted yet bloated with terrible contracts signed only to appease LeBron. Many can excuse LeBron for wanting to change teams. But no one can excuse the manner in which he did it — on live TV, with no warning. His public jilting of Cleveland is akin to a woman delivering a baby with her husband by her side, only to tell him it’s not his right before the baby is born.
Athletes change teams all the time. When contracts end, they are allowed to seek employment elsewhere. Sometimes in the middle of a contract, their team decides it is best to part ways. That is part of sports. Sport leagues are (for the most part) run as businesses and even fans understand this. Loyalty is expected by fans, but most recognize that if a better deal comes along it simply must be considered by the athlete who has at most a 10-15 year earning window. But one thing fans do not expect (and certainly detest) is false hope.
LeBron James entered the 2009-10 season knowing it was his last under contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The native of Akron, OH made the dreams of the entire state come true 7 years ago when he was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers as the #1 overall pick in the NBA draft. During his seven years wearing the Wine & Gold, LeBron James gave his all to the team. For this, the Cleveland fans, owners, and teammates should be proud. He turned a downtrodden franchise into a competitive, NBA-finals level team…almost completely by himself. He put butts in the seats in Quicken Arena and boosted the value of the franchise by more than $100 million — no small feat. He made Cleveland relevant. Finally.
Despite the success of the renewed Cavs franchise, it became apparent as early as 2006 that LeBron could not win an NBA championship without some help. GM Danny Ferry and owner Dan Gilbert started to put some pieces together to fit around LeBron. They spent some big money on Mo Williams, signed Delonte West, and rotated a series of shooters to try to find the right fit. The signing of Shaq and the 2010 late season trade for Antawn Jamison were supposed to be the pieces that put LBJ and the Cavs over the top. One thing was for sure, it completed hamstrung them for future moves. This was LBJ’s team. All moves were made in an effort to make his team better and to win a title. Everyone was working on that singular goal from GM to coach to ticket sales.
The results were spectacular — the Cavs had the best record in the regular season, winning 66 games. But the plans failed when the playoffs began. Stretched to 7 games by an undermanned Chicago team in the first round, then losing to Orlando — and getting blown out in several games — ended the season abruptly. Few knew it was the final stanza for James and the Cavs. But looking back, you can see a few things. Looking forward you may even see more.
Here is what we learned after ‘The Decision’
LeBron James is not an alpha dog. You read that right. He is not an alpha dog. Despite dominating the regular season, he had several games or even parts of series where he didn’t show up. You can argue all day that he didn’t have the right pieces or coaching or matchups. But LeBron won nothing, other than individual awards. Now this is not to diminish his talent. From a pure talent perspective, he has no equal. But that “winner” gene is not in his DNA. Look at Dwyane Wade or Kobe Bryant. These guys are feared with the ball in their hands the last 15 seconds of a game. With LeBron, you’re nervous but if you keep him out of the lane, you’ve got a good chance to win.
LeBron couldn’t take the pressure. The expectations of LeBron were huge and too big for him. He was the savior to a city and an entire state. He wanted so desperately to bring a championship to his hometown. But I think he decided, somewhere during the playoffs, that he was never going to be able to deliver the hardware…and that he couldn’t take the nightly pressure of playing for an entire city. By choosing Miami — Wade’s team — the pressure is off.
The legacy of LeBron James will be diminished forever. As long as Wade and LeBron play together, Wade will always have more championships. Miami is Wade’s team. It has been since he entered the league and it will continue to be. LeBron James had several opportunities in free agency to create a lasting Bird/Magic/MJ/Kobe type of legacy. He could win with the hometown, emulate Jordan’s titles in Chicago, or bring titles to the city of New York. Instead, he chose the ‘safe’ and ‘cowardly’ path of joining his All-Star buddies in Miami. Hey, this will be must see TV all year. The guys at TNT must be salivating, but it is not good for LeBron. LeBron will play second fiddle to Wade and will get no credit for winning a title for a team that already has a champion. You could compare it to Kevin Garnett, except Boston had no existing members from a championship team. LeBron is the new Pippen or James Worthy or Joe Dumars. That is a significantly lower ceiling for a guy called The King.
What could have LeBron done to avoid the obvious backlash he is getting now?
Simple. Been upfront with the Cavs and every other organization he was ‘negotiating’ with. If he had said, early in the process, that he was looking to move (like Chris Bosh) I think Cleveland would have been upset, but understood. The fact that he was the last of the major free agents to sign — and gave no warning to his former or prospective teams — effectively hamstrung the ‘losers’ and ensured they would have poor outcomes. Luckily New York & Chicago got reasonable consolation prizes in Amare and Boozer, but Cleveland got the shaft. To top it off, LeBron had everyone trek to Akron to talk with him. It was a wicked thing he did to Cleveland, hanging them out on national TV. If he had been more candid, the fans would have forgiven him, even rooted for him like most people to Garnett.
Make no mistake, LeBron’s callous, narcissistic ESPN spot has guaranteed that all goodwill has been lost. I half expected LBJ to rip his shirt like Hulk Hogan and put on a black New World Order t-shirt. At least then he could have admitted that the entire 60 minute interview was scripted.
As more fallout occurs from ‘The Decision’, you can bank on one thing: the magnanimous, fun-loving, crowd favorite LeBron is dead. And in his place is a cold, scared, weak man who gave up a legacy for 60 minutes on ESPN.
I hope the weather is warm in Miami because the rest of the country will feel very cold.
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