Cleveland: Final Thoughts on LeBronJuly 11, 2010 —
A few friends are getting together to play some basketball. That’s all this is. Three guys like each other and have fun playing on the same team. Is that so wrong? Because that’s the situation right now.
On Thursday night, the world came down hard on LeBron. Dan Gilbert was the ringleader and the people of Cleveland were his minions. I was no innocent bystander; I hypocritically chastised them all while calling James out in their same flippant manner. But we were wrong.
The juxtaposition of two images, his shaken look during “The Decision” and his utter joy at an introduction in Miami the following night, made that abundantly clear.
As was the case in the Tiger Woods saga, we were angered that an athlete didn’t live up to the persona we had cast upon him. Sure, he took part in building that image and the self-proclaimed nickname “The King” certainly played a role, but how can we fault him for falling short of hopes that we had ignorantly laid out for his future.
The truth is that he passed up on more money, shut out his hometown and gave up on chasing the likes of Jordan and Magic in the race to all-time great status. But in an age where loot, loyalty and legacy usually hold court, this decision wasn’t just about a reckless desire to win as many championships as possible. It came down to having fun.
LeBron decided to treat basketball like the game that it is. While he may have been cowering away from misplaced lofty expectations, he was also serving as a reminder of what the game largely is supposed to be.
Playing for the love of the game has become the biggest cliche in sports, but not often do athletes actually back it up. Amar’e's price was $100 million. Kobe just wants to win. But LeBron puts a premium on having fun. Sure winning is part of that fun and, of course, LeBron is getting his. Playing with his Redeem Team pals isn’t exactly a talent downgrade from Cleveland and $110 million over six years is no minimum wage. But LBJ said it himself: he made the decision to take his game to South Beach because that’s where he thought he would be “happiest.”
Regardless of his reasoning though, he understood the backlash he would face after “The Decision.” If LeBron is willing to look past all the money he left on the table, the personal ties he no doubt shredded and the questions about his leadership that have arisen, we should too. If LeBron is willing to forego hogging a team’s entire spotlight, we should let him. If the ultimate competitor that would seemingly tell him to stay home isn’t the loudest voice in his head, we shouldn’t try to change that. It might not be what Jordan, Magic, Bird, Isiah or even Kobe would have done. But who are we to tell LeBron to follow the same path that other players with similar basketball ability traveled.
It wouldn’t be fair to put the future of a league or a city on his shoulders. LeBron might have asked for that responsibility with his actions, but we shoved at him like it was a game of hot potato. And even though our reactions made it seem as if Cleveland and the NBA were doomed by LeBron’s move, the reality is that both will be just fine.
His decision wasn’t one that ruined the game of basketball or threw the sports scene in northeast Ohio under the bus for another fifty years. The intrigue surrounding the Heat will be able to carry the NBA if needed and Dan Gilbert is ready to revitalize the Cavs. Despite all the curses, promises and hate in his letter that much was clear.
After a few days’ analysis, this actually seems to be a change that betters the NBA. The players took basketball back from the owners. Three guys got together and decided, to hell with the business I want to play ball. And despite the hundreds of millions of dollars being thrown their way, they stuck together. Good for them. Even more so, good for the league.
This wasn’t LeBron being a mercenary as I originally thought. Whether he meant to or not, he was closer to acting as a martyr. His public image may be forever tarnished. His advertising dollars could be significantly diminished. His shot at being considered with the all-time greats might have gone down the drain. But what do we get out of it all? A reminder that basketball should be fun.
It’s a simple message, and one we could use in an increasingly financially-oriented sport. Maybe it’s not what we expected from the player who convinced us all that he was chasing greatness, but it’s too bad that LeBron had to take such a hit because we were surprised.