Friday, July 09, 2010

LeBron's on the Heat, and vice versa

As if the world needs another two cents on LeBron James and "The Decision" he announced on ESPN to join the Miami Heat alongside Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, I find my opinion on the matter is--surprisingly even to me--a bit different than what I'm reading and hearing. It seems that from everywhere other than Miami, a highly rancorous revolt is rising up against King James and, while especially in Cleveland I understand why fans are miffed and the media perplexed, a lot of the diatribe seems unwarranted, unfair and even duplicitous.

For while I feel no compunction to defend LeBron, praise his decision, extol his virtues or ignore some unseemliness in his persona and the way he went about announcing his intentions, the truth is that there was no decision he could have made that wouldn't have been condemned, or at least questioned, by a whole lot of people. And had he decided to stay in Cleveland or move to the Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks or New Jersey Nets, people in each region would be singing his praises while happily disregarding some of the same reasoning they're now deriding.

Consider that in 2002-03, the year before LeBron landed with the Cavaliers, they were 17-65. The next year they won 35 games, then 42, then made the playoffs for 5 straight years. Though they never won it all with him and made the NBA Finals only once, LeBron was predominantly the reason for their success and IMHO, the Cavs never had anyone else really good to complement him, never a Scottie to his Michael. This year, the Cavs won 61 regular season games, but were soundly trounced by the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

LeBron took some criticism for not being as great in that series as the Cavs fans had hoped, but once again, he really had no help. So when the Free Agent circus started, most of the pundits I heard & read were indicating that the one certainty was that LeBron wouldn't re-sign with Cleveland, as they didn't provide him with the best chance to win a championship anytime soon.

At first, it seemed to be suggested that the Bulls were the front runner, because they had the best pieces in place, including Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. Then there was strong sentiment that he would stay in Cleveland. Then people seemed to suggest he might be leaning towards the Knicks. And finally, after Dwayne Wade stayed with the Heat and Chris Bosh joined him, LeBron decided he wanted to go to Miami as well, taking far less money than Cleveland could have offered and likely even a bit less than he would have gotten with anyone else.

Now LeBron is getting slammed far worse than Tony Hayward (the CEO of BP, anyone remember that issue?) or Lloyd Blankfein (CEO of Goldman Sachs, who help exacerbate the world's financial crisis) ever did.

People in Cleveland were shown burning his jersey and the Cavs owner, Dan Gilbert, wrote a scathing, ugly Open Letter to Fans deriding LeBron's "cowardly betrayal" and saying "I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER 'KING' WINS ONE."

Yeah, good luck on that, Dan, who today was quoted as saying LeBron quit in the playoffs, this year and last. So I'm wondering why Gilbert, who undoubtedly would have been kissing LBJ's butt if he had re-signed with the Cavs, even wanted such a scourge on his team. Shouldn't he be glad to see him go?

I do somewhat agree with Cleveland Plain-Dealer columnist Terry Pluto who berated James for making his announcement to leave his hometown team in a "self-serving ESPN special." The TV thing did seem untoward, but guess what, it was appointment-TV for me and likely millions of others, so how hard can I blast LeBron for the idea? And while I have long perceived LeBron's persona to be one of excessive ego, hubris and arrogance, and have read intimations of his being less-than-gracious in dealing with the little people, keep in mind that this is someone who was called "The Chosen One" on a Sports Illustrated cover as a high school junior. I imagine in the Akron-Cleveland era, he was a local legend long before that.

So if people, particularly in Cleveland, have been calling Lebron a god since he was 15, it's hard to completely blame him for being excessively self-enamored. And for whatever faults LeBron may have, I've yet to hear him referenced in regards to domestic violence, nightclub brawls, DUIs, guns, drugs of the illegal or performance-enhancing variety, gambling or other issues that have plagued many athletes (and everyday citizens) of a much-lower profile.

I also think it's worth noting that there are very few athletes I can think of who have more fully fulfilled such highly-publicized predictions of greatness from such a young age. Perhaps Tiger Woods, but look at his issues now, and maybe the Williams sisters and likely Wayne Gretzky in Canada, but compared to the Jennifer Capriatis and Todd Marinoviches of the world, LeBron has met extremely lofty expectations pretty admirably on most fronts, even if he's far from perfect.

Now back to the bashers. Last night on NBA TV, former superstars Charles Barkley and Reggie Miller slammed LeBron for leaving Cleveland--where he would've been the greatest hero ever if he led the Cavs to a championship, the city's first of any major sport since 1964--for partnering up with Wade and Bosh for a seemingly much easier road to a title in Miami. Sports Illustrated's Michael Rosenberg and CBS's Gregg Doyel, among many others, have criticized LeBron along these same lines, with part of the thinking being that even if he does win multiple rings with the Heat, LeBron's legacy won't be as great as Kobe or Michael or Magic or Bird because they didn't join up with mercenary millionaires to pave a smoother road to glory.

I think there's some truth in this, but then, weren't a bunch of pundits saying he should go to the Bulls because with Rose, Noah and now Boozer, they offer the best chance at winning? And as a Chicagoan and longtime Bulls fan, I can tell you without question, that if James came to the Bulls--especially alongside Wade and Bosh, which once seemed a possibility--I would be celebrating, not crying about Cleveland's loss.

So I can't comfortably be two-faced and blast LeBron for picking a different team and collection of players that give him "the best shot at winning." And while I would assuredly feel mad and betrayed if I were from Cleveland, the truth is that the Cavs never surrounded him with the players he needed to win and seemingly still wouldn't have anytime soon. I know the city's sporting hearts have been broken many times, but LeBron can't be held responsible for Art Modell, "The Drive," "The Shot," the Indians not winning when they should have or anything else.

Plus, it's kind of hard to call someone selfish and ego-driven (as many common rants seem to be doing) when the truth is that he took a lot less money to leave Cleveland than to stay, and even beyond this backlash, he's gotta know that his brand won't blossom quite as much in his sharing the stage with Wade and Bosh. Plus, as even the Miami Herald columnist Dan Le Batard said yesterday, Miami is a lousy sports town, filled with bandwagon jumpers. If all LeBron cared about was ego, adoration and/or money, Cleveland, Chicago and New York would have been far more clear-cut choices.

So while I wish LeBron would've come to the Bulls (and therefore can't deride him for leaving the Cavs), I wish him well. Not necessarily basketball wise, where I think if the Bulls add a couple pieces, they along with the Celtics, Magic and Hawks will give the Heat a good battle in the East and the Lakers remain the team to beat overall, but in general.

And at a time when the U.S. is still fighting two wars, the economy remains in the crapper, the Gulf Coast is in dire peril and I along with many others remain jobless, there are a lot bigger things to get up in arms about than LeBron James and his "Decision."

So cut the King some slack and stop with the hypocrisy.

1 comment: said...

With the signing of James, I want to congratulate the Miami Heat on winning the 2011 NBA title!