Well, now that at least some of the dust has settled, I figure I may as well weigh in on the LeBron James fiasco/shenanigans/debacle/whatever-the-hell-you-wanna-call-it. We all know the basics: LeBron had the opportunity to sign for more money with Cleveland, his hometown, and the only team he has ever played for, but decided to join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami to form a super team henceforth know on this blog as Miami’s Dwyane Wade and Friends. As he put it, he is taking his ego.. err talents to South Beach. Here’s my take on the madness leading up to LeBron’s scurrying away from Cleveland, and the ensuing chaos.
This was where LeBron went horribly wrong. I don’t particularly agree with the decision itself because it seems to me that it would be beneath him as one of the potentially greatest players ever to go hitch his wagon to Dwyane Wade’s. Wade already has a ring anyway, and no matter how many they win together, Wade will always have that one more. But I can ignore all that, or at least I could if that was all there was to ignore. I get that he wanted to play with his buddies and try and win some easy rings and all that, but this was like taking your girlfriend on Jerry Springer to tell her you were sleeping with her sister, mother, and aunt and expected her to chill out and just remember the good times, even be grateful that you were with her for as long as you were. Who wants to be embarrassed and dumped in public by an attention whore? I don’t blame the people of Cleveland for hating this guy’s guts now. I won’t get into the allegations that he mailed in some playoff games over the last couple of years – at least not yet – but I find it strange that he never made it back to the NBA Finals even though his team continued to get better and better. We all knew there was no way he could leave Cleveland if they won it all, so maybe winning it all hasn’t exactly been as high a priority the last couple of seasons as getting out of Ohio and teaming up with Wade and Bosh…. or his team just choked, he had a wack coach, and his elbow was bothering him. I suppose that either is plausible.
LeBron vs. Kobe vs. Jordan
It became apparent during the NBA Finals that Kobe “6-for-24″ Bryant was nowhere near Jordan’s level. Actually, it was apparent to most of us for some time, but that pretty much sealed the deal. We always had high hopes for LeBron though. He has a tremendous skill set that has been compared to Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. However, after his flame-out in this year’s playoffs, Bill Simmons went on to write a brilliant piece on LeBron that summed up what we all had tried to ignore for too long. LeBron is not the second coming of Jordan, he is better compared to Dr J when you really look at it. As Simmons wrote:
Doc’s Philly teams kept self-combusting at the worst possible times. The ’77 Sixers took a 2-0 lead in the Finals, then blew four straight. They lost do-or-die playoff games by two points (1978) and three points (1979). In 1980, everyone remembers Magic (only a rookie) playing five positions, notching a 42-15-7 and improbably winning Los Angeles the title; nobody ever wonders why Philly, playing at home against a team missing the 1980 MVP (Kareem), laid such an unforgivable egg. In 1981, the Sixers blew a 3-1 series lead to Boston in the Eastern Conference finals, losing the last three games by five points total. (And by the way, they led in the final minute of all three games.) By the time Philly blew the 1982 Finals, the consensus on Doc was this: phenomenal player, loved by all, an ambassador for the game, one of the best ever … doesn’t quite have it.
Then Moses showed up, Philly finally won a title, and people everywhere forgot they had felt that way.
Back to LeBron: I think we know what we have. He’s Doc 2.0 with a little Magic and a healthy dose of Bo sprinkled in.
In all honesty, this is the biggest realization we all got from this whole ordeal. LeBron is not who thought he was, what we thought he could be, or what we wanted him to be. He just isn’t. He won’t be the legend we thought he could be, the savior of Cleveland Sports that we hoped he would be, or the competitor he probably ought to be. Jordan won his first championship in his seventh season, in LeBron’s seventh season he got booted out of the playoffs even though he was on the winningest team of the past two seasons and had a better team than the one he made it to the Finals with a few years earlier. Then he said F it and bounced. When it comes to sports hate, Kobe Bryant as at the top of my list. I can’t stand the guy, but right now I like Kobe more than LeBron because at least Kobe is more of a competitor. It doesn’t matter if you want to be or not, if you are among the best in the league you are going to be in Jordan’s shadow. Kobe is trying like hell to get out from under that shadow, and I can at least respect that. LeBron seems comfortable there, as long as he is a “global icon”… whatever the #!$^ that is.
Of course, things continued to get creepier when Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cavaliers, lashed out at LeBron in an open letter that read like a bitter ex-girlfriend trying to do voodoo on her former lover. In the letter, Gilbert called LeBron the “self-declared former King” as if he had nothing to do with pushing the whole “King James”, “We are all witnesses” crap on us for the past few years. He even went on to say that LeBron tanked a few games. This is all the very definition of the phrase “Sour Grapes”. In Aesop’s fable, the Fox couldn’t reach the grapes so he convinced himself they were no good anyway, and that’s exactly what Gilbert is doing. He couldn’t keep “King” LeBron in Cleveland and so LeBron is now a cowardly, narcissistic, quitter. Of course, then for good measure he tries to throw the hex at LeBron like some kind of jilted witchdoctor by saying that LeBron will take the “curse” with him when he leaves Cleveland. Furthermore, if he was so convinced that LeBron was quitting on the team, why fire Mike Brown? The only reason that makes sense is that he was trying to appease a player he despised in order to keep him around, but it’s not like LeBron was helping find a new coach. But look, I get it. Dan Gilbert is the owner of the team and the fans who pay to see that team are pissed off and heartbroken that their guy just left. He has a responsibility to those fans to empathize with them, and a responsibility as a business owner to try to keep their business, so he is gonna say what he needs to in order to fire them up and get them to keep coming to games. I just believe he could have done it without coming off like such an idiot.
The KG Rule
There’s one real reason I partially don’t fault LeBron for leaving Cleveland, and that reason is Kevin Garnett. KG toiled away in mediocrity for years in Minnesota, only sniffing the Finals once. He was loyal to a fault and to the point that most basketball fans wanted him to get traded to a half-way decent team. We couldn’t bare to watch him wither away without a championship, or at least playing in the Finals once. Even Ewing, Barkley and Malone got to experience the NBA Finals, and KG was at least on their level. I feel like if a potentially great player has spent more than five years on a crappy team, then we should let him walk away without judgement and without branding him a cowardly, disloyal, selfish jerk. I will call this “The KG Rule”. When he was traded to Boston and won the whole thing in his first season as a Celtic, we were all happy for him and even had to wonder how many more he could have won and how much different his legacy could have been if he had played on a legit contender his whole career, or at least a few years sooner. Who can blame LeBron for not wanting to toil away in Cleveland to the point that people are begging him to request a trade? The only snag here is that LeBron’s ceiling is higher than KG’s, and he hasn’t been on mediocre teams his whole career. So while I want to apply The KG Rule to him, I can’t really do it in good conscience… the shoe just doesn’t quite fit.
Now LeBron is in Miami, teamed up with another alpha-dog who already has a championship to speak of. Who do you think is the leader here? The guy who has already been with the team for seven seasons and won a title or the new guy who is still chasing one? This is Wade’s team by all accounts, no matter how anyone sugar-coats it, and now LeBron can play second banana to Wade and not take all the criticism when they lose. The problem here is that he won’t even get half the love when they win. Bosh will get some credit as the only one of the three who plays in the paint, and Wade is undeniably the leader here, so LeBron is gonna have to get used to being Prince James.
So where does this leave Cleveland? They still have capable players in Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison. They have a potentially solid player JJ Hickson waiting in the wings for more playing time. They recently traded for point guard Ramon Sessions and dumped the problematic Delonte West in the process. Plus they received a gang of draft picks when LeBron decided to split. They have a decent future ahead of them. They are obviously not an elite team by any means, but not all is lost. They will still have to fight for a playoff spot, but I think they could still make it to the post-season. I certainly hope so, and who wouldn’t watch a Cleveland-Miami first round series and secretly(?) root for the Cavaliers?
Balance of Power
Plenty of fans, writers, and other random observers have already given Miami the trophy for the next few years. I am not one of them. The Lakers blew it against Detroit a few years back with Kobe, Shaq, Malone, and Payton after everyone handed it to them. Injuries can strike anyone at any time – just ask Dirk, Ginobili, Garnett, and a slew of others who missed crucial playoff games in the past. But more than those things, other teams are getting better as well. The Lakers signed Matt Barnes and Steve Blake, an upgrade at point guard over Jordan Farmar, and are still the reigning champs. And don’t think that Kobe isn’t working out as you are reading this so that he can erase that 6-for-24 performance as well as Miami’s title aspirations. The Mavericks have choked in the playoffs the last few years, but have also reloaded with Tyson Chandler and Dominique Jones, and it would be sweet for them to get back at Miami. The Spurs added Spanish League MVP Tiago Splitter along with draft pick James Anderson. And that’s just the West. What about Orlando who is still a threat, and Chicago who just added Boozer? Any of these teams could beat Miami next season and after, and personally, I hope they all do.
To sum things up, I don’t think LeBron was wrong to leave Cleveland. I think he was stupid to leave. Five championships in Miami won’t mean as much for his “brand” as one in Cleveland would. And there is no guarantee he will win any at this point. He jumped ship but it was the way he did it, by basically taking a crap on his former team and city on live TV, that made it so reprehensible. The sad thing is that despite his childish, selfish, easy-way-out attitude, he is likely to win a championship or two, maybe more if he’s lucky. But I won’t be rooting for him.