I didn’t really want to weigh in here on this. Namely, basketball only means so much to me, so I didn’t expect to get caught up in this one way or the other. I just wanted LeBron James to pick a team and have all this news escape my life.
Then he picked a team and the sports world lost their collective minds.
There is real, pure, misguided hate being slung around right now. People are furious at LeBron James, calling him a coward, a traitor, an egomaniac, a jerk, a gutless puke; really, they’re calling him anything you can think of.
And to everyone who’s anywhere from furious or upset about this situation, or hoping the new James-Dwyane Wade-Chris Bosh triumvirate in Miami crashes and burns, I’ll say this:
You need to wake up.
The easiest way is to go through every point that folks are upset over, and explain why it’s not that big a deal.
1. HE BETRAYED THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
I like this one, because it’s the easiest to knock down.
Anyone who thinks he owed it to the Cavs to stick around has never had a less-than-great job. Imagine, if you will, that you’re hired by a company right out of college. The money’s decent and you hang around for a few years, but after a while, you start to realize that your potential there is limited, promotions are rare, and you’ll be spinning your wheels the longer you stay.
One day, five other companies who are more appealing come calling, begging you to join them. And two of your friends were just hired by one of them, and it’s in a city where you’ll have more fun in your down time. And your current company? Their entire argument for your staying revolves around, “well, you were here first.” If you’re not leaving that company, you’re either a fool or you hate yourself.
Every move the Cavs have made to surround LeBron James with a championship-level cast has only worked to handcuff the team in salary cap terms, and none of the moves have worked to make the team markedly better. Ben Wallace? Shaq? Antawn Jamison? Every other team had at least the potential to win, especially Miami and Chicago. Cleveland had only this:
“If you leave, we’ll kill ourselves.”
If the only thing keeping me with a company was guilt, I’d be hightailing it out of that disaster-to-be, too.
And if this guy were my boss? Jesus. Get me out of there.
LeBron James didn’t betray the Cavs. They betrayed themselves.
2. HE’S A COWARD WHO THREW AWAY HIS LEGACY
This argument says that “Michael Jordan never would’ve joined forces with Magic Johnson/Isiah Thomas/Charles Barkley/Hakeem Olajuwon/etc.” These fans and writers are furious that LeBron, apparently, is throwing away his talent and his chance to build his own team into a champion, and that he doesn’t have Jordan’s killer instinct.
Now, is it LeBron’s fault that he didn’t have the characteristics so many wanted him to have? So many have pinned that on him, the next Jordan, the next Magic, that guy who can single-handedly carry a team to multiple championships. But what if he’s just a guy who wants to play basketball, who isn’t interested in that kind of legacy, but instead interested in the fun of playing basketball for money? Many are furious that LeBron would lower himself to being Wade’s second banana. They seem to be even more furious that LeBron himself doesn’t see it that way.
And on that note, no one has ever won a championship by themselves. Just about all of them had Hall-of-Famers and All-Stars around them. In case you forgot:
- Michael Jordan: Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Horace Grant
- Magic Johnson: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Bob McAdoo, Byron Scott
- Larry Bird: Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson, Bill Walton
- Julius Erving: Moses Malone, Maurice Cheeks
- Tim Duncan: David Robinson, Manu Ginobli, Tony Parker
- Kevin Garnett: Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo
- Kobe Bryant: Shaquille O’Neal, Pau Gasol, Derek Fisher, hell, even Ron Artest
- Isiah Thomas: Rodman, Joe Dumars, Bill Laimbeer
- Hakeem Olajuwon: Clyde Drexler, Kenny Smith, Otis Thorpe, Robert Horry (who helped a lot of other folks on this list, too)
If he stays in Cleveland, he never has a chance to join this list, either in the bold part or the help part. And the last time I checked, playing for less money for a chance to win was a good thing.
3. HE’S AN EGOMANIAC WHO LEFT IN THE WORST WAY POSSIBLE
Now, if I did decided to leave, would I have had a self-serving, one-hour special dedicated to it? No. But I’m not in the NBA, either.
The NBA, more than any other league on this continent, lives on egomaniacs. Chris Bosh had a documentary film crew following him around while talking to teams. Kobe Bryant used a rape charge as “everyone is against me!” fuel for his career. Long ago, Dennis Rodman helped jump-start reality t.v., Michael Jordan started the idea of a player as a “brand,” Latrell Sprewell tried to kill his coach and got away with it, with his contract in place … honestly, LeBron holding a sham special in Greenwich, Conn., is supposed to deeply, deeply offend me?
Cleveland fans will say it was the ultimate stab in the back, a humiliation of epic proportions. Maybe it’s true. But if you didn’t see it coming, you don’t know how the NBA works. The NBA is professional wrestling, right down to the “Superstar” designation and the maybe-they-are, maybe-they-aren’t fixed games. It’s a league of personalities, not teams, and looking at it any other way is to just be purposely blind to it.
Speaking of Cleveland fans…
4. HE STABBED CLEVELAND FANS IN THE HEART
Well, if he meant so much to you, maybe you shouldn’t have booed him in his last home game. And maybe you shouldn’t now be crucifying him for not winning you a championship all by himself. Really, the nerve of that guy!
Another thing, the idea of Cleveland being justified in burning his jersey is ridiculous. Cleveland is not the first city to lose a great player in a sport to free agency or a crazy trade. They will not be the last. But they act like this is unique to them. Well, tell that to:
- Atlanta: Dominique Wilkins
- Boston: Roger Clemens, Johnny Damon, Phil Esposito, Bobby Orr, Curtis Martin
- Chicago: Greg Maddux, Jeremy Roenick, Chris Chelios, Scottie Pippen
- Edmonton: Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Grant Fuhr, Jari Kurri, Adam Graves, and the rest of the Oilers
- Miami: The 1997 Marlins, the 2003 Marlins
- Milwaukee: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, C.C. Sabathia, Ray Allen
- Minnesota: Kevin Garnett, Johan Santana
- New York: Tom Seaver
- Oakland: Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers, Baron Davis
- Orlando: Shaq
- Philadelphia: Charles Barkley
- Phoenix: Amar’e Stoudemire (remember that? Like, three days ago?)
- Pittsburgh: Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla
- Seattle: Ken Griffey, Jr., Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez, the SuperSonics
I’ll stop there, but obviously, with a little more time, I could go on forever.
I’ll speak on one of these, Johnny Damon. When Damon left the Red Sox for the Yankees, I was furious. But my anger was at the Red Sox, for creating this situation. And, later, for the fans for turning on him when he’d just helped the team win its first championship in 86 years. They were mad at him for taking the money. To them, I said (and still say), “when you turn down an extra $12 million, then we can talk.” I have a Damon t-shirt that’s a little worn, but I still wear now and again. Sometimes, people give me crap for it. And I always give it right back to them. I remember the good, and I don’t hold it against him because he exercised his right as an adult.
Now, if for some unknown reason, Wade had left the Heat and joined Cleveland, does anyone think those fans wouldn’t be holding a parade right now? Of course they would. But that’s not how it worked, so they get to act like a giant group of entitled babies.
Cleveland, you just watched the best player you’ll ever have, and for seven years. His team did little to improve the situation, and when he leaves, you burn his jersey?
I have no sympathy for you. None.