By Austin Burton of Dime Magazine
I often have to remind myself that the Internet world is, thankfully, not always an accurate reflection of society. Otherwise, I’d think hard about moving to rural Tanzania and living off the land. While I’ve realized the anonymity of being online allows man to channel his inner jackass without inhibition, balancing it with a dose of real life typically restores my faith in people.
But then last night, after watching “The Decision” at the Dime office and getting a taste of the predictable online reaction, I went home and was passing the crowded front stoop of my building when I overheard this:
“Nah man, his legacy is tarnished. I don’t care how many ‘chips he win, if a n**** can’t do it by himself…”
Of course the guy was talking about LeBron James. And this was no Internet phantom; this was a real-life dude, in the flesh, putting this nonsense out on 155th Street just a few blocks from Rucker Park. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the ghost of Earl Manigault descended from the top of a backboard at that moment and slapped homeboy upside his head.
C’mon, people. I already knew LeBron was the most hated man in the NBA, but be serious. LeBron joining the Miami Heat to play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh isn’t just a totally defensible move, it’s the same move anybody else in LeBron’s position would have made. In fact, Dime reader Reno put it best last night:
“Correct me if I’m wrong but when you bout to play ball and you picking up squads, aren’t you picking up the best possible team that you can to stay on the court all day? Or you trying to be calling ‘next’ all day? Well that’s what Lebron just did and people killing him for it.”
I’m with Reno. I don’t get it.
In an era where we criticize athletes for choosing money over winning, we have the biggest star in the game choosing winning over money … and he gets criticized for that?
These are the facts: Jordan only won rings with Hall of Fame teammates. Russell only won rings with Hall of Fame teammates. Magic only won rings with Hall of Fame teammates. Kobe. Larry. The Doctor. Isiah. Duncan. All of them had to form Voltron-like squads before they could win championships. Do you think Wilt Chamberlain was complaining when he was traded to the Lakers and joined Jerry West and Elgin Baylor? You think Kareem was complaining when his Bucks traded for Oscar Robertson? Not one of them said, “No, I want to do this alone. I want the challenge!” Great players want to play with other great players because that’s when they make great things happen.
If LeBron had chosen to stay in Cleveland or sign with New York last night, he would have been choosing to be Patrick Ewing. Or Dominique Wilkins. Or Charles Barkley. All three of them were “The Man” on flawed teams for most of their careers, and all three retired without a championship. All three routinely went up against better teams with multiple stars and lost, year after year.
LeBron has already done the ‘Nique thing. He’s seen his team lose to stacked Boston and San Antonio teams despite his own MVP-caliber stats. He’d tried carrying a mediocre roster by himself, and before he would up like Reggie Miller, he used his opening to get with a team that won’t ask him to carry 11 less-than-great teammates on his back.
Are we not the same generation that still bows at the altar of Jordan and Pippen? So when did the prospect of Wade and LeBron become such a source for hating and criticizing?
I don’t get it.
True, you could say Jordan/Pippen formed a more “natural” and organic alliance, since Pippen was acquired in a Draft-day trade before anyone knew he was going to be a superstar. Pippen and Jordan grew together, and after the tough losses and after adding more necessary pieces, they ran off six championships in eight years. And does anybody argue that MJ’s rings somehow mean less because he had Pippen and Dennis Rodman/Horace Grant?
Maybe it would be nice if every team was built through the Draft and a few non-blockbuster trades here and there (e.g., Spurs) but that’s not how the game works. Free agency and lopsided trades are part of the NBA — the same part that allowed Shaq to join Kobe in L.A. then, and the same part that allowed Pau Gasol and Ron Artest to flank Kobe in L.A. now — and the Miami Heat simply took advantage of the rule. In free agency they brought together Wade, James and Bosh not too far from how Boston united Pierce, Garnett and Ray Allen, and yet for some reason a big chunk of basketball nation feels Miami has done something shady and LeBron (in particular) took some kind of “easy” way out.
Another faction hates more that LeBron made his announcement in such a bombastic way, with an hour-long TV special that started to take on the sensationalism of the O.J. Simpson trial coverage and Tiger Woods‘ personal drama.
Could LeBron have just released a statement? Yes, but then his critics would rail on him for not facing any tough questions in-person. Could he have done a traditional press conference? Yes, but then he’d have to answer 100 reporters yelling at him instead of just one reporter asking the same questions those 100 would have asked. Could he have used Twitter or another short-form style of announcing? Yes, but then every reporter who didn’t get a good quote from LeBron would still be in his face about it months into next season. By going with “The Decision” thing, he got most of the relevant questions answered, he got a chance to calmly explain himself, and he raised a couple million dollars for charity. I have no problem with it.
And then there’s Cleveland.
While I understand the natural disappointment and bitterness that comes with losing a franchise player — I’m from Seattle, where we lost our franchise player and our whole franchise, period — some of the more venomous reactions from Cavs fans have been embarrassing for them. None other than Cavs owner Dan Gilbert fired off the most immature response, using an open letter to Cleveland fans to say LeBron “deserted” and betrayed the Cavs, calling the player who made the team millions of dollars “narcissistic,” selfish and a coward, then going all Celie in The Color Purple and trying to put a hex on LeBron. (“Until you do right by me….”)
I would hope the majority of Cleveland fans are smarter than their team’s owner. Yes, LeBron was born and raised in Akron, Ohio, but he does not belong to the state. He only ended up on the hometown NBA squad due to a stroke of Lottery luck and some blatant tanking by the organization. Hundreds of other NBA players become free agents and have the chance to sign with their hometown teams — does anybody call them cowards and accuse them of betrayal if they don’t? Is anybody in L.A. going to torch Matt Barnes‘ jersey if he doesn’t sign with the Clippers? Will the people of Chicago cry “Coward!” if Tony Allen doesn’t ink a deal with the Bulls? So tell me again why LeBron should feel obligated to stay home?
If those Cavs fans (and Gilbert) really do feel good about LeBron leaving, maybe they’ll just as gladly welcome Ricky Davis and Darius Miles back, the “stars” of the team pre-LeBron. Both of them are available.
Gilbert comes across as the spouse who knows they screwed up the relationship, but trashes the other spouse to anyone who will listen as a defense mechanism. Had the Cavaliers truly put a championship-caliber team around LeBron, he would have stayed. But in seven years, the best they could get him was half-a-season of Antawn Jamison, one year of Old Shaq, and a couple years of borderline All-Star Mo Williams.
Now LeBron is joining a legit powerhouse, and some people don’t understand why. It’s not because he’s scared to be The Man. (Matter of fact, when Dime posed our “Who’s Better?” argument between LeBron and D-Wade earlier this season, most readers voted for LeBron. So why wouldn’t he be the Green Hornet to Wade’s Kato?) It’s not because he and David Stern are conspiring to kill competitive balance in the NBA. It’s not because LeBron is shying away from pressure.
It’s because Miami presented the best opportunity to win. And if you were really listening to what LeBron has been saying his entire career — especially since that Finals sweep in ‘07 when he learned that being The Man among mice is overrated — that’s all he really wanted the whole time.