LeBron James is 25 years old. Twenty five-year-olds can make stupid decisions, and even they can be aware that these decisions may, in fact, be stupid. LeBron seemed to know something was up with his pawing desire to go to Miami. For all the talk of his being a “committee of one,” it seems like there was really a committee of five or six, and at the top was not LeBron, but Gloria James. It was both heartbreaking and totally reassuring that LeBron said his decision finally came down to his mom’s approval. It was heartbreaking because you know there was a last line of defense to talk him out of it, but it was reassuring because it reinforced true loyalty in a scenario where loyalty was being imposed upon LeBron—not at all unconvincingly—left and right. Even Gloria James had to know that her son’s best chance to win a title was with Chicago, and that his chance to write the best story was in Cleveland. But her son effectively asked her if she would be okay with him forgoing both those scenarios to play with his friends in Miami, because it would make him the happiest, and she said yes. Maybe playing in Cleveland so long expanded his vision of what needed to do that he thought playing in Miami would strap blinders on him in a way playing in Chicago wouldn’t have done; maybe he does crave the spotlight, but needs some time off. I don’t know. All I know is that Gloria James trusted in her son’s ability to work these things out for himself. What can I say to that?
Did LeBron “betray” Cleveland? Well, if he “quit” on the team in four of games of the NBA playoffs, as Dan Gilbert suggested in his acidic open letter on Cavs.com, then yes. But let’s not forget than his ending up in Cleveland was the result of a roll of the ping-pong balls anyway. It made a great story because it seemed like it was preordained, but nothing is preordained—that’s hacky sportswriter bullshit that’s no different, spiritually, from the filler for hundreds of stories on James that were written last week. At the same time, he did come to Cleveland, and he is from Akron, and it was a great story while it lasted. And now this.
I think it’s worth remembering that an unhappy Allen Iverson was nearly traded to the Los Angeles Clippers the year before the 76ers made the finals; an unhappy Kobe was nearly traded to the Bulls the year before the Lakers made the Finals; and an unhappy Paul Pierce was almost shipped out of Boston the year before the Celtics won their 17th title. The reports on Kobe, specifically, came so fast and furious it seemed like the next time you refereshed he’d be out of L.A. None of these things happened, but the groundwork was there. If they had been free agents, there’s no question they would have bolted. Cavs fans could say that they didn’t exactly provide the pressure-cooker environment of Philadelphia or Boston, or the dysfunctional one of L.A.; I’m not sure I would believe them. Check out the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s cover this morning. You might not be able to read it, but the arrow pointing to his hand says “7 years in Cleveland. No rings”:
I thought it wasn’t about rings in Cleveland? I thought it was about his hometown. I thought it wasn’t 7 years, but 25. And I thought it was about the promise of bringing a title that lingered despite the Cavs’ “failures” to win it all in the last few seasons. I mean, if you’re going to be so blatant about admitting you were using James as a tool toward your own deliverance, you’re pretty far into the muck.
I can’t really blame the Plain Dealer for playing populist, however; it’s just a shame that there were never really any real adults in this situation. LeBron didn’t act like one; Dan Gilbert didn’t act like one; ESPN’s commentators were almost, to a person, eating shit in the sandbox. LeBron is the most hated man in basketball today, but if you’ve got the energy to get mad at LeBron you should already be 10 times angrier at the NBA for its very often brutally inconsistent, self-aggrandizing, borderline unwatchable product. LeBron James isn’t the system, he’s a product of it, and now he’s going to play with Dwyane Wade in Miami. That’s totally ridiculous and throws everything David Stern has done for the one superstar, one team ethos right back in his face. If it doesn’t get thrown back in LeBron’s face when D-Leaguers are missing wide-open layups on the break, why will we criticize him? He obviously doesn’t care. We do. What I’d most like to see is compelling, fair basketball. If I can’t have that, this will have to do.
* Yes, this is a tweet from last night.