We’ve been sold a bill of goods. From his time as the most hyped high school athlete in history, Lebron James has been packaged as someone on the track to become the greatest basketball player to ever lace ’em up. And for a while, it looked as though that hype would be justified. Then, after two playoff beat downs in consecutive seasons to Orlando and Boston, the only other viable contenders in Cleveland’s conference, Lebron’s veneer of supreme confidence cracked.
He quit on his team in the Boston series, he created a media frenzy designed and executed to be a month-long ego stroking, all the while jerking around the hometown Cleveland fans he professed to care so much about but had no intention of returning to. He even announced his decision on an hour-long special that suggests that he’s bigger than the game, and his choice is more important than any previous signing in history.
All of this effort to convince us that Lebron is bigger, better and generally superior to everyone else. And what was his choice? Where will Lebron create his new kingdom? Well, it turns out that the player we have been told is the greatest ever is throwing in the towel on his legacy, and choosing to be just a Lord, Duke or some other noblemen under a new king with his own court. King James is dead. Long live King Wade.
This decision is perhaps the single most cowardly choice I’ve ever witnessed from an elite athlete. Could you imagine Michael Jordan announcing on national television that the pressure of carrying the Bulls, and the league itself is just too much, so he’s going to sign with Utah to play shooting guard for Stockton and Malone? To be certain, the Jazz with Jordan would win a title or three, but is there any way he would be sitting atop the pantheon of the all-time best right now?
Let’s look at the choices Lebron passed up:
1. New York Knicks- the biggest stage on the planet, and an opportunity to build a champion for a long-suffering major market.
2. New Jersey Nets- chance to raise an historically bad franchise to the heights of champions, and you get to take over New York when they move to Brooklyn in a couple years.
3. Chicago Bulls- make a head-long challenge at Jordan’s formidable legacy.
4. L.A. Clippers- challenge the great Lakers for supremacy of Los Angeles and build a champion out of the worst franchise in all of professional sports.
5. Cleveland- stay true to your roots, despite the disadvantages and bring an end to the city’s championship dry spell.
All five of these options have one thing in common, they all represent a supreme challenge that, if met, would guarantee James a place among the best of the best. But instead, he took the easy way out. Instead of spearheading a team to greatness, Lebron will play second fiddle to another superstar, further increasing Dwayne Wade’s place in history while putting an effective ceiling on his own. Hell, this isn’t even his team and it never will be.
It has long been accepted in NBA circles for veteran stars on the downside of their career to sign on with a star-laden team in an attempt to get a ring, but other than Shaq, who very few would argue today was ever much more than an over-hyped mercenary, I have a hard time recalling any young superstar entering his prime willingly taking a back seat to another star. Even Shaq took control of L.A. from Kobe.
But perhaps worst of all is the absolute certainty that I have that this decision was made long ago. All of this hype and rumor-mongering about “The Decision” was an elaborate show designed to keep everyone guessing when the principles involved already knew the outcome. It definitely gives a new perspective to Lebron’s number change that was supposed to be in honor of Michael Jordan. In reality, Lebron likely knew he’d need to change from 23 because that number is one of four retired by the Heat. It also raises some disturbing questions about his playoff performance against Boston. Is is conceivable that Lebron actually quit on purpose? After all, if I’m right, he’d already bailed on Cleveland, we just didn’t know it yet.
This is a sad day for the NBA, and will be even sadder if the expected titles follow. Lebron has destroyed any chance of being the best ever, and three of the top 10 players in the league plus a legendary coach have shown nothing but disrespect to the rest of the league for executing this sham. If there’s any justice, these guys won’t be rewarded with a ring.