He's averaged just under 28 points a game in his NBA career, but it's never been easier for me to defend LeBron James.
But... was his made-for-tv special, in which he announced he was going to play for the Miami Heat, self-indulgent? Yes. Was it over the top? Sure. Did i cringe when i saw how many commercials during this hour-long program featured LeBron James himself? More than twice, yes.
But ESPN could have told him no. They could have said, "Look, kid, you're great, but you're not THAT great. No one's gonna watch this thing."
Instead, they bent over backwards to produce this show, which, in itself, tells me just how much interest there was for it. (I haven't seen what the ratings were, but i'm willing to bet they were through the roof.)
I'm actually applauding James-- not for patting himself on the back and recognizing the audience for such a night, but for turning it into something good. "So, this thing's a circus, and it's a bit much, but, hey, there's money to be made here. So why not give it to some kids who can use it?" The Boys and Girls Club of America benefitted from the advertising dollars, scholarships were founded... the truth is, self-serving or not, a lot of good came out of this.
A friend of mine-- who is quite sharp, but tends to be 100% wrong when she talks about sports! --mentioned on my facebook page this morning that Art Modell was finally in danger of losing the title "most hated man in Cleveland." ...Actually, she probably got this one right. It's the city of Cleveland that has it wrong.
Art Modell, owner of the Browns, flat out lied when he said he would never move his football team out of Cleveland, then did just that in 1995, shipping them off to Baltimore, where they became the Ravens. LeBron never lied about where he was going to end up. He said he wanted to be in Cleveland, that he wanted to deliver a title to his hometown, but he never promised he would stay there.
So, why didn't he stay?
I have to tell you, i'm pretty darn shocked with the negative reaction to this question. I heard some dude on a radio talk show say LeBron was scared to try to win it on his own. That he'll never be like Jordan, or Magic, or Bird. I heard the sentiment echoed by Michael Rosenberg of SI.com in his well-written, but completely off-base article entitled, "LeBron hardly a king for taking the easy way out with star-laden Heat". (http://www.emailthis.clickability.com/et/emailThis?clickMap=viewThis&etMailToID=1653317082 ).
Guys...? I'm not a basketball scholar, but let me tell you something... no one does it alone.
Larry Bird played with Robert Parish, Kevin Mchale, Dennis Johnson, and Danny Ainge. Who did Magic Johnson have behind him? Well, as it turns out, nobody all that great. Except, y'know, James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
The argument continues, "Ryan-- Kareem aside-- the guys that Magic and Bird played with were hall of famers and all-stars because Earvin and Larry made them better players. If LeBron was any kind of man at all, he would have upped his game and turned his teammates into legends."
Fair point, really, but let me put it to you this way... You're starting an NBA team. The bad news is, you made a ridiculous drunken bet with the mob, and now your life literally depends on your team winning the championship. The good news is the following players are available and are somehow magically all in their prime. Who are you taking first... Parish? Mchale? Worthy? ...Or would you rather have Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Antawn Jamison, Mo Williams or Delonte West?
...Sebastian Telfair, maybe?
What i'm asking is this: Why WOULD LeBron stay? From a pure, non-emotional, strictly basketball standpoint, why would LeBron stay? Who do they have in Cleveland, or who would they be able to get if LeBron came back? Anyone who would make them a better team than the Heat with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh? Better than Orlando? Or the Big Three in Boston? Better than the Bulls with Carlos Boozer?
Still, the skeptics keep coming back to Michael Jordan. "When MJ was a free agent in 1990, he decided to stick it out in Chicago and stay until he got the job done-- in Chicago!"
It's the same argument, so i'll offer up the same defense: Do you really think Jordan would have stayed in Chicago if the Bulls didn't have Scottie Pippen? What if Jerry Reinsdorf decided to trade away Bill Cartwright, John Paxson and Horace Grant for a hundred bucks and a case of beer? Think Jordan would have said, "Dude. Doesn't matter. I'm committed to this team. Because i'm a man. And we finish what we started where we started it. Let's go Bulls."
Jordan was the most competitive athlete the world has ever seen. Winning was the only thing he cared about. There's no way in the WORLD he would have stayed a Bull unless he was certain his team's owner was as committed to winning a championship as he was.
Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert (more on him in an upcoming blog) either did not or could not deliver the same degree of assurance. And no one in the league could offer up what Pat Riley could: the opportunity to play basketball with two of your best friends who just so happen to be two of the best players in the NBA.
So, here's the real question... What do you want, what do you expect from the best athlete in his sport? Rather, what's the one thing you hope he desires more than anything else?
Is it... Loyalty to his hometown? Fine. He should have stayed in Cleveland. But, i'm telling you... the Cavs chances of winning the title? Slim to none.
Is it... Money? Alright. Then he should have stayed in Cleveland. I'm not breaking any news to tell you James would have made over $30 million dollars more if he came back home.
Is it... His own ego? Again, the choice is Cleveland. If LeBron went back to the Cavs, the chances were really good that he would always be head and shoulders above every teammate he ever played with. So, he would have had to do it alone, carry the entire franchise on his back. And, sure, he'd lead the league in scoring for the next ten years or so, but he would have never climbed to the top of that mountain. But, hey, at least he would always be the hometown hero. The biggest fish in his small pond.
Instead, he's going to Miami where he'll have to share the spotlight with two other superstars. He's going to have to pass the ball (something, if you remember, he was criticized for earlier in his career), and will have to come to terms with the thought that, even though he's still clearly the best player on his team, he might not necessarily be the number one option for that last second shot at the end of the game.
"Well, that doesn't sound like Mike!"
It sounds like Magic. It sounds like team basketball. And it sounds like a dynasty.
the five things i fell in love with today...
1) I'm a die-hard 76ers fan, so... y'know, watching the Heat crush my team for the next decade doesn't exactly appeal to me. But, as a sports fan, i do like to see dynasties. They're always fun to root for and against. I loved to hate the Celtics as a kid.
2) What am i talking about?! I still love to hate the Celtics.
3) Gene Hackman.
4) Dennis Hopper.
5) What do i want the best athlete in his sport to desire more than anything else? A championship ring. Which makes me think LeBron is exactly where he should be.
song of the night...
"Hello, i must be going" by Groucho Marx
movie of the night...