Taking My Talents to South Beach – Part One
Despite swearing up and down that I would not tune in for ESPN’s one-hour “Decision” special, Thursday night I still somehow found myself huddled around the television awaiting what I felt was the obvious resolution of what had been one of the most over-hyped and narcissistic off-court spectacles in the history of sports: Lebron was staying with the Cavs. I figured that most of the show would be filled in with footage of James visiting his high school gym, one of the nine or ten hovels he lived in growing up in Akron, the locker room at Quicken Loans arena, etc. It’d be sentimental and trite, but it’d be a furthering of his image of the homegrown savior that he and his handlers have so skillfully crafted over the last seven years. However it played out, I was convinced that he was staying Cleveland. Because the idea that Lebron James and his coterie of hangers-on could possibly, in good conscience and with sound business sense, orchestrate an elaborate and painfully awkward nationally televised one-hour special only to announce that he would be leaving Cleveland was, I thought, unthinkable. It just seemed too cruel, too oblivious–not to mention, just too damn stupid. I realize that athletes and other celebrities are often deluded and self-absorbed, but this—teasing along your hometown fans for weeks and weeks, having them hang on every rumor, to then turn around broadcast the betrayal—just didn’t seem at all possible. So, I watched, though uncomfortably, confident that I already knew what would happen.
But then, after what seemed like an eternity of inane softball questions from whatever is left of Jim Gray’s credibility came the words: “I’m taking my talents to South Beach.” Stunned.
And here is where I should say this clearly and emphatically: I don’t like the Cavs. I don’t harbor any of the scorned fan outrage to this whatsoever. In fact, I never thought Mike Brown was a good coach. I never once felt that Danny Ferry had any business running the front office of professional basketball team. I criticized every trade, every signing, and every draft pick they made in the seven years that team had the one of the three best players in the league. The past two seasons I had numerous arguments with Cavs fans that said the Cavs would win the title. And my argument was simple: you can’t win a championship when your second best player is Mo Williams. Lebron needed help. One player, no matter how good they are, cannot do it alone. For that team to win night in and night out James had to play Hall of Fame level basketball. And that’s just too much to ask a player.
So, I don’t blame him for wanting out. I really don’t. Who the fuck wants to live in Cleveland?
The problem I have with his “Decision” is how he made it. If he wanted to leave, if he’d decided he was leaving, then why not simply inform the Cavs of your decision yourself, instead of having a member of your “Lebrontourage” call them up a few minutes before you announced it on national television. And while you’re at it, why not give them enough of a heads-up so that they could maybe even sign a replacement or two before the other available free agents had already signed with other teams.
And why not spare your thousands sure-to-be disappointed fans the pain of having to tune into self-promoting infomercial to be kicked in the teeth? Instead, why not just release a statement thanking them for their years of support? Say something like: “I appreciate the fans of Cleveland for repeatedly making excuses for me and my team over the last seven years. I know I promised to bring a championship to Cleveland, but it turns out I’m not up to the task. Despite creating a marketing campaign replete with overt biblical allusions of messianic ability, I don’t actually possess the qualities of a true champion. And while I’ve spent my entire career skillfully crafting of public persona of loyalty, dedication, and pride, those aren’t qualities I, in all reality, possess. Thank you for the memories. I’m going to take my talents to South Beach. P.S. I’m having the “Chosen 1” tattoo removed from my back.”
That might’ve sufficed.
In all seriousness, though, there probably isn’t anything he could have done to explain his decision to leave where Cleveland fans wouldn’t have hated him, where they wouldn’t have burned his jersey. Let’s be honest, these aren’t the most enlightened or civilized fans in the world. They did boo the guy in Game 5 of the Boston series this past spring. And if you’ve ever been to a Browns game, you’d be hard-pressed to describe the Cleveland fan base classy bunch.
That said, he could have salvaged his image nationally. He could have handled the situation like a grown man. For one, he could have spared all of us from the one-hour cultural train wreck that was the “Decision.” No one involved in that show looked at all comfortable. The only person who didn’t look totally mortified and embarrassed was Stuart Scott; he’s just thankful that he still has a job somehow.
What I find fascinating is the enormous disconnect between the totally ego-driven way in which the “Decision” was delievered and the absolutely ego-less reasoning behind the decision itself. He has essentially said, “Hey, I don’t need to be the only guy in town, I don’t want to alpha guy. I just want to play basketball with my friends, defer to Wade, and have fun.” That’s impressive, wholly respectable, and totally unprecedented. And if he hadn’t alienated every other normal human the planet, maybe we’d all be talking about that aspect of the situation. Instead, Lebron James is a pariah, the man who killed Cleveland sports before a live national television audience. But, in all honesty, in a few years, no one will really care. Non-Cavs fans will go back to worrying about their own teams, while Cavs fans will dry their tears and set about finding something more sustainable to base their struggling economy on.