Say It Ain’t So Lebron
By Joe DiBella
You might find it funny to learn that I have a history of yelling at my television set. This had been a pastime of mine for awhile, and it always involves sports. Sometimes its yelps of joy and excitement. Sometimes screams of pain and anguish. I’m pretty mild mannered in real life. I deliver most of my conversation with a monotone, drab, and dry status. In my recent attempt at not being overly excitable at sporting events happenings, I have tried to yell at my television set less. I was doing well until last night.
When Lebron James looked at Jim Gray and told him he was taking his talents elsewhere, (Who says that anyways) I had a mild set back in my self control. I jumped off my couch and shouted “A-hole” at my television like I had just found out on ‘ Jerry Springer’ that I was not the real father. Yes, I said the full expletive. No, I didn’t abbreviate it. What brought out this emotion in me so impulsively was probably the fact you can let out a improper word faster then you can produce a tear. I needed to let loose some immediate response to this event that was a travesty on so many levels. Thursday night Lebron James became the first athlete in sports history to take less money, but still sell out.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are not my favorite team. They are second. I am a Boston Celtics fan. I admit though I was rooting for Cleveland this year to beat Boston in the second round of the playoffs. See as I get older I am more of a sports fan. I look for the “Let’s see the feel good story prevail”, the “Let’s see a tortured city finally win”, and the “ Wow, this guy is special and I think I want to watch him play more then I want my favorite team to play", angles. I like sports. The bravado of the moment. The enjoyment of the spine tingling images. The resurrection of human spirit thru their team’s successes. They are all so captivating to me.
I have watched my teams win major titles in every sport but hockey. I love the feeling of “feeling good” while watching a game or a march to a title. I look for that feeling. I was chasing that feeling for the city of Cleveland thru their basketball team. A city that hasn’t seen a pro sports championship since 1964. And I was watching them be led by that “Wow” player. For the past 7 years, The Cleveland Cavaliers and Lebron James punched all those tickets I yearn for. Then Thursday night came.
One reason Lebron leaving Cleveland upsets me so greatly is that he was my favorite player in the N.B.A. since Michael Jordan. I don’t like Kobe. I have never been able to watch him play and enjoy myself, or appreciate what I was watching. I didn’t care how good he was or that he did things no one else did. I had no interest in him. I’m not sure why. Lebron was different. I loved watching him play. I loved watching him warm up. Heck I loved watching him tie his shoes. I can’t describe any reason why, other then he reminded me of Jordan. And Jordan reminded me of the sacredness of my childhood. It wasn’t a choice to let Lebron affect me the way he did. It just happened. And I loved it because I never thought I would feel remotely about watching a player the same way I did about watching Michael Jordan.
Lebron has made a big mistake. He turned his back on people. Human beings. When it boils down to it, everything’s about people. And preferably people other then yourself. I don’t blame him completely. We have made sports about championships. We have made it about a 2 or 3 day stretch of glory where you hold a trophy in your hand, pour champagne on your teammates, and parade thru the city streets with confetti falling on your head. Not to mention the bragging rights that go along with it.
Whereas championships have been made important in all sports, they have been made most important in professional basketball. The reason they have been made that important in basketball is because of this: SUPERSTARS WIN CHAMPIONSHIPS IN BASKETBALL. It goes hand in hand. There are very few exceptions to that rule. Quick, name me the greatest basketball players to never win a title. You would probably spit out names like Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, and John Stockton. After that you would have to start naming second level players. If you take the bevy of all time greats in the National Basketball Association; Jordan, Bird, Thomas, Bryant (not jelly-bean), Magic, Kareem, Dr. J, Duncan, Russell, Chamberlain, And West; all have won world championships. Most of them have won more then one. Would they still be mentioned in this immortal realm if they hadn’t won any titles? It’s important to Lebron to win it all, because society and history tells us that’s what defines greatness.
I can’t blame him for wanting it. But I can blame him for creating such a pinch in his mind, that he had to bolt at the age of 25 to chase a title that didn’t need to be chased in this way at this time. He chased it at age 25, gave up about 25 million to do so, and all this at an age 3 years younger then Jordan’s first title was won. This was a move of a 30 something, desperate basketball player. This was not a move for a one of a kind player whom was just hitting his mid twenties.
Yes all of the above names won a title. But none of them did it this way. Lebron covets a title so badly that he compromised his legacy. Not only compromising it, but perhaps flip flopping it altogether.
There are four main parts for attaining a legacy in sports. 1) What you did. 2) How you did it. 3) How you acted while it was happening. 4) Who you did it for. Lebron has in one moment changed all 4 of those components of his legacy. And not for the better.
Sure part of building a “legacy” is winning titles. But he may have negated the “title” part of his legacy (if he even win’s one), by compromising the integrity of his pursuit. No one likes to watch people take the most direct route to greatness. That’s why we always get annoyed with the celebrities who fall face first into riches via their parent’s successes. I doubt anyone has ever said, “ Good for her. Paris Hilton really earned all that she has.”
Another part of the automatic taint on his legacy is that he went from Cleveland to Miami of all places. If he had won a title in Cleveland he would be rarified and canonized for all of time. Heck even if he just played his career out and didn't win one he would always be beloved in Ohio. But a title would mean the world to the people of the city. Some would say they could even die in peace afterwards(ask a red sox fan). If he wins a title in Miami, the most sterile,fair weather fanned sports city in America, it will only scratch a surface level in terms of appreciation. You don’t hear of a lot of starved for success, die-hard Miami Heat fans. You don’t hear of them because they don’t exist.
He also may have negated the “Alpha dog”,cutting edge part of his legacy. Mooching onto a team with another mega superstar doesn’t exactly scream, “Hey I’m the man and I want to win a title the right way: Built Around me, carried by me, delivered by me”, does it? The end doesn’t always justify the means.
So touching on the four “legacy” questions as of today, July 11th, 2010, Miami Heat forward Lebron James resume’ looks like this: You went to someone else’s team(Wade) , in a self produced one hour special, stabbing your hometown in the back, and you still haven’t won a thing. How’s that for a legacy thus far? Good thing your numbers are off the charts because it’s the only redeemable factor into your legacy as of now. And as I mentioned before, I don’t think he can improve his legacy in Miami no matter what he does, as long as its along side Wade. Actually, On the contrary.
What did Lebron leave in the embers and ashes with his decision? A city that is emotionally and soon to be financially devastated. My two most gripping and heart wrenching images of these past few days were these: One was watching the one clip where Lebron is throwing the powder up in the air, and every Cav’s fan in the front level seats mimicking it with him. When I saw that particular clip, it broke my heart. That wasn’t about basketball. That was about a city in love, for better or worse, with a hometown son that made them all glow with pride.
The other image was that of city employee’s taking down his billboard. The billboard was of James’ outstretched arms with the words,”We are all witnesses.” It covered a gigantic wall from top to bottom just outside the arena. It was a larger then life image, which permeated the city’s facade. It was a staple of hope and admiration. When I saw it in person 3 years ago, it gave me goose bumps. And there it was being taken down and discarded of like old love letters left behind from a jilted relationship.
Michael Jordan came out the other day and said he couldn’t believe Lebron did what he did. Even Charles Barkley, one of the most esteemed names without a title ring, said he would never do what James’ did at his age. Barkley said he would want to be “the man” in pursing a ring and would want to do it the right way.
When arguably the greatest to ever live and the greatest to never win a title don’t like what you have done, there is a major fundamental problem with your ‘decision.’ If I could re-write the old adage of you must win titles to be immortalized in basketball, I think I would write it like this after Thursday night. It’s important to win championships to be immortal in this league, but you can’t chase titles with reckless disregard for everything inside of you and around you. If that’s going to be the case, you’re better off with no rings.
But he can’t be completely to blame. We (society and media) all have told him that winning is everything. We have told him that he can’t be the greatest without putting multiple rings on his finger. We have all told him with his virtuoso talents he must produce titles. Indirectly we convinced him he had to panic and bolt for the greenest pastures possible. We have to take our fair share of the responsibilities for the most transcendent and gifted player of this generation to act like this. To taint his legacy forever without ever having stepped foot on the court.
That being said, I’m not sure Lebron realizes what he has done. I thought he was a student of the history of the game. But maybe that was an aberration he created to come off more like Jordan. Because being a student of the games history himself, Michael Jordan wouldn’t play sidekick to God himself, no less Dwayne Wade. Jordan understood what had to be done,and how it needed to be done also.
Here is another thing we forget in all this. As we know him, us as fans have just lost one of the most exciting players to ever lace up the shoes. He can’t be the spectacular, be all,end all, In Miami. Not with the 3rd best player in the world playing next to him. Lebron just made a conscientious decision to not be the man anymore. Maybe it was a cop out. Maybe he never asked for sole propriety of the burden of carrying a franchise on his shoulders. But he made a decision to deny us of his full talents in the prime of his career. He robbed a city and a nation of his full capacities.
I have heard a few people say he is just going to transist into a Magic Johnson type player now. But Magic created the Magic brand. He was original. Magic was still the man on those Lakers’ teams. He never would have walked into someone else’s brand in any way, no less reinvented himself to boot.
The Bottom line is Lebron James was too good to jump into a dream team scenario. He was too special to be this guy, at this time, on this team. We were not talking about just another superstar ballplayer. We were talking about a transcendent player that no one has ever seen the likes of before. He didn’t need to panic at age 25. He didn’t have to betray himself, the game, or his home. But he did.
Some may say,” Well he took less money. How noble of him." Yes he left about 25 million on the table after the 6 year sign and trade deal. To me though, leaving the money almost represents the opposite of what some people are saying about it. It makes him look even worse I think. Essentially he said to Cleveland, “I’m so enamored with the most automatic route to titles that I’m even going to turn my back on you folks. And I’m going to leave your cash behind as an extra slap in the face.”
Clevelander’s don’t even have the solace in being able to say “Well we couldn’t pay him”. They have to sit around with a new complexity now. One which mirrors, “The fumble”, “The drive” ,”Jose Mesa”, “The shot”, and “Art Modell.” Their “Good Son” left 25 million on the table and abandoned them. It’s unprecedented. Lebron James’ somehow managed to sell out while taking less money. That might be the only transcendent thing that we remember him by now.
In my 9 years of watching Lebron in high school and the pro’s, I have loved watching and talking about him to people. He made me overjoyed to watch and speak about. I called him “he” to people. “Did you see what ‘he’ did last night?” “ ‘He’ is just unbelievable.” When I wasn’t calling him “he”, I always addressed him simply as “Lebron.” When you feel compelled to call someone you have never met exclusively by their first name, you know that that player has arrived into your sports life as someone special. I can count only one other player I ever addressed by their first name exclusively: Michael. In the past three days I have not called him Lebron once.
Three days ago Lebron James was so authentic and so valuable to my sports passions that I lumped him into a category with only Michael Jordan. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t comparing him to Michael. I just was happy to have found someone that reminded me of watching him. Now with one one hour egomaniacal special, and one sentence proclaiming his “talents” were jumping to the mother ship, Michael stands alone once again.
Maybe this was how it was supposed to be. Maybe you’re never supposed to go looking for your childhood heroes in a different form later on. Maybe I owe him a thank you for what he did on Thursday night. For stripping away “Lebron”, and leaving behind only “Michael.” So here it is. Thank you Mr. James.