Wednesday, March 21, 2012

LeBron's Decision

I’m appalled. No, not by LeBron James’ choice to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers.

I’m appalled by the actions of fans.

I’m appalled by the media acting like his “show” was the worst thing ever televised.

I’m appalled by the venom spewing from multiple editorials.

Since when did it become okay to tear someone down for making a personal decision that affects him and his family? Yes, it hurts Cleveland as a franchise and as a city, but it will recover. I’ve been asked quite a bit about my opinion on this situation because everyone knows that I am a diehard NBA fan. I’ve enjoyed watching LeBron play since the first time I saw him as a junior in high school. The kid is an amazing talent. So to answer the question that I keep getting asked, no I was not a fan of the decision when I initially heard him announce it. I yelled an expletive because I hoped he would give Cleveland one last run. I was hoping that if he did leave, that he would go to New York to revitalize the Knicks. I badly wanted to a rekindling of the Knicks-Heat rivalry and LeBron and Stoudemire vs Wade and Bosh would have given me that. Alas, it did not come to fruition. However, once hearing his rationale, I’m not angry or frustrated or disappointed. The best word I can describe it now is…intrigued. Heck, I’ll probably take the short trip up to Minneapolis to watch this spectacular trio when they play the Timberwolves.

Let’s start this whole discussion with his rationale. His rationale made a lot of sense to me. He referenced the classic dynasties (not just teams, but dynasties) or the 80’s and 90’s. The Celtics, Lakers, Pistons and Bulls teams all had multiple stars on their teams. You are kidding yourself if you think Mo Williams, Anderson Vareajo, Anthony Parker and Shell of Shaq come anywhere close to the supporting cast that the aforementioned teams had. Examine the supporting casts of the superstars of these teams; Jordan (Pippen, Rodman, Grant, Kukoc, Harper and a slew of solid role players who knew their job), Bird (McHale, Parrish, Johnson, Ainge, Walton, Maxwell and a slew of solid role players who knew their job), Lakers (Magic, Kareem, Worthy, Cooper followed by Shaq, Bryant, Horry, Fisher and both teams had a slew of solid role players who knew their job) and Isaiah (Rodman, Johnson, Laimbeer and a slew of solid role players who knew their job). Would you trade any of the supporting casts above for what LeBron has been carrying? Not a chance! Let’s face it, he’s surrounded by overpriced mid-level players that don’t step up in big games. They stand and watch LeBron. When in his entire career has Mo Williams stepped up? The players that were brought in tied up salary cap money and weren’t worth what they were paid. That’s not an opinion, folks. That’s based on numbers and facts. These guys are solid in the regular season but don’t know how to elevate their play in the playoffs, when it counts. LeBron has shown on a number of occasions that he can raise his game up in crucial times. Unfortunately the cast around him didn’t.

I’d also like to mention Charles Barkley’s attack on LeBron. He mentioned that when he was 25 he tried to win a title on his own and that’s what LeBron should do. Quick newsflash for Charles: you didn’t win a title! He whined and complained his way out of Philadelphia and got traded to a Suns team that had All Star Dan Majerle and one of the truly underrated point guards of all time, Kevin Johnson. Again, he didn’t win a title but that was because Jordan’s supporting cast was better. Ah, but here’s where it gets interesting. Barkley then goes to Houston in an attempt to win a ring with Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and later on, Scottie Pippen. So Charles is going to bash LeBron for doing the exact same thing he did, yet LeBron does it at a younger age? Did Charles bash Karl Malone when he turned on Utah and went to play for the Lakers? No, he didn’t. For some reason, it’s better to look desperate at the end of your career (essentially begging for players in their prime to carry them to championships) than to make a change in your prime and possibly build a dynasty? I am really glad Charles didn’t sound like a pathetic hypocrite on this one.

I also want to discuss the ESPN show, which I call “The Infomercial”. While I understand Cleveland fans and their frustration that he didn’t tell them first, I need someone to explain to me how else he should have done it. Regardless of if the announcement was made on ESPN or local news, Cleveland was going to be pissed. What did they expect him to do? Walk the street and tell everyone individually? In this day and age of 24/7 “media” and technology being what it is, it was a better move to go on ESPN and address everything. He went in, answered every question and we can move on. He doesn’t have to do 50 separate interviews now because we’ve got all the questions answered. Yes, it was a self-serving show, but what do you expect? This story has been kept alive, not by LeBron, but by ESPN and the media for two years. The event had become bigger than the story itself due to the unbelievable attention pushed upon LeBron. He stopped talking about free agency before the season. Did that stop ESPN, NBA TV, Fox, etc from talking about it and speculating? Of course not. The days of a simple press release are gone, unfortunately. The digital age has caused this. I’ve heard a lot that his arrogance and ego led him to do this TV special. People really should take a step back and realize this kid has immense talent and has been told so his entire life. When you have ESPN covering your high school games, Sports Illustrated putting you on the cover and NBA scouts telling you that you are the greatest player walking the planet all before you’ve even graduated high school, you might develop a bit of an ego. He’s been under a tremendous microscope for about a decade and has always been praised for his maturity. Now, all of a sudden, he’s an ego driven narcissist? Yes, he has an ego but so does everyone playing professional sports. You have to have one. You have to believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, who will? Let’s think for a second, though. If you have this immense ego, do you sign with a team to share the spotlight and fame? Do you leave between $30-50 million dollars on the table that he would have gotten in Cleveland if you have an immense ego? Do you sacrifice part of your fame and eventually part of your legacy in the NBA if you have that big of an ego? Quick answer to all of those questions…NO!!! It takes someone who has control of their ego to sacrifice money, unconditional fan support and “The Man” status for the drive to win a championship. He may have removed his name from any future season MVP ballots. It takes a controlled ego to do that.

Let’s just admit it, LeBron James is a phenomenal talent but doesn’t have the killer instinct that Michael Jordan did. We’ve seen LeBron take over games. Who can forget the 48 Special against Detroit in the playoffs a few years back? He’s shown it at times, but that’s not his game. LeBron is at his best when he’s making his teammates better. He’s more Magic Johnson than Michael Jordan, and you know, Magic did pretty well with his 5 rings.  His scoring numbers will drop, but his assists and rebounding will go up. If he averages a triple double (a very real possibility now), will he be bashed for playing good team basketball? Here’s a little secret; Dwyane Wade has a killer instinct. He’s shown it a number of times. Having LeBron and Wade together takes the pressure off and makes things easier. Defenses have to worry about both. Dwyane can kill with his shot and will do so more than LeBron does. However, in crunch time, which guy will defenses try to stop? I can guarantee you can’t stop both. This will work. Chemistry is a tough thing to fabricate. LeBron, Wade and Bosh are good friends. Can anyone tell me that when you play, you wouldn’t rather have your real friends on your team than anyone else? Everyone loves having a real friend on their team because the game and chemistry are natural on the court. It makes the game and winning easier.

I’ve also read about how he’s hurt his “brand”. Let me tell you, winning solves all of that. I know my Lakers friends are going to love me for this, but if Kobe Bryant can survive the rape allegations (I believe they were true but I won’t go into that), LeBron can survive this. Kobe was dropped by a couple of sponsors. His “brand” was down for a few years, but look now. He’s with Nike now (which is a step above his original endorser Adidas), Coca Cola and has been featured on a number of video game covers and commercials. All LeBron did was leave a city via free agency, which is his given right through the collective bargaining agreement. What did he do that was so wrong? Where does it state that just because you were drafted by your hometown team, you have to stay? I know what you’re thinking. “Where’s his loyalty?” Loyalty? Loyal to a guy who five minutes after LeBron’s announcement releases a letter labeling his personal decision to leave a “cowardly betrayal”. Loyal to a franchise that traded Zydrunas Ilgauskas after 12 years with the team? (Yes, I know they brought him back but how is that not a slap in the face? They brought in Shaquille O’Neal and relegated Big Z, who had been the franchise before LeBron, to the bench. Classy and loyal, Cavs.) Fact is, this is a business. LeBron made a business decision, but it wasn’t a decision based on money. How anyone can say it is about money when the three players are leaving roughly $100 million dollars combined out there is beyond me. The decision was based on winning championships. That’s the business LeBron wants. He wants to win championships.

Here’s a little kicker about loyalty…where’s the loyalty to LeBron? The “fans” that have followed him since he was in high school and are now calling him every name in the book and burning his jersey have no right to speak about loyalty. I’ll tell you right now, I’m a Denver Nuggets fan and have been since I can remember. I remember watching Alex English and Fat Lever. I loved watching LaPhonso Ellis. I love the Nuggets. I am also a huge Carmelo Anthony fan and have been since I saw him play against LeBron in high school when Melo was at Oak Hill Academy. I was ecstatic when he went to Syracuse because I have always followed Big East basketball. I got lucky and my second favorite player of all time (Iverson being number one) was drafted to my all-time favorite team. It’s amazing luck! However, if Melo decides not to sign the 3 year extension the Nuggets offered and leaves to go to New York, I’m not going to burn my jerseys and hate the man. I’ll stay a loyal Nuggets fan but I will sure as hell stay a Melo fan wherever he goes. Would it suck? Absolutely. I would hate to see it happen, but I understand the business. I understand he wants the front office to get him more help. If they don’t help him, why should he sign? It’s about winning.

The final subject I have to mention is that I’ve read a few places that Miami is “buying” a championship. This is one of the most ludicrous things I’ve read. This isn’t MLB. You don’t buy titles in the NBA. MLB has a luxury tax thresh hold, not a salary cap. The NBA has a salary cap. Yes, because of the Larry Bird exemption teams can go over it but then a tax kicks in. You don’t buy titles in the NBA. Also, these guys wanted to play together. They made it happen by taking a lot less money. I can’t stress enough how huge that is. In a day and age where Albert Haynesworth is asking to be traded just a year after signing a $100 million contract and holdouts for more money, these guys sacrificed millions upon millions of dollars to play together. Instead of being greedy, they took a pay cut.

So there it is. Stop the bashing. Stop the jersey burning. Stop the whining. LeBron made a personal decision that he felt was best for winning a title. He made the announcement on national television where everyone else announces decisions or has press conferences. He answered the questions he needed to. He went to Miami because he feels his best chance to win titles is to join two great players in their primes.

Why is that so wrong?

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