On LeBron James...
Updated: Jan 30, 2021
Like many of us sports and basketball fans can recall, the emergence of LeBron James - the highly touted and publicized "whiz kid" out of a Catholic high school in Akron, Ohio, aptly given the name "the Chosen One" - and his subsequent top selection in the 2003 draft by his virtual hometown franchise, the Cleveland Cavaliers, was a moment that can be compared to few others in the history of sports. Rarely has there been so much hype and anticipation surrounding a single athlete, one who was instantly propelled into super-stardom, by signing the mega shoe contract with Michael Jordan and Nike, gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine, and a host of other accolades and media attention, building into the frenzy that would surround #23 for many years to come. He did this without needing to use the platform of college basketball to get there, as several of his recent predecessors such as Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett had also done. Right from the outset, James lived up to his namesake, and injected a dose of the divine into a franchise that had struggled mightily in the previous 15 years or so, ever since losing the likes of Mark Price, Brad Daugherty, Craig Ehlo, Larry Nance and the other members of that once great Cavaliers squad.
As great as those teams were however, they were never able to eclipse the likes of Jordan and the Bulls, or the powerful Celtics and Pistons teams that preceded them, and reach the "promised land," the NBA Finals. In just 4 years, LBJ, as some came to refer to Lebron as, did just that. The most memorable performance of which came against the Detroit Pistons in game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals in Detroit. It was here that James orchestrated one of the most impressive performances in NBA Playoff history by scoring 29 of his team's last 30, en route to a 48-point game, in a come-from-behind 109-107 double OT victory that not only shocked the basketball world, but defied the ages, and put James and the Cavaliers on what appeared to be a fast-track towards imminent glory for years to come. Personally, I'll never forget that game, as I was extremely ill that night with a pretty severe flu in my apartment on Manhattan's Lower East Side, and for most of the game I could barely get off the couch. But as James continued to bury jumper after jumper, make driving layup after driving layup, and mesmerize the Pistons D, and all of us watching at home with his aerial acrobatics, everybody HAD to take notice, and marvel at what we were all "witnessing," as his now famous slogan would indicate. Unfortunately for James and the Cavaliers, they were unable to overcome the powerful juggernaut that was Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and the San Antonio Spurs, who were en route to their 4th NBA championship in 8 years by sweeping Cleveland. But the future certainly looked bright for the "Chosen One" as seemingly, the sky was the limit at this point in his career.
A funny thing happened as LBJ entered his 6th season in 2008, and again in his 7th in 2009 - a little thing called pressure and media scrutiny began to replace all the lavish praise and fanfare he had received in his previous years leading up to this point. LeBron was now EXPECTED to win, and despite winning 60+ games during both of those seasons, the Cavaliers fell short of their goal of returning to the Finals, highlighted by two particularly painful playoff losses, the first to Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic in 2009, and the other at the hands of the Big Three Celtics team, who ultimately delivered the "death blow" in 2010, following a 4-2 series loss in the conference semi-finals, and thus eliminating Mike Brown's team. This of course led to Lebron James much maligned and infamous "Decision" at the Connecticut Boys and Girls club on ESPN, when he proudly announced that he was "taking his talents to South Beach," causing an uproar for the ages in Cleveland, and making him one of the most hated athletes in sports history at the time.
As for me personally, I was always a Miami Heat fan, and once again, I was overjoyed the day Lebron decided to team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and form the "superteam" that LBJ exclaimed would win, "not five, not six, not seven..." (championships) at their introduction party. As you may have read in one of my other blogs, that day directly coincided with the day I decided to go back to grad school, and earn my Master's degree in Education as a Language Arts teacher. Naturally, I felt that there was absolutely nothing wrong with Lebron leaving a team that he "couldn't get over the hump with" in Cleveland, and going to a place in Miami, where he clearly could win given the winning culture Pat Riley and that organization had built for a very long time, and of course they had won it all in 2006, with Wade triumphing over Dallas. Many people thought James was a traitor, and their feelings were hurt, and I get that, but at the same time, could you really blame Lebron for wanting to get away from a proven loser to be on this sure-fire winning team at this moment? I certainly couldn't.
Despite the extreme microscope that was placed on the Heat in the first year or two of the "Big Three Era," one that really never went away at any point, they did manage to advance to four consecutive NBA Finals', winning back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013, with Lebron elevating his game to a never-before-seen level of accuracy and efficiency. The Heat had a beautiful style of play, predicated upon ball movement and efficient passing, and of course, getting out into the open court with James and Wade leading the charge on slashing, high-flying and soaring dunks, while guys like Ray Allen, Chris Bosh, Mike Miller, and even Juwan Howard drained tons of threes, and a host of others including Chalmers, "Birdman" Anderson, Norris Cole, and of course UD put the rest of the pieces together perfectly for Eric Spoelstra. The best thing these players ever did though, if you ask me, was stand up for their brother Lebron during that first, hate-filled, hostile, almost terrifying environment they were forced to walk into in his first game back in Cleveland after the trade. That night, and every night really, during James' 4-year tenure in Miami, those guys were there for him. Like a military "band of brothers" in a foxhole in battle, they always had his back, time and time again. They were there to pick him up when he fell, shield him from danger, and put egos aside (especially Wade, Bosh and Allen of course) to let him take the spotlight, so to speak, and elevate himself to every dream he ever hoped to accomplish in the game of basketball! It was so easy to see the sheer joy on "the Chosen One's" face the first time he held that Larry O'Brien trophy in his hands along with the MVP trophy! A fairy-tale come true, right? Who could ask for anything more, right?
Well, now I'm getting to the real gist of my argument here. How could someone turn on a franchise and hate them the way Lebron did in 2014, when he left Miami? In doing so, Lebron set a trend in basketball that is very disturbing to say the least, and obviously unprecedented. Players had moved from one team to another to try to win an elusive championship, but hadn't left championship teams to try and win more titles, and build bigger dynasties elsewhere. Probably James' most notable follower would now be Kevin Durant, someone who many thought was the "anti-Lebron," and never figured to have the kind of personality Lebron did either. Yet he just did pretty much the exact same thing in leaving a championship team, a first-class organization, and a perfect dream scenario in Golden State, for so-called "greener pastures", that in fact seem to have nothing to do with basketball. (wink, wink Jay-Z and the Hollywood movie scene) This is especially true with James in LA, but needless to say, this has completely backfired on James from a roundball perspective, just as his antics did in Cleveland. What on earth is this guy thinking? In other words, please wait until your basketball career is actually OVER to take on all these other industries, but of course, this all part of the ultimate greed that feeds into Lebron's personality so seamlessly.
But let's try to get back to and focus solely on basketball for just one more minute. Not only did Lebron leave Miami, but he waged war on the Heat in his own quiet way - recruiting & poaching players like James Jones, Mike Miller, and Chris Anderson over to Cleveland, and of course he even got Dwyane Wade to put on a Cleveland uniform at one point for, thank God, a very short and unceremonious period in Cleveland. The point is - he literally hated the franchise that put him over the top, and sought to humiliate them. And for the most part, he succeeded in doing just that, as despite getting many talented players since his departure five years ago, the Heat have never been able to recover and return to the prominence they once held, which is really not surprising at all.
And now, of course, he's at it once again, this time enticing the likes of a player like Anthony Davis away from the New Orleans Pelicans in a most unsavory fashion, using his relationship with his agent and business partner (Maverick Carter) to pull the most slickly overlooked, and understated case of tampering the world of sports has ever seen. He also has managed to lull several others, including many ex-Warriors into a Laker uniform as well, which reminded me of when he even tried to flip a released Andrew Bogut (due to injury) to put on a Cleveland uniform a year after helping the Warriors defeat James in the Finals, something that again the basketball gods defied when Bogut was injured less than a minute into his first game playing there. My real point being, however, is this: Lebron James has fostered an atmosphere of absolute disloyalty in the game of basketball in recent years, something unprecedented, and it is sparking a disturbing trend, even in this era of "superteams" and the overwhelming excess of talent we see on NBA courts these days (for example, thankfully the Pelicans landed Zion Williamson in the draft lottery), "The King" continues to tell everyone under the sun that they are "not good enough for him." And this comes even after he has had GM's and owners alike bending over backwards to give him more or less any player(s) he could ever desire to play alongside him. But again, like a true "spoiled child," nothing is ever good enough for good 'ole King James. It's especially disappointing to see a player like Anthony Davis' entire personality change from a quiet, and respectful, hard-worker on the court, to what now seems to be a cocky, and entitled child waiting for another scoop of ice cream to be handed to him, a la his soon to be mentor.
And yes, Kevin Durant has followed suit as well; his entire personality seems to have changed as well in the last couple of years from a quiet, more shy, respectful hard-worker on the court, (recall his MVP speech thanking his mother in 2015) who always let his game do the talking more so than his mouth, to a more angry, thugged-out rebel who can't seem to stay out of trouble both on and off the court. This is all a product of the Lebron James' trend. And of the "gimme, gimme, gimme" variety, we have Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George (all changing teams twice in the last few seasons), and even Russell Westbrook and Kemba Walker, all saying the exact same thing. This all traces back to James' greed and manipulation, and will likely set the trend for a whole new generation of younger players coming up, on top of the ones I just mentioned, for years to come. This, in my opinion, is something that is literally POISONING the NBA, and will change all the great rivalries, traditions of loyalty, and the overall spirit of competition in the league going forward. Even a basically homegrown and self-made dynasty like the Golden State Warriors, having just accomplished what they have for the last 5 years running, could not withstand this trend, even with all of their money, star-power, and influence. And personally, I don't see Commissioner David Silver doing anything to stop it any time soon, do you?
The choices that the "Chosen One" has made, not only make him one of the most polarizing figures in all of sports, but one of the most poisonous as well. Yes, the days of Magic vs. Bird, or Jordan vs. Isaiah Thomas or Stockton & Malone, or even the days of Wade vs. Nowitzki, and even Curry vs. James himself, are long gone. Soon, we'll be left with nothing but the "flavor of the day," every day. Thanks Lebron, I'm sure Pat Riley sends his regards. #LBJ#greed#poisoning#chosenone