Yesterday afternoon I was chatting with a friend of mine about the prospect of LeBron James moving to the Miami Heat (at this time he hadn’t made his announcement, though all signs were pointing there) and we both had conflicted feelings. After watching the spectacle last night that was him making us all feel stupid for being sports fans, I’m less conflicted. LeBron James should never be considered one of the greatest.

In sports we idolize the leaders, those who step up, both through their own performance and by inspiring those around them to perform better. We just saw this in Landon Donavan in the World Cup. Kobe Bryant has done this for the Lakers for years. Derek Jeter. Larry Bird. Tom Brady. Michael Jordan. The list goes on.

LeBron James will never be on that list. Mike Wise of the Washington Post explained why:

“…The NBA’s No. 1 free agent…was smart enough to know that if he ever wanted to hoist a championship trophy, he needed a genuine leader such as Dwyane Wade to get him there.

Oh, and he can’t be Magic now. Or Bird. Or Michael. Or Isiah Thomas, Tim Duncan or Bill Russell or any other NBA supernova who stuck around long enough to win championships for a town and its people.

LeBron can be Shaquille O’Neal, who left Orlando amid hard feelings to become a basketball mercenary in many more glorious pastures. He can be Kevin Garnett, who had to leave Minnesota to win it all.

As a legacy guy, he needs to know: His decision to spurn the Cavaliers for more talent and hope in Miami forbids LeBron from ever being one of those all-time greats who persevered through coaching changes, roster changes and wrenching playoff losses to lift a trophy to the rafters for the team who drafted him.”

I actually care very little about LeBron James, I’m not invested in Cleveland sports (I have my own longsuffering relationship with Seattle’s sports teams), nor do I blame him for making the decision he did. I mean, if you want to win don’t you want to be on the team that is most likely to win? But Mike Wise is exactly right, LeBron needed other leaders to help him, he couldn’t do it himself.

23 thoughts on “LeBron

  1. Rusty,
    Totally agree. The medium LeBron chose to make his announcement was just pathetic, and if there was any justice in the world of sports, LeBron’s image would suffer for the way he handled all of this.

    I also agree that, while I appreciate anyone who wants to win and is willing to play for the organization who is most able to achieve that, there is something romantic and wonderful about a team leader to lifts his city and organization to a new height and eventually wins the championship for the team that drafted him.

    As a lifelong Jazz fan, I know how that _almost feels_…

  2. I suppose there is some virtue in the fact that he wasn’t just chasing the biggest dollars, but by bolting for the team that has the most talent, it amounts to little more than the same thing. I doubt anyone outside Miami will cheer for the Heat now. And Lebron has lost most of the fans and goodwill that he had built with his amazing talent.

  3. Anyone who seriously gives his loyalty to a professional sports team is an idiot. There isn’t a franchise out there that gives the fans any loyalty.

  4. I’ve got a lot of random, inconsistent thoughts about this situation. Here are a few:

    *It’s kind of odd to me that such a big deal is being made of this. Sports are weird. If just about any other person decided to switch employers because he thought he’d be more successful somewhere else–oh, and by the way, some of his best friends work for the other guy–no one would bat an eye.

    *Of course, you can hardly blame folks for making a big deal about this. Buying an hour of top-tier cable programming so that you can announce your decision to the world isn’t exactly subtle.

    *A couple of items that, I understand, were not mentioned in the Decision 2010: King James Extraveganza television special:

    – That James insisted that the Cavs fire their GM and coach, right before deciding to leave.

    – That James’ teammate was shagging his mom.

    *The Heat are going to be pretty good. And, although I don’t have any particularly negative feelings toward James, Wade, or even Bosh, I have to admit I’m kind of routing for them to fail. An underdog they are most definitely not.

  5. If he really wanted to become a hero, he’d go to some no name college and run them deep into the NCAA tournament>:)

  6. Susan,
    Not always true. Teams with the most money are usually good, but they don’t always win championships. In fact, a few years ago when the Florida Marlins won the World Series they had one of the lowest payrolls in all baseball.

    Yeah, I think there are now a lot of folks cheering for him to fail.

    That was part of the discussion my friend and I had, is there a difference between chasing a championship or chasing money. Our culture certainly puts a higher (perceived) ethical value on championships, but I suspect you’re right, it’s all a wash.

    Kulturblog has plenty of posts about things less capricious than sports that you can comment on, please go comment on those. (what are sports clubs supposed to do other than satisfy the fan by winning? How about the Seattle Sounders soccer club, reimbursing the fans for their poor performance? Would that count?)

    On your first point, the difference is that my employment isn’t known nor cared about by more than a dozen people. The nature of my employment doesn’t require the interest or involvement of outsiders.

    Your second point is right on. Not subtle at all. A lot of self-generated pomp and circumstance just to tell the world that he’s decided he can no longer be a leader. Kind of the definition of narcissism. And yeah, getting the GM and coach fired was despicable. I didn’t know anything about the teammate and his mom thing.

    And yes, I’m right there with you in routing for them to fail. Same reason I like to see the Yankees fail. Purchasing a championship goes against the spirit of what’s so great about sports.

    What are you referring to?

  7. Rusty,
    I think that Bret is possibly referring to the new draft pick for the Jazz–Gordon Hayward–who took Butler to the championship game?

    However, I’m not sure _why_ he is referring to him.

  8. I was thinking the same thing about LeBron giving up his claim to greatness. But it’s still possible that he corrects his course. He has a lot of years left to play. This episode could end up as the mistake from which he redeems himself one day.

    I predict the experiment will fail. Great teams don’t arise by intelligent design; they evolve. Just ask Karl Malone and Gary Payton about trading salary money for a sure shot at the championship.

  9. Maybe Bret is referring to the fact that LeBron never went to college, and so presumably still has NCAA eligibility.

  10. In sports we idolize the leaders, those who step up, both through their own performance and by inspiring those around them to perform better. We just saw this in Landon Donavan in the World Cup. Kobe Bryant has done this for the Lakers for years. Derek Jeter. Larry Bird. Tom Brady. Michael Jordan. The list goes on.

    Kobe allegedly rapes a woman who is not his wife, and 7 years later he is lauded as a leader “for years”.

    LeBron James pulls a very immature publicity stunt and some commentator decides this marginalizes him as a non-leader forever . . . I doubt it.

    This too shall pass.

    Two years from now, this whole mis-adventure in publicity will be completely forgotten with good reason, in the long run, as immature and stupid as it may be, its completely irrelevant.

    I still look forward to the day that Kobe and LeBron face off in the NBA Finals. It will be the first time I tune into an NBA game in over five years.

  11. I cannot tell you, as an Ohioan who is only tangentially aware of professional sports, how tired I am of hearing about this already.

    It’s like the Packers fan that I work with who went from worshipping the ground that Brett Favre walked on to hating him with a passion that she only normally reserves for serial rapists.

  12. B. Russ, let’s not hold Kobe accountable for an “alleged” rape when he was acquitted of those charges. And yes, he is a leader for his team on the court, whatever he may have done in the past off of it.

  13. B.Russ,

    I love you, but I think you’re going to be completely wrong about your prediction two years from now.

    Also, the irony of your mentioning Kobe is that, as badly as I hate him, there is no way in the world Kobe does something as classless–inside his profession–as LeBron just did.

  14. I definitely could be wrong, and I see your points. I just don’t know if there is that much of a differentiation between on-the-field (professionally-related) and off-the-field (personal life). I think personal life can, and often does affect leadership ability with teammates. A great example is Ben Roethlisberger, his teammates largely disrespect him (from what I hear) and its not really because of his on-field performance. Its because he does really stupid things.
    My point was, that whether or not Kobe actually did anything “illegal” and was acquitted, he was able to overcome pretty much all disadvantages he created for himself by playing phenomenal basketball and requiring from himself and his teammates the absolute best.
    LeBron just did something very “classless” like you say. I don’t hold as much contempt for him as most people do, since I basically see this as the antics of a person who is as socially-developed as a 14 year old being led by a moronic PR/Marketing crew, not some malicious narcissist. But all that aside, I’m under the understanding that most people who know LeBron, like LeBron. I think he’ll continue to play a type of basketball that is unacheivable for us mere mortals, and I think that he has the potential to overcome this, if he learns from this. I think thats the real question: whether or not “King James” can learn some humility from the public backlash that he is going to see.

  15. MCQ: I doubt anyone outside Miami will cheer for the Heat now

    Hehe. I’m suspect you couldn’t be more wronger about this one MCQ. The NBA is a star-driven league and the Heat now have more super stars than any other team. They now have the best basketball player on the planet (Wade, who was the best player on the court in the Olympics), an incredible physical specimen in Lebron, and a star big man in Bosh. Next season it will all about Miami all season long and the average NBA fan will eat it up.

  16. BTW — If Lebron and Wade and the boyz manage to get a few championship rings from this move no one will remember the grousing about his move in the future. Greatness in the NBA is normally remembered by the number of rings a player has and the overall stats he puts up. Going to Miami greatly increases Lebron’s chances of collecting some rings.

  17. Maybe. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this backfire and end in zero rings for Miami. You need a team to win a championship and nothing has yet shown that these guys can make a team together.

  18. Yeah I agree with you on that. If no rings come from this it will be considered a massive failure. Wade has a ring already but Lebron is essentially betting his career and legacy on this move.

    Luckily these guys have played together already (on team USA) so it is not entirely a blind gamble. But there are a lot of obstacles to getting a championship for the Heat; not the least of which are the Magic, the Celtics, and the Lakers.

  19. I prefer this comparison, from a reader named David Smyth to a Bill Simmons mailbag:

    “The first comparisons people were making last night were that LeBron will now be Magic to Wade’s Kareem, or more accurately Pippen to Wade’s Jordan. Sorry, but the real comparison here is A-Rod.

    A-Rod is also the most physically gifted and talented guy in his sport. A-Rod also has the biggest ego in his sport. A-Rod also has no heart and no guts and typically gags in the playoffs. A-Rod blew off a smaller market team (Seattle) that adored him to play in Texas. A-Rod decided to go the Yankees to win rings knowing that they would always be Jeter’s team. A-Rod won a World Series last year but nobody considers him a champion the same way they look at Jeter because he didn’t help build the Yankees. How is any one of those things any different in any way shape or form than LeBron? The Heat will always be D-Wade’s team regardless of how many titles LeBron wins there. Congratulations on your decision LeBron — you have successfully downgraded your career arc to A-Rod. Unbelievable.”

  20. Whether James will forever be remembered as Tonto, Robin, Pippen, or whatever, I have a hard time believing Miami will not win at least one, if not multiple championships. LeBron and the Cavs had the best record the past two seasons with a pretty average supporting cast. It’s hard for me to believe that LeBron will do worse with Wade, Bosh, Haslem, Miller, and whoever else they add. They’ve got to be the odds-on favorite to win it all *this* year.

    And Miami was 5th (in the East) with Wade and a bunch of nobodies. And Toronto usually makes the playoffs (just missed last season). Team these three guys up in their primes and they’re scarier than anything we’ve seen in years. Hate to say that, cause I’m a life-long Lakers fan.

    LeBron’s achilles heal the past two years has been his post-season turtle act. But Wade makes them turtle-proof.

    I’d be shocked if these guys don’t gel as a “team.” LeBron may lack Jordan’s and Kobe’s killer instinct, (and their work ethic and force of will), but he’s always been a consummate teammate who plays the game the right way. I don’t see how that changes.

    In fact, if they all stay healthy, I predict a monster season, something like 72-10. So much criticism is being heaped on them that they’ll be playing with a chip on their shoulders all season.

  21. “Luckily these guys have played together already (on team USA) so it is not entirely a blind gamble. But there are a lot of obstacles to getting a championship for the Heat; not the least of which are the Magic, the Celtics, and the Lakers.”

    The Lakers are still a threat.

    The Magic are going to be worse than they were last season. Rashard Lewis is done. Vince Carter has always been done. Looks like they might lose Reddick. Can’t win with a center who possesses zero offensive moves, and a pesky point guard.

    The Celts will be tough during the post-season, but the miles on KG, PP, and RA are really adding up. I think last season was their last shot.

    Besides the Lakers, the only other two teams that can threaten the Heat are the Bulls and the Thunder. But probably not this year. Maybe in 2011-12 (if there even is a season in 2011-12).

  22. I’ve no dog in this fight, really, but I think it is worth it to point out that Magic and Bird were surrounded by Hall of Famers. Making much of their decision to stay in towns is a bit silly, because those towns were where the talent was. Of course, talent bought doesn’t always equate to talent in the clutch, but I wouldn’t call it brave for Bird, Jeter, Johnson, Jordan, or Brady to stay with their teams.

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