Still King James in my eyes, maybe more than ever,
Sure, the media-hyped and proclaimed "Decision" made on ESPN last month was laced with prima donna-esque dramatics, overly promoted with intent to praise one team and shun others, but LeBron has worked hard for this moment. He is the reigning league MVP over the past two years, arguably the best player in the game of basketball now and down the foreseeable future and, most relative to the point, a media icon that news outlets and the fan world of basketball put upon him. As much as Clevelanders embraced LeBron, they were ready to shun him like they do most of their star players when the going gets tough. Gilbert, who took ownership of the team after LeBron was already established as a force in the league, thinks he holds credibility for LeBron's existence in basketball, when the shoe was actually on the other foot. For all that LeBron has done for the franchise and its "owner," he must decide on just how much he can do to destroy them next season.
When I mention the word "destroy," I aim it at the ones responsible for the backlash, the so-called Cavalier fans who burn his jerseys despite being more than aware that he could leave the franchise. Yes, the "fans" that cheered him 24 hours before, called him the MVP for taking the game into his own hands, then calling him several expletives for finally taking his career into his own hands. And Gilbert, who ducked the blame for his lack of recruiting and ongoing cheap roster moves supposedly meant to spark a championship on LeBron's lead. Truth is, LeBron's improvement meant the team improved. When King James didn't perform well, the team suffered.
Leadership-wise, that is a testament to LeBron's ability on and off the court. But one can only do so much before eventually succumbing to the numbers. LeBron, ironically accused of quitting by his former employer when he departed the team, succumbed to the constant pressure of a great Boston Celtics defense. There was no help, no intensity on the part of , who faded from his sidekick role to looking like a sideline player, all while being worked by for six games. was a waste of a trade, contributing virtually nothing while fumbling passes by LeBron over to Boston. made no adjustments to Rondo's consistency in the half and full court; so much for that defensive presence as a coach. Yes, LeBron took the blame for all of this. Why? Because that's what superstars do: be the hero when the team shines and the scapegoat when the team fails. Things like these got Allen Iverson traded out of Philadelphia, Kobe Bryant scrutinized for asking for a trade three years ago and eventually tired of wasting his years away in cash-strapped New Orleans.
LeBron was that hero to Cleveland. He resurrected a franchise that was seemingly non-existent for several years, stuck fighting for mediocrity while individualized players like created their own rebound for a triple-double. LeBron gave that city hope for greatness; the team on paper looked nothing like a Finals team in 2007, but LeBron willed them there, single-handedly powering his average lineup followed with aging Zydrunas Ilgauskas past the more-talented Detroit Pistons in six games to advance to the NBA Finals to -- what, oh yes -- eventually find its same hero double-teamed and roughed up by a better San Antonio veteran team in a four-game sweep. At that time, LeBron was criticized for not being able to shoot. But no other player was heckled for not being a greater presence. Credit that to the wallet of Gilbert, who couldn't even get to sign there amongst a number of heralded players like Amare Stoudemire, Chris Bosh, and Joe Johnson.
Teams lose as teams, but fans and media call out individuals all the time. LeBron has been that individual, all the while gaining global popularity he couldn't refuse. He left Cleveland a better businessman and a far better teammate than before, sacrificing millions of dollars to play (at worst) second-fiddle to Dwyane Wade in Miami. Mind anyone who paid attention: LeBron was offered a six-year, $125 million deal by the Cavaliers to stay, but left for a five-year, $90 million deal. Anybody in their greedy mind would take the former, rain, snow or shine, but LeBron did what is logically considered unselfish and accepted less money for something more prestigious, less of what celebrity life pays attention to: an opportunity to win a league championship. Kevin Garnett was the hottest thing since sliced bread in Minnesota, but took a trade to Boston to be a team contributor. His move resulted in less commercialism and more wins, topped by an NBA championship in his first year with the Celtics. For LeBron, he finally figured it out: there is no loyalty in the business of sports and championships may never come, while money comes less as you get older. NBA champions represent the bottom line; to stay in Cleveland and be singled out (positively and negatively) by Gilbert and company would be a more selfish move. It would've shown LeBron's disinterest towards reaching the ultimate plateau. He would've eventually been admonished for always wanting the spotlight on him and that is what Cleveland wanted, whether they accept it or not. Now the grave they attempted to put LeBron in put them in grave danger.
Justice calls for LeBron to humiliate his former team. But those players did nothing to make him look bad in the public light. The manipulative nature of Gilbert in trying to keep his hands clean in this ordeal is absolutely discouraging. Gilbert threw that roster together, not LeBron. So it's only unfair that he throws LeBron under the bus for walking away from someone who really didn't "care about LeBron." No need for third-person, LeBron, it makes you look as selfish as the former fans that cheered you.
Many legends like Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson have been against LeBron's decision, acknowledging that they would never join forces with rivals to win a championship. But the game was different then; less of a business, making teams more capable of developing over a period of years. LeBron operated like the old school for seven years and stayed with Cleveland when championship aspirations were more imaginary that real. And with all due respect to Kobe Bryant, he is the blueprint for LeBron needing to be more aggressive off the court, considering his demands for the team to make moves to improve the team (ala Pau Gasol trade) to keep him from leaving the Los Angeles Lakers. Two straight championships and Finals MVP awards later, he's figuratively saying what most in the champions' column would say. But if he was in LeBron's shoes...
A leader is only as good as his followers. LeBron led that franchise into the playoffs, but it didn't follow his intensity when it mattered most. LeBron did struggle in the Boston series, but credit that Boston team being better than a Cleveland team. Besides, it's pretty hard to be a 30-point, 10-rebound, 10-assist per night man when three defenders blanket you for 40-plus minutes. With December 2 on the horizon and LeBron coming back to the city that burned the legacy that saved the franchise, he must burn them to prove a point: LeBron gave Dan Gilbert and the Cleveland Cavalier fanbase relevancy. Now he must decide how much of it he should take back. Like your mother always told you, LeBron: You will see the light of people when they hit adversity. LeBron's dark days in Cleveland end, and his brighter, championship-worthy days of Pat Riley and Miami Heat ball begin. Time to show Cleveland why adversity continues to overwhelm its sports franchises and fans, and why they have little brightness to show for it.