Archive for July, 2010

Fully Digested, Still Ill
July 15, 2010

Amazing how one player’s decision to exercise free agency led to so many acting so poorly, and to so fully consume the American public.  LeBron James “Decision” elicited visceral reactions from all corners.

I wanted to wait a little to write on this, let it fully digest before therapeutically dissecting that carnage.

One common theme; nobody liked “The Decision”.  The made for LeBron moment came across as tasteless even to his most ardent supporters.

And the sliminess of the event resonated from all parties involved.

ESPN pretended to cover this as a news event, yet left all its journalistic integrity in Bristol.  The World Wide Leader failed to disclose that James had hand picked his interviewer.  When ESPN actually used one of its own, Michael Wilbon chose to begin his Q&A by congratulating LeBron for making his decision.  I like Wilbon.  He tends to offer genuine, heartfelt analysis.  But the way he tiptoed around James, treating him as actual royalty felt embarrassing.

Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert came across even more immature than James.  His petulant, open letter to fans in which he calls James a traitor and quitter had me thinking his toddler children got a hold of his blackberry and cranked that one out. Did Gilbert forget the last five years in which he made tankers full of money off that number 23 jersey? I understand Cleveland fans feeling the raw anger at James public divorce, and even acting on it. But Gilbert’s spurned lover routine was so pathetic, he’s lucky NBA Commissioner David Stern only fined him $100,000.

I have this vision of Gilbert taking megaphone to his senior prom, screaming at the top of his lungs about the girl who just dumped him. MARY JANE CHEATED ON ME!!!! SHE CHEATED ON HER ALGEBRA TEST!!!! TAKE AWAY HER HOMECOMING CROWN!!! How this guy became a billionaire while handling adversity like a child remains a mystery.

One more thing on Dan Gilbert. Why would he so desperately want a player whom he claims had quit on him and Cleveland the most crucial of times? Right, it’s not about the money.

But the star of course of the show, LeBron James. First of all, James has earned the right to make his tens of millions of dollars, and play wherever the rules allow. A free agent, whom chooses Miami over Cleveland as a place to live and work while playing his best friends in an environment he believes gives him the best chance to win a title. That sounds like the American Dream come to life, and is still amazing to me that something that should have been celebrated turned so ugly.

But the dream turned into a nightmare from the pre-show on. Giving a free agency selection unprecedented attention with almost no objective analysis about why we should care so much, made me think what we were watching wasn’t real. If felt like something Vince McMahon created. I almost wonder why the “decision” wasn’t pay per view.

LeBron James miscalculated, or never really understood what made him so popular around the globe. Great talent, combined with a charming personality, and the drive to win a title for his home state made for an intoxicating combination. But there was nothing charming about speaking in the 3rd person, using charity as a prop, and teasing then crushing a fan base that had so thoroughly and completely adored him.

The brief surprise on James’ face when he was shown a clip of Cleveland fans burning his jersey was the only genuine moment of the hour long special.

James never seriously considered staying in Cleveland (again, I don’t blame him for that) so to pretend otherwise was a cruel farce.

LeBron James wanted the undivided attention of a nation, and he got it. The lasting effects of which will come in the form of villainhood. He goes from universally loved to poster child for what’s wrong in sports.

I don’t think it’s necessarily accurate, but perception is that reality. The Heat have soared past the Yankees and Cowboys into our pantheon of American teams to hate. And maybe that’s a good thing.  Great stories have good guys and bad guys.  For LeBron, his change of teams is more than a switch in jerseys, he gets the devils horns too.

Addendum  Addendum  Addendum Addendum!!!!!

Forgot to mention one last frustration surrounding this story.  James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh all mentioned the financial sacrifices they made to join forces in Miami.  It perfectly demonstrates the disconnect superstar athletes have with the rest of the planet.

Choosing a six year 110 million dollar contract in a state that collects no income tax versus a six year 120 million dollar contract in a state that collects income tax hardly a martyr makes.    And even though the complete sums may indeed prove less, how can you consider this a sacrifice?

WBAL Radio news director Mark Miller knows sacrifice.  He spent more than a year raising his adopted daughter as a single parent while his wife Beth served our country in Iraq. That’s a hardship. That’s a sacrifice.

Having one or two fewer Bentleys in the garage hardly offers the same.