Somebody explain this to me. Please. For the first time in my 20+ years as a sports fan (or at least since Mathias Kiwanuka inexplicably let go of Vince Young on 4th down and cost the Giants a playoff berth in 2006), I am completely at a loss.
What happened to LeBron James? And perhaps more importantly, what happened to his handlers who had so brilliantly created a narrative about who LeBron James is? LeBron supposedly had the competitive fire of Michael Jordan mixed with the selflessness of Magic Johnson. He was going to singlehandedly return glory to the NBA. He was a kid from Akron, Ohio who ditched high-profile agents, choosing instead to be represented by his hometown pals. Sure he had aspirations to be the first billionaire athlete, but his reputation and attachment to Ohio stood above all.
And that’s what makes this whole circus so dumbfounding.
We witness disingenuousness from professional athletes all the time. They tell us one thing but believe another. We feel let down--betrayed even--for a little while before we ultimately move on. This is, and has been, the nature of the fan-athlete relationship in pro sports. Regardless of how LeBron were to play his cards, he was going to let down several fan bases. They would be bitter in the short run (and maybe in Cleveland, for longer than that) but they would ultimately move on to a new target. As the saying goes, time heals all wounds.
But what I can’t wrap my head around is why a man with such an acute business sense who has surrounded himself with people who claim to have his best interests at heart would seemingly volunteer to take a reputation hit that far outreaches the ramifications of the decision alone. I just can’t see how the developments the last couple days have helped LeBron’s brand. Earlier this week, he was considered a selfless superduperstar who was getting almost 2006 Kevin Garnett-esque sympathy for never having had the opportunity to play with anyone. Fast forward 72 hours and after an announcement of a one-hour announcement special on ESPN and some media deception, he’s become a self-absorbed prick willing to stab his hometown in the back on a nationally televised stage. Where’s the upside there?
And it’s not about the decision itself. Had he held a normal press conference saying that he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, he still would have been panned for not wanting to be the top dog of a franchise but he would not have generated this degree of scathing criticism. Coward, yes, but at least he could retain the selfless tag. Not anymore.
Just to put in perspective how absurd this display of flamboyancy has been, consider the following email (that was meant to be tongue-in-cheek) featured in Bill Simmons’ mailbag this past Thanksgiving:
Q: You know how when top recruits in basketball or football make their college decision, they often call a press conference and put the three hats of the schools that made the final three in front of them ... then pick up the hat of the school of choice and put it on? What if LeBron announces he will pick his 2010-11 team live on ABC on a certain date for a show called "LeBron's Choice?" What type of crazy ratings would that get?
-- Drew, Columbus, Ohio
Substitute ABC for ESPN and “LeBron’s Choice” for “The Decision” and that’s exactly what we have at 9pm tonight. It's almost comical.
There still exists the possibility, however slim, that LeBron could decide to stay in Cleveland or perhaps even come to New York. The fans in Cleveland would be relieved and the fans in New York would be elated. But once that relief/elation wears off, I suspect there will remain a hint of resentment, buried way beneath the surface, because LeBron put us all through this parade of narcissism. Time does heal all wounds but it can’t cure scars.