They were spurned almost four years ago to the day. It was on ESPN’s special program, “The Decision,” one of the oddest blends ever of marketing, entertainment and sports “journalism,” that LeBron James announced he was leaving Cleveland and taking his talents to Miami and in an instant became one of the most vilified athletes in pro sports, despised not just in Cleveland but especially in Cleveland (and greater Ohio in general).
But the dream of a half dozen straight NBA titles was emphatically silenced by the San Antonio Spurs who demolished the Miami Heat in the finals and now LeBron tells Sports Illustrated- he’s going back home. This is a way worst Cleveland team than he left so it’s not a bid for immediate glory. It seems to be entirely because it really is home. Home for LeBron (he’s a native of Akron). Home for his wife and family.
Is all forgiven? It seems so. Clevelanders who were burning his jersey four years ago will now be greeting him at the airport with flowers. The Cleveland basketball team’s owner, Dan Gilbert, has even taken down the letter he wrote four years ago calling LeBron a coward. One Cleveland fan tweeted, “It’s pretty amazing how much one man can economically change this city…I just bought a headband for no reason.”
Cleveland, if you haven’t heard, is a hard luck town. No Cleveland team has won a title in any sport in half a century. They come close a lot, which makes it all the more painful. They’ve had great athletes, like LeBron and NFL running back, Jim Brown and former slugger Manny Ramirez. But Cleveland teams have a long and tortured history of leaving their fans just short of euphoria.
The decline of the manufacturing economy has not been kind to Cleveland or Ohio either. Granted, it was not an official Chamber of Commerce video, but I remember not that long ago, watching a hilarious promotional film about Cleveland that ended with “And hey, we’re not Detroit!”
And didn’t they used to be known as “the mistake by the lake?” Or was that Municipal Stadium? I forget. Well, no longer, people. Cleveland is way more now than just the home of the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. On Tuesday, the Republicans announced they were holding their 2016 Presidential convention in Cleveland. Earlier in the year the Cleveland Browns signed Texas A&M Quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel. He’s currently slotted as the #2 Quarterback though he’s quickly established himself as the #1 hardest drinking and partying NFL QB since Joe Namath.
So here’s to you Cleveland! Not sure there are any titles in your immediate future, but you sure as hell will be getting a lot of attention. For now, anyway, you are the center of the news universe. Congrats, or something.
Last year, I was very unkind to LeBron James. Like many people, I was put off by his supreme arrogance.
I had been having difficulty forgiving him for the Decision– that abomination of televised self-love on ESPN where he announced he’d be taking his talents to Miami.
It was hard to get over the image of the special effects, smoke-filled introduction of the Dream team in Miami, in which it appeared three Gods from Mt. Olympus (LeBron, Wade, Bosh) had descended down to earth to predict, I think it was- 8 championships.
And when ousted from the playoffs last year, I didn’t like it when he said all of us haters out there would return to our screwed up little lives while he would be going back to Olympus where, presumably, he would get back to his posse peeling grapes for him.
As a Cleveland Cavalier, I remember, (back when the Washington Wizards used to get into the playoffs), when LeBron psyched out Gilbert Arenas standing at the free throw line, whispering something like “you’re going to miss these.” Who does that?
The Washington Post’s Mike Wise, who is covering the NBA finals, has been on a campaign to convince the public that LeBron has changed. And based on his recent post-game news conferences and recent interviews, there’s every indication he really has.
About ESPN’s “Decision” debacle, Wise quotes LeBron as having told an interviewer this, last December:
I can see now if the shoe was on the other foot and I was a fan and I was very passionate about one player and he decided to leave, you know, I would be upset too by the way that he handled it.
It basically turned me into somebody I wasn’t. You start to hear ‘the villain,’ now you have to be the villain, you know, and I started to buy into it. I started to play the game of basketball at a level, or at a mind state that I’ve never played at before. . . meaning, angry. And that’s mentally. That’s not the way I play the game of basketball.
And on his statement after the Miami Heat got eliminated following game 6 last year that the haters would be going back to their miserable little lives while he would be enjoying his immensely rich lifestyle, Wise quotes LeBron as saying this:
I was very hurt that I let my teammates down, and I was very immature. Like I said, last year I played to prove people wrong instead of just playing my game, instead of just going out and having fun and playing a game that I grew up loving and why I fell in love with the game. So I was very immature last year after Game 6 towards you guys and towards everyone that was watching.
He seems to get it now. And he seems to be playing for the right reasons- joy instead of anger. I buy it. I am convinced. His actions on the court have spoken for themselves this post-season. He is a force. He plays in pain. He comes through in the clutch. And now, in his own words, he clearly recognizes how he managed to cast himself in the role of villain.
It’s time to give the guy a break. And if he finally helps his team win an NBA crown tonight- he will have begun to justify that his status as the “King,” as royalty in professional basketball, is deserved and not just an exaggerated marketing ploy to feed the LeBron James empire.
Suddenly- these days- I like the man a hell of a lot more than I ever liked the brand.
I wasn’t rooting against LeBron James, per se. I was rooting against hubris and arrogance. I was rooting for karma. I was rooting for the principle of the understated work ethic. And sure enough, the good guys won. Congrats to the veteran and classy Dallas Mavericks for claiming their first NBA title.
As for LeBron, he left with this parting shot to the millions of basketball fans across the nation that he turned off with his ESPN “Decision” extravaganza as well as the laser-show, smoke-effect introduction of the next dynasty he glibly predicted would win, I think it was, 8 NBA titles in a row.
I suppose it’s understandable that a guy in his mid 20’s who had to face as much criticism as he did this year, would have to vent, and vent he did. The question was, does it bother you that so many people wanted you to fail?
Absolutely not, because at the end of the day, all the people that were rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day, they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today. I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things that I want to do with me and my family and be happy with that.
“They can get a few days or a few months or whatever the case may be on being happy about not only myself, but the Miami Heat not accomplishing their goal. But they have to get back to the real world at some point.”
You see, I spent every waking hour this year rooting for Miami and LeBron to fail. I put all my personal problems aside so I could do nothing but send withering hate-rays at LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. From November all the way through last night, it’s all I thought about.
Make sure my kids first year in college is going ok? Backburner, baby. “Hey, Dad, I need a few extra bucks this week,” my son, Charlie, would ask. “Go away, kid, you’re bothering me. Don’t you know better than to call me while I’m sitting here hating on LeBron James?”
I remember the night someone on my news staff called to inform me that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. “Osama, who?” I asked incredulously. “My God, man, the Miami Heat are playing tomorrow, I’m practicing my piercing voodoo hate vibes, leave me alone!” I pleaded.
Frankly, I’m exhausted from all this non-stop hating. Plus, putting off dealing with life so I could spend quality hours despising the Miami Heat has caused me to have this tremendous backlog of personal problems to attend to. Man, LeBron, you’re right. I do have to get back to the real world- whew- thanks for reminding me, dude!
LeBron James has all but disappeared in the 4th quarters of the last two games of the NBA finals and amateur psychologists among the nation’s sportswriters are weighing in with their theories.
Mike Wise of the Washington Post has a good one. He thinks that in Cleveland, everything depended on LeBron and the responsibility was just too much for him to handle. Teaming up with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami was the answer; he would no longer have to carry an entire team solely on his back. Except last night, in the pivotal 5th game of the series, Wade came up lame with a hip injury. Chris Bosh had reverted to the critical nickname they use for him derisively at times in Miami- “Flower Forward.” That left LeBron as the man. And he scored two points in the 4th quarter. Earlier he’d been great, posted a triple-double (double digits in points, assists and rebounds).
The other widely heard theory as that when he tweeted prior to last night’s game that it was “now or never,” he put way too much pressure on himself.
Though he has no shortage of ego, I’m hearing Miami fans this morning saying that, ironically, King James has to be more selfish about scoring if the Heat are to prevail by taking the last two games of the series at home.
Actually, with all due respect to his tremendous talent, it’s character that usually comes to the fore in a championship series. I’m sure LeBron will eventually develop some- and this may be the experience that does it. But the mistake here made by the media and most of the public- is that the wrong King was being crowned.
The real royalty in the NBA is not from Ohio- he’s from Germany and his name is Dirk Nowitzki. Now that’s a guy who plays well under pressure. Torn tendon in the finger of his non shooting hand? No worries. Uses the injured finger and hand to make the lay-up that closes out game 2 in Miami. Sinus infection and 102 degree fever? No big deal, makes every clutch shot in game 4.
Here’s how I see this playing out. Heat win game 6 at home forcing a decisive game 7. Nowitizki comes through in the clutch, gets his elusive trophy he lost to Miami five years ago and the Dream Team finishes with in an inexplicable whimper. And then Miami goes on to win the next three NBA championships having developed some of the character that was missing in their NBA Finals debut. I swear, sometimes I think that’s all God demands every now and again. Just a little humility. That’s what the Miami Heat are in the process of developing right now.
Sportswriters are telling us to get over it. To get over the ego of LeBron James; forget the tastelessly tacky ESPN announcement show where he jilted Cleveland; ignore the three-ring, laser-circus Miami Heat signing event in which LeBron, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh stood on platforms posing like Greek Gods.
We’re supposed to sit in awe at this dawn of a new dynasty led by a guy many are now calling the greatest basketball player who ever lived. No- I don’t think so. I’m not going to like this one bit. I like my heroes slightly humble and with more than one dimension. Mickey Mantle was deeply flawed but he had the humility to go along with the once-in-a-generation talent. Muhammad Ali backed up his arrogance with grace and power but there was more to him than boxing; he sacrificed the best years of his career on principle- opposing participation in the Vietnam War and refusing induction into the U.S. Army on religious grounds.
One gets the sense the only thing that matters to LeBron James is basking in his own wonderfulness, an exercise that is much easier to do when you have your own huge posses who constantly remind you of your greatness.
I remember his famous return to Cleveland back in March. LeBron reportedly doesn’t like to ride on the team bus and he makes his own travel arrangements. But on this occasion he didn’t clear it with anybody so when he turned up at the player’s parking lot in a limo with a second vehicle behind him carrying his posse of friends, the Cleveland Cavaliers turned him right around. They let him in once he’d come back alone. Then he skipped the pre-game introductions in his old hometown, claiming he forgot and must have been in the bathroom.
He’s got all the talent in the world. Miami has the best basketball team money can buy. So what? The only actually interesting thing about these NBA Finals, is if Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks can somehow manage to derail this Hollywood Dream Team and inject in them, that missing sense of humility. Maybe the addition of a little character will make all the egos a little easier to take.
Oh- so you’re good at basketball? Yawn. Hockey is a much cooler pastime anyway. I have a thing for team sports.
Instead of dirt and an empty glass bottle, we got Lebron James talking in the third person about all the talent he brought to Cleveland for 7 years before telling us he was now going to bring all that talent to Miami, where everybody thought he would go in the first place.
It was a stilted and awkward setting at the Boy’s and Girl’s Club of America in Connecticut as he sat down before a silent audience of, uh, boys and girls with Jim Gray (see note below) who tried his best to drag out the painful proceedings by asking literally 18 inane questions before finally getting around to the BIG ONE.
By the end of the show, it was clear Lebron’s ego had left the following in its wake: One very happy American city, five other cities shrugging their shoulders and one really pissed off Cleveland, Ohio where his uniform was burned in effigy and the owner released a statement calling Lebron selfish, heartless, callous and cowardly.
As for the Lebron James brand- I suppose he could have damaged it more by, say, bringing guns into a locker room, but he did not help himself a lot. He had always touted himself as the kind of player that would not thump his chest and taunt opponents after a slam dunk. This was an hour of boring chest-thumping that has won him the enmity of at least six NBA cities where he is sure to be booed and reviled in the coming season.
One thing I think we can breathe easy about is that this strange, uncomfortable, melding of sports, entertainment and news is not likely to be repeated. It was horrendous, anti-climatic television likely to be parodied and mocked for decades to come. I can’t imagine why any major broadcast company would ever want to repeat such a mind-numbingly vapid proceeding.
Note: Labron’s “interviewer” was Jim Gray- not an ESPN employee but a free-lance journalist. CNBC is standing by its story that Gray’s expenses were paid by the entity that was created for last night’s production; in other words by Lebron’s people. ESPN readily admitted Gray was hand-picked by Lebron to conduct the “interview.” They now say they paid for Gray’s expenses. CNBC is not budging from its story. Gray also claims he was the one who came up with the concept of the one-hour special.
Full numbers for the “The Decision” will be out Monday but it appears to have gotten a huge 7.3 overnight rating. Some of the advertisers ESPN allowed the James camp to sign up for the telecast, University of Phoenix, Bing and Vitamanwater, are reportedly turning over $2.5 million from the proceeds of the ads to charity.
Critics are calling this ESPN’s “Deal with the Devil.” The blurring of the lines between an event that was combination news/sports/entertainment makes this made-for-TV saga fodder for an ethical debate that should last years.
More on Jim Gray and who did or did not pay his expenses can be found on MSNBC’s web site.
I seem to be drawn to unseemly spectacles so, yes, I will tune in at 9 pm to watch the Lebron James/ESPN one-hour special on his decision about what city he will choose to go make a zillion dollars with.
Seven years in the NBA and the guy has been to the finals once and never a champion. This looks to me to be the move of a great big ego wrapped in a charity (The Boy’s and Girl’s clubs of America) to escalate the brand of one Lebron James.
And am I being too prissy or traditional or something to be slightly uncomfortable with the relationship here between Lebron and ESPN? I heard this morning on NPR that Lebron has been allowed to choose all but one of the sponsors of the show and also has had a hand in choosing who will interview him following the announcement.
I know this is a sports/entertainment story. But isn’t it also a news story? Aren’t reporters and commentators and hosts at ESPN sort of in the news business?
To be honest, I love ESPN. I love their programming and I like them as a business. They’re cocky and brash and creative and entertaining. If I was in one of their executive suites today as an ESPN employee (and I know more than one of their executives), I’d probably be high-fiving and fist-bumping with the rest of them because it’s a hell of a broadcast coup.
But I don’t work for ESPN and I can see the forest for the trees and the active merging of a media company’s business interests with an athlete’s business interests seems…like uncomfortable new ground.
What happens when an NBA star who has actually won a championship goes on the free agent market- like Kobe Bryant? Will he be able to cut a deal with all the major broadcast networks for a simultaneous announcement not unlike a Presidential news conference? Will ESPN start bidding for the announcement TV rights of other famous free agent athletes?
But even as I watch uncomfortably, I will, nonetheless, still be watching. My guess is that ESPN will welcome my viewership tonight regardless of my ethical sensitivities.