(I know many of you don’t care. I know many of you are tired of LeBron. I know it’s not Friday for two more hours, but piss on it. I’m brain dumping this and moving on with life. The final Betsy installment will be up in the morning. Thanks for your tolerance. — Doc).
This isn’t the LeBron James I will remember, sitting in a
Boys and Girls club in Connecticut looking as comfortable as a guy getting a
speeding ticket while explaining his decision to go the Miami Heat.
For an hour, we were treated to “The Decision,” a cock-tease
of a faux-news show used to pump up the anticipation of LeBron’s decision.
This could have been over in about six seconds.
It would have been better that way. Like pulling off a
Let the healing (especially for Cleveland and New York)
Instead, you had Jim Gray, who had the balls at one point to
buttonhole Pete Rose on live TV about his gambling, feeding LeBron softball questions
to draw this thing out longer so all the advertisers could be milked a bit more.
You had Michael Wilbon and Stuart Scott, two strong
journalists when they want to be, acting like cardboard props for The LeBron Show.
You had commercials that comparedLeBron to Ali, DiMaggio
And then you had LeBron.
He talked about the opportunity to play with two other guys
who were great.
He talked about how he wanted to win multiple championships
and that he’d probably play in Estonia if that’s where he had to go to win
He talked about how he wished he didn’t have to leave
Cleveland, because it’s home and he hopes the fans will be respectful when he
comes back to play against the Cavs.
It’s not the guy I knew. It’s not how I want to remember
A ton of people have a ton of memories about him. The
playoff game against Detroit, where he scored 24 of the team’s last 25 points
to pull out a win and help vault the Cavs into the Finals. The first time he
set foot on the court in his rookie year. The last game he “played” as the
Celtics essentially helped kill basketball in Ohio by knocking Cleveland out of
the playoffs in 2010.
What I’ll remember isthe night of Feb. 22, 2008.
Danny Ferry had swung “the trade” that was supposed to get
Cleveland the championship it always wanted, but could never get. As part of a
3-team, 11-player deal, the Cavs dumped Larry Hughes’s sullen ass, picked up defensive
stopper Ben Wallace and grabbed outside shooter Wally Szczerbiak. While the
league finalized all these deals and figured out who was going where and how
this was all going to work, none of the players could play for their old or new
That night, the Cavs hosted the Washington Wizards, a game
that had become a must-watch, after several feisty playoff battles. League
rules stipulated that you had to dress a minimum of eight healthy players.
The Cavs only had five.
To fill out the roster, they picked up three guys from the
LeBron took the court with only one other real starter, a
decent sixth man and two guys who were so far out of the Cavs’ rotation, it
took a search party and blood hounds to find them. The three D-League guys all
played, coming off the bench for between 7 and 19 minutes each.
The Cavs won that game 90-89. LeBron had entered the
“There’s no effing way we’re losing this game” mode, dragging this bedraggled
group of bodies to a win. He played 45 minutes, scored 33 points and let every
Cleveland fan know that he could make anything possible.
That’s my LeBron. And I can’t get him back. And that hurts.
Brian Windhorst of the Cleveland Plain Dealer had been
following this story all along, and well, I might add. As the primary beat guy
for the top Ohio paper, Windhorst knew LeBron better than most reporters. What
he noted was scary: LeBron was changing rapidly.
He opened a Twitter account and reactivated his website. He
had previously failed to do so because he valued his privacy and thought it a
silly thing to do.
He stopped talking about the game and started talking about
the business of basketball. He used to leave the off-court stuff up to the
people who worked for him.
He talked about leaving “that city” when referring to
Cleveland. He used to call it home.
The whole thing was just creepy.
Above all else, however, I’m stunned by his declaration that
he had to go some place else to pair up with two other guys with the idea of
winning championships. This isn’t the guy who grabbed the floor with three
D-Leaguers and said, “Fuck it. Get out of my way. We’re winning this thing.”
Never in my lifetime would I think I would see an in-his-prime LeBron James
practically panhandling for a championship.
It’s like he had a little cardboard sign that said, “Will
work for ring.”
What is strange is that this can’t end well regardless of
the outcome. If he wins one, two or 10 championships, the question will remain
if he won them or if Bosh, Wade or Michael Beasley won them. If he loses, it’ll
be even worse for him.
I think it’s a cop-out. Any super-competitive person would rather
beat Dwyane Wade than play with him. Don’t you want to find the Ali to
your Frazier and have that rival pull the greatness out of you? That’s
why I’m holding out hope that LeBron signs with New York or Chicago (or
stays in Cleveland), because he’d be saying, “Fine. Kobe, Dwight and
Melo all have their teams. Wade and Bosh have their team. The Celtics
are still there. Durant’s team is coming. I’m gonna go out and build MY
team, and I’m kicking all their asses.” That’s what Jordan would have
done. Hell, that’s what Kobe would have done.
after the Cavs were ousted in the conference semifinals, I wrote that
LeBron was facing one of the greatest sports decisions ever: “winning
(Chicago), loyalty (Cleveland) or a chance at immortality (New York).”
never thought he would pick “HELP!”
joining Wade after his 2010 playoffs flameout, in my opinion, is like
Conan O’Brien getting kicked in the teeth by NBC, then overreacting and
forming a late-night version of “The View” with Chris Rock, Adam Carolla
and Jeffrey Ross over trying to create his own show somewhere else.
(Note to Carolla and Ross: Don’t get excited, it’s only a hypothetical.)
Total cop-out. The move of someone who, deep down, doesn’t totally
trust his own talents any more. And maybe he doesn’t.
When it comes to winning, that’s easy to figure out. When it
comes to championships, there’s a lot of luck involved. While LeBron has been
good at avoiding injury, Bosh and Wade haven’t been that lucky, missing major
parts of several seasons. A popped ACL on either (or both) of those guys and
it’ll be a repeat of that Feb. 22, 2008 game for a whole season. Only this
time, everyone out there will know that LeBron didn’t think he had enough in
the tank to pull it off himself.
Meanwhile, he will have essentially destroyed basketball in
Cleveland, New York and New Jersey. He will have to carry not only a crappy
team but also the sense that he couldn’t live up to the hype.
One of his inner circle told ESPN that LeBron’s greatest
fear about staying in Cleveland was that he’d wind up “31 years old with bad
knees and no championship rings.”
For the great ones, fear of failure drives them. It
motivates them. It makes them willing to stab their mother to death if it meant
avoiding this. They don’t cry out for help or run away when things get hard.
I remember standing in a newsroom watching LeBron that
February night as Billy Thomas kept jacking up three-pointers from the shores
of Lake Erie and Kaniel Dickens play the last seven minutes of his 86-minute
NBA career.That was a guy who
didn’t want to hear about how he needed other guys to make him a champion. That
was a guy who practically would have killed someone if it meant winning.
To me, that was heroic.
That’s the guy I want to remember.