I hate Lebron James, I do. I hate him with something of a fiery passion for what he did to Cleveland almost 2 years ago now, when he verbalized that he was leaving in favor of a Wade/Bosh/James takeover in Miami and then later verbalized that it would span at least 8 championships. He rejected the place that bore him and his name while he was becoming a high school prodigy. He scorned the people that hailed him as their local hero and “Savior”, not just of basketball, but of all things sport. He left the city that adored him in the fiery pits to waste away under the burning rubble, after everyone and their dog had placed their dreams on his #23 jersey. But most of all, I think I hate him because he was just plain insistent on being indecently loud about it!
The irony is that I used to love him. But you see, Lebron James had to do more than just make a decision that would excel his career, he had to make it a public embarrassment for the city of Cleveland, his city. Even if he didn’t mean what he was saying because he was mad, he could have been a classier representative of his sport and told his fans “Thank-you for your never ending love and support, I wish you the best, even to the tune of a championship one day, but I have to do this for me and my family because I feel used by the Cleveland organization. No matter how much I ask, they just won’t help me get the team where we deserve to be”. I’m telling you Cleveland would have mourned, but ultimately would have sent their childhood superhero on his way with well wishes and the hope for him to do well. But King James didn’t do that, he couldn’t. Instead he slapped every fan in the face and said “Simply put, this place isn’t worthy of my greatness. I’m more important than you so I’m making the best decision of my life and I’m leaving. A championship just isn’t possible here and I deserve one. On top of that, I want to see just how good I can be and nobody here cares about that”.
Doesn’t that just make you hate him? Listen, I don’t deny he’s incredible. He’s stupid-good and I don’t deny that he has earned the right to make his choices. But he did it all wrong. The whole ESPN lead-up for a month and a half, the whole national television “premiere event”, the whole “I want I want I want” attitude. And then he flogged his city in front of millions of people. And thus, my feelings for him are less than admiring, which is why I hate to admit, he made a great decision. Not to be confused with a respectable decision, because it was done with little class and with the wrong tools, but a great one nonetheless. Ultimately to any athlete or coach in sports it comes down to those who do care, and those who don’t. Cleveland was a don’t. Let me explain:
Detouring just a moment, I would like to use WSU as a prime example to get my point across because it reminds me so much of Lebron. I happen to know a person who was close to this situation when our athletic department threw away the best thing our basketball program had stumbled upon in its history. You may remember the name Bennett, those around here do. Dick Bennett was the coach that turned the Washington State program around, simply through hard work, a stingy defense and discipline. Through Dick Bennett came the opportunity to gain the services of his son Tony Bennett, who we all know now is one of the absolute best young coaches in America. With coach Tony at the helm the Cougs became a winning program in short order and it was clear that we were also becoming a perennial contender in the race for the Pac-10 Championship and quite probably an annual deep run into March. Parallels? Hello, Lebron James, Cleveland and the immortal NBA Crown.
Anyway, my source tells me the other day that when Tony got offered the job at Virginia, he didn’t care. It didn’t matter that they could offer more money or that they were in the ACC. Ultimately he said it didn’t even matter that he would be closer to home. He made it clear that he was in love with his players and our University and planned on being part of something really special here, but there was a serious problem. Washington State said they loved Tony to us, but never counter offered against Virginia to keep him! WSU ‘posed’ to us that they cared and were doing everything to keep him, but in retrospect, they did nothing. Thus, Virginia ended up getting their guy and we as fans felt like he stole something from us after promising the world. The difference was that Tony didn’t brag about it being the best decision he ever made and left with class and dignity. But we still basically felt as if the Grinch had come in and stolen Christmas after dressing up as Santa in a sleigh and a red suit. And we hated him a little bit for it! But it wasn’t his fault, he didn’t get or feel the support or genuine care from the top of and instead of being the ‘best coach with no support’ in the country, decided it was in his best interest to go where he was going to be treated like he deserved.
Re-enter, #23. What you and I didn’t see as fans was actually very obvious to anybody who would have payed attention, like Lebron did. Cleveland brass clearly had told and was continuing to tell him “you don’t need help, you’re the only guy we need”, even when Lebron pleaded for it. He knew that it takes multiple superstars to win a title. He knew that it takes at least a second, and quite probably a third guy that can do it all when the other(s) are down and being hounded. He had proven it 3 times already in the playoffs, when he had come close but a team of multiple superstars came in and waxed the floor with his own teammates while triple-teaming him all series. And the basketball reps kept ‘posing’ to us and their loyal followers that their intent and resources were getting Lebron help, but in reality, he didn’t have any and he wasn’t getting any. Shaq was signed way after his prime, Mo Williams was touted as the point guard of the future, a Verajoa deal was done to appease the thought of a hard worker, and a “Big Z” deal was done to appease the thought of another star. I think we can all agree that none of those deals were worth the price of admission, and never was another proven, battle tested ‘superstar’ even talked about or considered by ownership. Never once. The Cavs had spent a fortune on James because the fans demanded him, not because they wanted to pay him. It’s obvious they weren’t willing to break open the piggy bank a little more for a championship if they could ride the coattails of their self promoted ‘King’ for a decade, even when it was clear they were only that far away.
LBJ was sick of it. He was sick of being so good and getting his team so close, only to have his teammates falter again and again down the stretch while he carried their burden because they were powerless to help. He was sick of being called a “choke artist” when the late rounds showed up and he couldn’t produce the points that 2 and 3 other guys were putting up on the other side of the scoreboard. He was sick of thinking that he may be the best player never to get a ring because his bosses wouldn’t consider his needs after signing him for the rest of his career. And most of all, he was sick of thinking that we would always consider him a failure if that happened. We wanted to believe against all hope that he was wrong and could win it by himself, but we were horribly wrong. Hey, you can’t be Jordan without Pippen, right? He had nothing left to prove at that place, especially that he was deserving of more talent surrounding him to get him to the top. Thus, instead of being the ‘best player with no support’ in all of professional sports history, he decided it was in his best interest to be where he was going to be treated like he deserved. Is it fair to blame him?
So here we are, deep into the second long season of “The Big 3 II”, and it’s impossible to ignore just how right Lebron was. In fact from ESPN to our local newspapers we missed it all along, but it’s hard to miss it now. The fact is that there was nothing in Cleveland and still isn’t, and it’s hard to miss the common denominator of every team remaining in the 2012 NBA Playoffs’ Conference Finals, which is 3. As in a Big 3. As in three players on each of the four teams that one could consider a ‘superstar’. The Heat you already know about, the Celtics have Garnett/Pierce and Rondo who has replaced Allen, the Thunder have Durant/Westbrook/Hardin, and the Spurs have Duncan/Parker/Ginobli. Even teams like the Lakers, Clippers and Bulls have 2-3 and they were ousted. It’s just common knowledge now that if you want to compete for the Title these days, you have to have at least 3 bonafide stars on your team. Lebron told us first, though his way of doing so was arrogant and ever so slightly revolting. It’s the reason I still hope the Heat get taken down over these final two rounds (may they never win a title), but there is undeniable truth to what he told us through his actions in leaving Cleveland: To compete for an NBA Championship, you have to be willing to pay for it.