JAMES OUT FOR SEASON, CAREER IN JEOPARDY
CLEVELAND GIVES HARDING KEY TO CITY
You know, I've seen a lot of athletes do asshole things. I've seen Barry Bonds and Rafael Palmeiro stonewall that they didn't do steroids. I've seen Mark McGwire go to Congress and say, "I'm not here to talk about the past." I've seen Pete Rose refuse to admit he gambled. I've seen Brett Favre's insanely annoying "Will I play or won't I?" nonsense every year for the last, oh, eighteen years or so. And it goes the other way, too, into ownership and management. I've seen the Buffalo Sabres completely bungle their efforts to hold onto their star players. I've seen the Bills release Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed without calling them first. I've seen Dan Snyder throw money at every player with a pulse, I've seen Jerry Jones decide that he just can't live with the coach who had just won him two Super Bowls, I've seen Art Modell move the Browns without warning, I've seen the Irsay family do the same thing with the Colts. And I've read about collusion, union busting, racism, hard drinking, drug abuse, sexual harassment, and even murder.
But damned if Lebron James didn't manage to put a unique spin on what he did. He may not be the biggest asshole in sports history, but in the words of sports talk radio hosts who do "Is [Name] the [biggest/best/greatest/worst/etc.] in sports history" topics, Lebron has "got to be in the conversation".
I just can't believe this all unfolded the way it did. I can't believe that Lebron James was almost literally holding court for prospective NBA owners. I can't believe he decided to announce his decision on a prime-time teevee special. I can't believe ESPN went along with it. And I can't believe that Lebron James didn't even have the decency to tell the Cleveland Cavaliers what his decision was before he announced it to everyone else.
I've heard some people defending James on various unconvincing bases. I've heard the "It's a free country!" defense, as if the fact that it's not illegal to be an asshole somehow renders it OK to be an asshole. Then there are folks scoffing at the idea that Cleveland fans should be upset at all; "He doesn't owe Cleveland anything!" goes the refrain here.
But in my view, he owes Cleveland a great deal. He's lived in that region his entire life, and he got to play for his hometown fans. He helped make that team into one of the best in the NBA, even if they didn't win a championship. I find the defenses of James very odd, because they come from people who will almost certainly sing Kobe Bryant's praises, when he eventually retires, for having played his entire career with one team.
James's behavior through this entire annoying ordeal has displayed some of the most breathtaking narcissism I've ever seen by a public figure. It really was astonishing to behold. I find his reasons, his excuses, nonsensical -- "It's about winning", he says, even though his Cleveland teams have been among the best in the NBA. It's not as if he's just made his dramatic escape from the LA Clippers. And while I am no expert on the NBA, people who are seem to be less than convinced that a juggernaut of multiple titles has just been forged in Miami, because so much of the Heat's space under the NBA salary cap will be devoted to just three players that the team is unlikely to be able to really fill out their roster with the kinds of non-superstar, but still excellent, talent that championship clubs in all sports need.
Lebron James did owe Cleveland something. He owed them respect and honesty. He gave them neither. I hope he never wins a title at all -- which is a result that has a lot more chance of happening than some might believe -- and if he comes down on the court at an awkward angle and his ACL just happens to rip asunder in the first five minutes of his first regular season in front of his new beloved fans, well, I won't feel a lot of sympathy for him.
A few links: Jason Whitlock of FOX Sports; Ethan Sherwood Strauss of Salon.com; Mr. Trend at Alterdestiny.