Friday, July 9, 2010

LeBron to Miami; Cleveland Implodes

So ... that happened.

LeBron James announced on Thursday night -- in a contrived, made-for-TV special on ESPN -- that he will be playing for the Miami Heat from the 2010-11 season onward. James will be leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers, his hometown team, to team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in South Beach.

There a lot of angles to discuss here, from the concept of the ESPN special to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert's sophomoric response, but we'll start from a pure basketball standpoint. Depending on who you talk to, James is the best player in the NBA today. Even those who argue Kobe Bryant is the game's best player acknowledge James' otherworldly ability.

Others still argue that James and Bryant are 1 and 1-a.

Taking that into account, I have a hard time imagining why James would go to Miami. I understand he's friends with Wade and Bosh, and that they enjoyed playing with each other during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. But for a player of James' stature, someone who calls himself King James, to go to a team that already has an alpha-male superstar ... doesn't that seem a little off to you?

Make no mistake: the Miami Heat are still, and will likely always be, Wade's team. He stayed, he's already won a title for that organization. Wade is the Miami Heat. No one -- not Bosh, not James -- is going to upend that. James is leaving Cleveland to be a sidekick. He's going to be Robin to Wade's Batman.

James has decided he'd rather be Scottie Pippen than Michael Jordan.

The new Big Three could win three titles in Miami, which would give James three more rings than he had with the Cavaliers, but he'd always be one behind Wade, and people wouldn't forget that James became a sidekick in order to win.

Any other option would've probably been more favorable to James from a legacy standpoint. Whether he stayed in Cleveland, or he went to Chicago or New York or New Jersey -- hell, even the Clippers -- he would've still been the alpha male superstar, and if that team won a title with James, his legacy would be cemented.

There's also the matter that the Bulls were the best team for James basketball-wise, but that's a moot topic at this point.

No doubt Cleveland fans are upset this morning -- as well they should be. But I can't help but wonder how much of the angst is due to the fact that James left, and how much of it is directed at how he left. To an extent, anger toward James for leaving the hometown Cavaliers is expected, but I honestly believe the ESPN special had a lot to do with it.

Think about it: one thing to tell Cleveland you're leaving, another thing entirely to tell them you're leaving during a nationally-televised, one-hour special that was pitched by your representatives. Not that ESPN is completely innocent in this narcissistic display, but the network has business decisions to make -- and considering the interest surrounding James, ESPN knew how high the ratings would be.

Don't tell me you wouldn't have aired the special. You'd be lying through your teeth.

James looks really bad in all of this -- I think his reputation took somewhat of a hit because of how he presented himself and how he decided to announce his decision. There are consequences for that, and James is going to have to deal with them. He might very well be the most-hated man in Cleveland aside from Art Modell now, and he's got to deal with that.

But Gilbert clearly did himself and his franchise no favors with an open letter he wrote to fans on Thursday night. You would think someone who owns and operates a multi-million dollar business would know better than to let the emotion of the moment take over them like that. If I'm new head coach Byron Scott or any of the players on that team, I'm not feeling that comfortable today -- and it's not just because of James' decision.

Think about it: would you want to play for a guy who absolutely flies off the handle when he loses a player, even if his beef is legitimate? Owners of professional franchises are supposed to be more professional than this, and it wouldn't surprise me if the Cavaliers, already devoid of appeal for free agents, have even more trouble bringing in players.

Remember, just because you can, that doesn't necessarily mean you should. Both James and Gilbert would do well to remember that down the road.

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