An argument can be made that it was the single most nerve inducing announcement in the history of sports.
Another argument can be made that it fueled the most hate towards any single professional athlete in the history of sports, and we know this to be true. We lived it, we still do despite the transition of the perception of LeBron James in recent years. However, as I searched for the clip of that ridiculous ESPN, hour long special one quote stuck out in the back of my mind. Former NBA head coach, and revered NBA broadcaster Jeff Van Gundy would say during the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals "If "The Decision" is the worse thing LeBron James has ever done, then he has lived an amazing life".
And to his credit, it seems that way. LeBron's departure from the Cleveland Cavaliers to many NBA fans was an act of betrayal, and deceit. In the business world it happens all the time, sure the hometown "employee of every month" in Cleveland left on a ridiculously high note. Isn't there this age old saying "the NBA is a business", it seems that went out the window when the worlds "South Beach" left his mouth in 2010. LeBron made a career altering move, one in which he saw a projected path that led to success. No, the ultimate success.
Cleveland fans didn't care, they just wanted (and many still want) his talents in a Cavs jersey. And who can blame them? Since he's joined Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh in Miami they've reached the Finals four straight times. They've won it all two straight, and have cemented themselves already as one of the best teams in NBA history. LeBron has elevated his game to heights we didn't see in Cleveland, and much of that has to do with who he has been surrounded by. And the supporting cast he previously had in his career.
I mean c'mon...do you remember the 2007 NBA Finals Cleveland Cavaliers starting lineup?
LeBron's choice was the right choice, we see that now. Thursday night, he begins the fight for his 3-peat. Something Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Bill Russell and Shaq have all accomplished in their careers. His method, left very little to be desired. In simpler terms, he did it the wrong way. And he know's that, stating that he would have presented his departure in a way that was more tasteful. Given the fact that he was the home town kid, and was leaving the home town team. Still there is a deeper issue we have yet to resolve in regards to LeBron James's legacy...one that also came about from the decision. A new hate evolved, one that may have been brewing during his seven years in Cleveland.
"LeBron James didn't win by himself...Michael Jordan did it, Kobe did it."
Those words combine to make the most ignorant statement you can make in NBA debate. During his tenure in Cleveland we as fans of his game, admirers, and even the naysayers of King James would thrust upon him the second most impossible NBA feat other than defeating father time (unless Tim Duncan lasts another 10 years). That is winning the ultimate prize as the lone number one option, no player in the history of the National Basketball Association has done that. You can diminish the legendary teams the greats like Jordan, and Kobe played on but it only makes you look worse as an NBA fan.
Michael Jordan struggled in his earlier years in post season play, he was 1-11 in the playoffs before Scottie Pippen was acquired. Many tend to forget the X-factor that was one Phil Jackson...arguably the greatest NBA head coach. Looking at the rosters of Jordan's championship teams he was surrounded by impact starters (Pippen, Rodman, etc), and role players that did what they were supposed to. Basically, what LeBron has now in Miami. Yes, Number 23 was the best player on those Bulls teams. Yes, he elevated the play of his teammates with his talent, leadership, and undeniable will to win. However, in the NBA as much pressure as we put on the elites...it's still a team game.
Steve Kerr hit a championship clinching shot off of a Jordan pass, John Paxson had his moment to shine as well. After MJ retired before the '93-'94 season, the Chicago Bulls would go 55-27 on the season after previously going 57-25 with Jordan the year before. Scottie Pippen would step up, and led the team to an inspired post season run. They'd go seven games (and lose) vs their rivals the physical, and battle tested New York Knicks in the Eastern Semi-Finals.
In regards to Kobe, anyone claiming he was the lone warrior in any of his championship years clearly suffers from extreme memory loss. How could they forget the 7'1'' 325 lbs monSTAR that was Shaquille O'neal who not only completed one half of the historic duo, but was the Finals MVP of all three title wins he, and Kobe would capture in their 3-peat. With a host of established starters, and role players such as Derek Fisher, Robert Horry, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum (pre-mid life crisis), etc. Kobe has been spoiled in his illustrious career, and by the way...Phil Jackson coached those teams as well.
In the end Jordan, and Kobe never had to leave (Kobe was close though: http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop/post/_/id/3446) as their organizations made moves to ensure they never had a reason to do so. Neither of them had to deal with recruiting issues, or a Dan Gilbert who was more worried about marketing the star for his latest venture rather than putting the right people in place to build a championship team.
"He didn't do it with one team, it stains his legacy!"
This piece was inspired by another, written by NBA national columnist/analyst Ric Bucher. In his piece: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2085257-no-matter-finals-outcome-tim-duncan-has-place-in-nbas-heart-lebron-never-will, he revealed the obvious and still lingering anti-LeBron sentiment amongst those behind the scenes in the NBA. Whether it be those of the media, legendary figures (players, front office, etc.), and so on.
His inability to do what he's doing now in Miami, rather than in Cleveland somehow stains his career, which will leave him in a different light than the one casted upon his Finals opponent the great Tim Duncan. Duncan's team oriented vibe, and non-controversial lifestyle will have him in a certain NBA lure that LeBron could never reach.
And that may be true. I'm not attacking Ric Bucher, nor am I discrediting what he wrote. He knows these people, holds conversations with them, and gets a sense of the overall feeling towards the NBA's greatest player today. Bucher wrote:
No matter what happens, though, Duncan possesses something James never will: a one-team legacy.
If you don't think that has a certain cache inside the NBA, then you don't think the way those inside the NBA do. No matter how great a player may be, when he wears more than one uniform in his pursuit of a championship, he loses something irredeemable
And in one of my usual cases of "I know where this is going", what I read next didn't surprise me:
Fair or otherwise, single-team champions Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas are seen in a different light than Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal, all of whom won championships in two different places.
Does Ric Bucher agree with his sources? I have no idea. And it's not my place to say if he does or not. Throughout the piece quotes from this executive, and others further push the generic LeBron slight. Sure he left a tough situation, and it may have been the right move...but we'll still count it against him because we don't respect it. Tim Duncan's similar situation 10 years prior to LeBron's decision was also highlighted. The Orlando Magic attempted to make their own "Big 3" consisting of Duncan, Grant Hill, and Tracy McGrady. In the end Duncan chose to stay in San Antonio, and it barely caused a stir in the media.
And with all of that said, what Tim Duncan had to choose between in regards to San Antonio vs Orlando...would never see a glaring disparity as James saw in Miami vs Cleveland. Tim Duncan went back to his Hall of Fame teammate David Robinson, and still the NBA's best coach Gregg Popovich. LeBron had none of that to go back to. As Ric Bucher states, LeBron would try to recruit Chris Bosh to join him in Cleveland before ultimately leaving. The negative perception of the city, and poor front office reputation (that would hold to be true) was enough to make Bosh decline.
LeBron was stuck in no mans land, his hand was forced, and his only way out would be free agency. And that's the key word, "Free" as the 4-time MVP was free to go where ever he felt was the best spot for him to finally win the championships he dreamed of. If there is a different light casted upon the "one-teamers" as Bucher labels them, and LeBron James then there shouldn't be. Free Agency is a right, and given the situation LeBron was in for seven years. It's only right he should be seen in a much brighter light.
He accomplished many of his NBA feats in the city of Cleveland, won 2 of his MVPs in the city of Cleveland, took the city of Cleveland to the playoffs, put the city of Cleveland on the media market, and dragged the city of Cleveland all the way to the NBA Finals. Yes you read that right...the entire city of Cleveland, because it was more than just basketball at that point. The ultimate success of an entire city was on LeBron's back, and he came close numerous times. It was impossible, and despite knowing that...no one cared to think logically. And many still don't.
Tim Duncan is one of the 10 greatest NBA players of all time. LeBron at the age of 29, has already crashed the party with much criticism to go along with the praise. In the end this hate that many feel towards LeBron has to be resolved. I'm not saying don't hate him, nor am I saying he's incapable of being disliked. However, it's time we be true to ourselves, and each other. Do Knicks fans hate LeBron if he takes his talents to the Garden in 2010? Will any of you hate him, if he decides to join your favorite team if his time in Miami is up? I highly doubt it. Which sparks the real question, what many of the naysayers need to find an answer for:
"Why do I hate LeBron James?"
We know why some disliked: Michael, Kobe, Magic (other than Donald Sterling), & Bird. And yes, many still do. It's because they were all-timers, and during their dominance broke the hearts of millions of opposing fan bases throughout their careers. Maybe...just maybe that's one of the reasons many of you dislike LeBron (outside of Cleveland of course). Maybe it's because he didn't go to your team, or the peer pressure to hate him that ensued after his departure from Cleveland forced your hand.
It's time we reveal the true intentions behind our feelings. Until that time arrives, try to enjoy the NBA Finals as another chapter in the LeBron era is set to be written. Appreciate what you'll see from him, his teammates, and his opponents. Put the hate aside, and just enjoy...because I know it must be tiring.