Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 5:34 AM

LeBron Abandons Cleveland for Miami

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

When Julius “Dr. J” Erving was in his prime, we thought he was the most entertaining player in the history of the NBA and that there would never be another one like him again.  Then along came Michael Jordan, and we thought the same about him. Then, with all due respect to Kobe Bryant, along came LeBron James … and we think the same about him.

I have no doubt, however, that what mattered most to Dr. J and Michael was not the spectacular feats they performed but the championships their teams won.  It is instructive in this respect that Dr. J suffered six years of playoff frustration before his team, the Philadelphia 76ers, won the first of two championships (in 1982); and, even more so, that Michael suffered seven years of similar frustration before his team, the Chicago Bulls, won the first of six (in 1991).

This brings me to LeBron.

Gone. 7 years in Cleveland. No rings.

The above was all that was written on the front page of Cleveland’s leading newspaper, The Plain Dealer, on the morning of July 9. It made real for LeBron’s hometown fans the nightmare that must have followed his announcement the night before about leaving town in hot pursuit of that elusive championship:

In this fall, I’m going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.

(LeBron,  ESPN “The Decision”, July 8, 2010)

But, as indicated above, it’s important to bear in mind that LeBron’s all-consuming ambition to win a championship is the same ambition that motivated (and still motivates) all great NBA players: winning really is everything to them.

And he will surely win in Miami. For the triumvirate of LeBron, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade has the same potential to dominate during the playoffs as other championship triumvirates like Magic, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and James Worthy of the Los Angeles Lakers, and Michael, Bill Cartwright, and Scottie Pippen of the Chicago Bulls.

The only question for LeBron is: what price victory?

After all, finally winning on a team with which they suffered so many years of playoff frustration is what made winning a championship so sweet for Dr. J and Michael.  Not to mention the unbridled pride and joy they brought to long-suffering fans in cities that, in the case of Dr. J’s Philadelphia, had not won an NBA championship in almost two decades, and in the case of Michael’s Chicago, had never won at all.

By contrast, I fear that winning for LeBron will be bitter sweet. Not least because, instead of being hailed as a basketball savior in Miami, where the Heat won a championship just years ago (in 2006), he’ll be regarded as nothing more than a hired gun – who they brought in to help them win a few more.

Even worse, no matter how many championships he wins in Miami, he’ll be forever haunted by the fact that he abandoned not just his team but also his childhood home to do so.

Then, of course, there’s the inevitable conflict that will arise when some sports writers and commentators begin referring to the Heat as LeBron’s team, while others continue referring to it as D-Wade’s.  Because even though a domineering triumvirate seems an indispensable component of all championship teams, there’s always one player who must be treated like the undisputed star – as Kobe Bryant of the reigning NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers will readily attest.

My sense is that LeBron’s plumed ego will make it difficult for him to cope with being treated like a courtier instead of hailed like a king. Yet, that he was quite happy to go to Miami, instead of using his unprecedented and unparalleled clout to bring D-Wade and Bosh to Cleveland, indicates how naïve he is about what it takes to assume the mantle of team (and league) leadership. Never mind the ignorance he betrays about the legacies of bona fide NBA legends by claiming that he will wear number 6 in Miami, instead of  the 23 he wore in Cleveland, out of respect for Michael.

I just think what Michael Jordan has done for the game has to be recognized… There would be no LeBron James, no Kobe Bryant, no Dwyane Wade if there wasn’t Michael Jordan first… I feel like no NBA player should wear 23. I’m starting a petition, and I’ve got to get everyone in the NBA to sign it. Now, if I’m not going to wear No. 23, then nobody else should be able to wear it.

(LeBron, The Plain Dealer, November 13, 2009)

What about respect for Dr. J?! Is he not aware of all that Dr. J, who wore number 6, has done for the game? Hell, not knowing that Dr. J gave rise to Michael Jordan is rather like not knowing that Martin Luther King Jr. gave rise to Barack Obama.

Meanwhile, LeBron’s erstwhile fans in Cleveland could have reacted with a little more … appreciation. Their disappointment is understandable of course. But the irony seems completely lost on them that venting it by burning his jersey in “LeBronfires” reflects the same kind of childish self-indulgence they’re ascribing to him.

Not to mention the petulant absurdity of no less a person than the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert, publishing an open letter to fans in which he called LeBron’s decision to move to Miami a “cowardly betrayal.”

In fact, the people of Cleveland should be thanking their lucky stars that LeBron gave them seven years of the best entertainment in sports as well as ancillary economic benefits and national goodwill that most cities would die for.  He did not sign a contract to be their golden goose for the rest of his career; therefore, any charge of betrayal in this case is utterly baseless and irresponsible.

This is not to say, however, that I agree with Reverend Jesse Jackson’s race-baiting assertion that the Cavaliers’ owner is reacting as if LeBron were his “runaway slave.” For, if masters paid their slaves the millions this NBA owner paid LeBron, the very concept of a runaway slave would never have become part of the American lexicon….

That said, LeBron could clearly have chosen a more sensitive way to break the hearts (and bank accounts) of his hometown folks.  Because, frankly, announcing his decision from Connecticut as part of a contrived television show only made a mockery of the disappointment he knew his leaving would cause all of Cleveland.

Still, just as his choosing number 6 was far more about honoring Michael than about dissing Dr J, I believe his announcing his decision on TV was far more about “promoting his brand” (which includes donating all proceeds from his TV decision special to the Boys and Girls Club of America) than about rubbing salt in the wounds of his dumped fans. Each case simply reflects the sense and sensibilities of a kid who was plucked straight from high school and hailed as a million-dollar boy wonder of the NBA. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that – after being genuflected to like a “King James” since he was 18 – he would make decisions now that betray self-indulgence, ignorance … and immaturity.

But God help him if the Heat does not win the NBA championship next year. Because failing to do so will turn his new “dream team” into a living nightmare.

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