By Michael Rosenberg
INSIDE THE NBA
July 8, 2010
GREENWICH, CT - JULY 08: LeBron James and ESPN's Jim Gray speak at the LeBron James announcement of his future NBA plans at the Boys & Girls Club of America on July 8, 2010 in Greenwich, Connecticut. James announced during a live broadcast on ESPN that he will play for the Miami Heat next season. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Estabrook Group)
GREENWICH, Conn., July 8, 1990 -- Michael Jordan announced on national television he's leaving Chicago to join the Detroit Pistons. Jordan said it was tough to bolt Chicago, where he was the most popular athlete in many years, because he thinks he has a better chance to win a championship if he plays with Pistons star Isiah Thomas. Jordan said by playing together, he and Thomas "won't have the pressure of going out and scoring 30 every night."
That would have sounded absurd, right? Well, it is no more absurd than what LeBron James is doing. Jordan was 27 years old in 1990, slightly older than James is now. He had never been to the NBA Finals. He had been beaten up by the Celtics and Pistons for years. He doubted his supporting cast was good enough.
But he never doubted himself.
And it became very clear Thursday night that LeBron James does doubt himself. James will be a champion in Miami -- if not next year, then sometime after that. If you put James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh together and give Pat Riley five years to find the complementary pieces, that team will win a championship.
But James does not have the heart of a champion. He does not have the competitive fire of Jordan, the bull-headed determination of Kobe Bryant, the quiet self-confidence of Tim Duncan, the willful defiance of Isiah or the winning-is-everything hunger of Magic Johnson.
He is an extremely gifted player who wants the easy way out.
And how do we know this?
James said so himself.
Oh, not in so many words. But once ESPN was done ESPN-izing its LeBron coverage -- filling it with babbling experts, needless hype and Jim Gray submitting his top six entries in the Stupidest Question Ever contest -- the self-proclaimed King said everything you need to know about him.
1. "You have to do what's best for you, and what's going to make you happy."
This is what's going to make him happy? Sharing a stage with two other stars? Really?
I guess that's all LeBron is: A complementary player with superstar talent. We should have figured this out before: He got that giant CHOSEN 1 tattoo on his back and calls himself King James because he is desperate for reassurance.
There is no greater challenge in sports getting drafted by a godawful team, planting your flag in a city and working like crazy until you have turned that team into a champion.
LeBron James didn't want the challenge. He wanted to play with his buddies.
2. "We don't have the pressure of going out and scoring 30 every night or shooting a high percentage."
Whoa. Hold on there. Scoring 30 a night is too much pressure for one of the five most talented players ever?
Find me another all-time NBA great who would utter those words. Jordan would rather do an adidas commercial than say that. Bryant must have laughed as he heard the so-called "King" say that. Larry Bird? The next time he complains about pressure will be the first. Magic was the greatest team player of the last 40 years, but he was also so competitive that he wanted to play Jordan one-on-one in a promotional event -- and this was when Magic had won titles and Jordan had not, so Magic had more to lose.
3. "I know how loyal I am."
The man just dumped his hometown(s) on national television. Cleveland (and, by extension, Akron) happens to be the most tortured sports city in America. To do that, then say "I know how loyal I am" ... wow, wow, wow.
I wish I could sit in on one of LeBron's meetings with his advisers. Does he make them all wear mirrored sunglasses, so that when he looks at them he sees himself?
We really don't ask that much of our sports stars. Try not to get arrested for anything big. Don't curse at the fans. You know, small stuff. We even understand that 95 percent of the time, they will make career decisions based on money -- we might not love it, but we understand it.
But see, the biggest thing that we ask of our sports stars is this: Take the competition as seriously as we do.
When LeBron James loses to Boston in the playoffs, we want him to take the heat, not take the Heat's offer. We want him to spend the summer adding to his game, calling and texting his teammates, plotting to do better next season.
Instead, well ...
4. "It's about joining forces with the other two guys."
He sounds like a nine-year-old playing Star Wars games with his buddies at a sleepover. And again: I do believe this Miami team will win a title. But it won't be as easy as he wants it to be. Miami will have the weakest bench of any contender next season After that, the NBA will have a lockout, and the league could eliminate the mid-level exception, which would be Miami's best tool for adding talent.
So this is a cop-out, but it's not as easy of a cop-out as it appears. And that brings us to ...
5. "This is the greatest challenge for me."
LeBron James just jumped into an elevator and wants us to think he can fly. Sorry, but we know better. We know that he did something Michael, Magic, Bird and Bill Russell never would have done. We know he ditched Cleveland for an All-Star team.
But you know what? In Miami, anything short of a title will be a failure. Nobody outside of Miami will root for this team, and nobody in Miami roots for anybody. They're too busy enjoying the weather.
I thought he would stay in Cleveland, because I thought all he cared about was adoration. I was wrong about Cleveland, but he is wrong about adoration. He thinks he'll get it by winning a title. He has insulated himself from the world, surrounded himself with yes men. He has no idea how much backlash he is about to get.
That's one of the great ironies of this -- James is trying to flee pressure, but he will just face more of it. He is trying to maximize his "brand," but he just damaged it.
The first time I watched LeBron James live, I thought he could be the greatest player ever. The sad truth for us, for him, and for the NBA is that he never really believed it himself.
LeBron James looks neither royal nor loyal
On an ESPN show, the King shows up a supportive community.
The Los Angeles Times
11:27 PM PDT, July 8, 2010
LeBron James' decision to go on national television and announce he would be leaving his hometown team has made him a target for criticism. (Jed Jacobsohn / Getty Images / July 9, 2010)
LeBron James is the King, all right.
The King of Crass. The King of Callous. The King of Cowardice.
What kind of man arranges and stars in a nationally televised infomercial during which he kicks his hometown to the curb? What kind of man summons a crowd of millions to watch him break up with a city that has loved and supported him for 25 years?
LeBron James dragged the Cleveland Cavaliers to the center table of the most crowded, well-lighted joint on the sports landscape Thursday night, then loudly dumped them on the spot.
The basketball news is that two-time defending most valuable player James has announced he will be joining stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat.
The human news is that, almost overnight, one of basketball's most likable figures has turned into a complete jerk.
James has every right to use free agency to leave a place where he didn't feel he could win a championship. But he had no right to publicly humiliate his neighbors in the process.
That hourlong ESPN program produced and directed by the 25-year-old James and his team of young sycophants Thursday was called "The Decision." It turns out the biggest decision was by James to strip himself of the most basic human decency, and he will again never look the same.
If you are going to leave the team where you've spent all seven seasons, leave the area where you've spent all 25 years, doesn't decorum dictate that you do it quietly, gently, gracefully? Given that this town hasn't enjoyed a major sports championship in 46 years, and given that your departure could keep them from winning anything for many more years, don't you think of them first? Did no part of last season's $15.8-million salary mandate, you know, manners?
You want to leave this place where you are so beloved, fine. Leave it like a man. Issue a news release announcing your decision and thanking Cleveland for its support. Hold a local news conference with the Cleveland media to reiterate those thanks. Then, and only then, do you appear on a national ESPN show to talk about your decision.
But no, years of coddling have filled James with such narcissism that he no longer sees anyone but himself. While reaping financial rewards as this country's most successful basketball prodigy, James has paid the price in a failure to develop integrity or character. Hey, if you can dunk on someone, why do you have to be sensitive to them?
(I interrupt this rant to remind the dear reader of another notion that James has conveniently ignored in his quest for fame. He. Has. Won. Zero. Championships.)
So anyway, the hell with Cleveland. James stepped on the makeshift ESPN stage at a youth gym in Greenwich, Conn., on Thursday wearing a tight shirt and a weird grin. He stretched the suspense for 30 full minutes, then finally announced he was "taking my talents to South Beach" while admitting that the Cavaliers were also hearing this for the first time.
That was why this show was so wrong. It wasn't about a lack of journalistic ethics, but human ethics. James used his awesome power not to inform or entertain, but to belittle. After his announcement, there appeared video of Cleveland fans screaming at a bar television, then burning a James shirt in the street. Maybe this would have happened if James had been a little more discerning, but I doubt it. Cleveland had been nationally embarrassed, and reacted in the small way that James made it feel.
I thought he would never arrange the show if he wasn't going to Cleveland. I thought wrong. It turns out, when it comes to LeBron James, I thought wrong about a lot of things.
I thought he was a leader. But by going to a team that already has an established superstar who has already won one NBA title, he showed he is a follower. He doesn't want the ball in the final minute. He doesn't want the pressure in the final month. The way he crumbled against Boston in this year's postseason was not a blip. The King doesn't have the stomach to be the Man.
Don't buy the spin that, because he could have made a guaranteed $30 million more on a potential Cavaliers contract, James is leaving Cleveland only because he wants to win. Cleveland did win while he was there, making it to the NBA Finals once and finishing with basketball's best record twice. He left because he didn't have the innards to take the final step with complementary players that the Cavaliers continued to acquire.
At the end of his infomercial Thursday, while pumping the Boys & Girls clubs who benefited from the commercials sold for this mess, James talked about helping the children and kindly noted, "One day we might have another LeBron."
Lord, I hope not.
Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times
LeBron James’ circus ends; Miami’s now begins
BY MITCH ALBOM
DETROIT FREE PRESS COLUMNIST
July 8, 2010
GREENWICH, CT - JULY 08: LeBron James and ESPN's Jim Gray speak at the LeBron James announcement of his future NBA plans at the Boys & Girls Club of America on July 8, 2010 in Greenwich, Connecticut. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Estabrook Group)
The most upsetting part of this ridiculous night came at 9:18 p.m., when the cameras first showed LeBron James sitting across from his chosen interviewer, Jim Gray, and in the background were rows of … children?
I wanted to throw up. Bad enough that we adults have to watch the decline of grace to where a guy who calls himself The King gets a prime-time TV special to announce where he’ll play basketball (an hour-long special at that!), but the fact that an audience of children was put around him, effectively being told, “Aren’t you lucky, kids, to be part of this? This is what MATTERS in life!” Lord, send me a bucket.
Look. I had to watch this. It’s my job to comment on big sports stories, and LeBron James switching teams to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami is a big sports story whether I like the process or not. But why anyone else would waste time is beyond me. And milking the drama for nearly 20 minutes (“Coming up, The King chooses his next court!” ESPN’s Stuart Scott cooed), followed by a maddening series of inane queries by Gray designed to further wring out the process (“Where’s the tie?” “So what’s new?” “Did you enjoy the recruiting process?” “Do you want more time to sleep on it?” were all questions Gray actually spit out), was not only irresponsible journalism, it was bad theater.
The only real insight was when Jon Barry, looking at LeBron, blurted out, “He doesn’t look happy.”
He was right. For all that, The King looked blah. And he hasn’t seen Miami traffic yet.
Miami still needs to win
Of course, many folks were less than thrilled Thursday night. How about the Knicks, who have all but promised fans His Highness for two years? You think Amare Stoudemire will suffice? Come on. That guy couldn’t win when he had Steve Nash, Shaq and Grant Hill as teammates.
How about Cleveland, divorced at the altar? LeBron kept reminding viewers of “the great things” he has done for his home team and state. Are you kidding? He just dashed their hopes, bolted to his personal all-star team, and traded the Midwest for a South Beach party. Guess where they’d like to throw his powder now?
The only solace the Cavaliers, Knicks, Bulls, Nets and Clippers can take from LeBron’s new hookup is that James-Wade-Bosh is no sure champion. Sorry, but you can’t just add their scoring averages last year (29.7, 26.6, 24.0 respectively) and figure that’s 80 points right there. The big number is one. As in one ball.
LeBron will have to pull back. So will Wade. The parts are greater than the sum. And let’s say this right now: Bosh is milking more of out the company he’s keeping than anyone on the planet, or at least since Ringo said OK to Paul, John, and George.
If Bosh were such a superstar, how come most of the country never heard of him before last month? He’s wiry. He has played 11 playoff games. And his ego is such that he has had a reality TV crew following him this summer, while continually expecting Toronto to do a sign-and-trade so that he could make more money, even though he wiped his sneakers with the franchise.
Take pity on Cleveland and Toronto
Which brings us to one of two huge questions for the now three-headed Miami Heat roster (is it the three-person Miami Heat roster?). First: ego. Sure, they love one another now. But Kobe and Shaq once did, too. Eventually they exploded their team over differences. And they WON! Today’s love is tomorrow’s complaint. Ask older players. Or married people. LeBron said this when asked about sharing the spotlight in Miami:
“For me it’s not about sharing, it’s about everybody having their own spotlight and then doing what’s best for the team.”
Lombardi just rolled over.
Question two: Role players. Nobody wins a title without them. Robert Horry. Dennis Rodman. Vinnie Johnson. Where do the role players come from? What money is left for them? Are they even allowed to shower with the Big Three?
(By the way, David Stern, this summer just proved your salary cap — designed for parity — is a joke; it can be manipulated like something from Goldman Sachs. You now have several decimated rosters. Nobody wants to go to the Clevelands or Torontos — despite winning records — and the new hip team is in a city where the players can party until sunrise, all winter long.)
About the only good news is the pathetic LeBron circus is finally over. He’s a basketball player, not a king. It’s a contract, not a life. And it’s show biz, not school. So can we get the kids out of there?
Or at least cover their eyes?
Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Also catch “Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR. To read his recent columns, go to www.freep.com/mitch.
By rejecting his hometown team, LeBron James earns his slot on the Modell list of shame
By Bill Livingston, The Cleveland Plain Dealer
July 8, 2010
CLEVELAND - JULY 8: Police stand guard near a larger than life photograph of LeBron James(notes) after the announcement that James will play next season for the Miami Heat July 8, 2010 in Cleveland, Ohio. The two-time Most Valuable Player made the choice to play for Miami next season. (Photo by J.D. Pooley/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The Chosen One left the money and ran.
Until 9:28 Thursday night, there was still the thought in Cleveland that reports LeBron James would go to Miami as a free agent were a vast smoke screen, like the volcano in Iceland. But they were not.
Defecting players usually say sports are a business. But while James' decision certainly crushes businesses around The Q, for Cleveland, this was personal. How could it possibly be business when the Cavaliers could pay $30 million more over a long-term contract than any of his suitors?
James is the local legend who severed his ties with the area and now becomes as reviled as any sports figure other than Art Modell. He is the great player who left unfinished business after quitting on his team on the court and left unanswered questions by quitting on his city off it.
The medium for the bad news was ESPN, which figured. The network represents much of what is loud, obnoxious and empty in sports today.
The smiley face that Miami will put on this will be that James placed a chance to solidify one of the NBA's potentially great teams ahead of his ego. But as the dog-and-pony show of James' free agency shows, it was always all about him.
There is no doubt, however, that Cleveland enabled him with the huge billboard-sized banner across from The Q; with the "Witness" signs, as if he were able to perform miracles; with the sing-along by city and state officials, pleading for him to stay. There was a clear indication from the moment he wore a Yankees cap to a New York-Indians playoff game in what was then called Jacobs Field that he felt he could do anything he pleased. No one in the Cavaliers' organization would ever tell him no.
What a surprise that he became monstrously self-centered.
In the end, he proved not good enough to win it all, even with a good supporting cast.
By waiting to leave until after his high-profile basketball camp in his hometown of Akron, by surrounding himself there with current and former Cavs teammates, and by scheduling a one-hour national cable "event" just to exploit this city's suffering, he hit the trifecta in deplorable behavior.
He had before invoked all the connotations of home, only to leave it. He had before summoned an image of family, only to reject it. He had before cherished loyalty, only to betray it. He wears "Family" and "Loyalty" tattoos on his torso. Dermabrasion, please. The sooner, the better.
By contrast, Tim Duncan could have left the Spurs for Orlando, almost did, then stayed and won three of his four championships afterward. Kobe Bryant almost forced his way out of Los Angeles, then stayed and won two championships among his five overall, in just the last two years.
With James, there was always a childish, self-aggrandizing aspect to his game and a divided focus on the importance of winning. He was caught up in hosting the ESPYs and "Saturday Night Live" or making a proposed movie. Such perks once followed winning, but in his case, they preceded it.
He always wanted everyone to look at him. He valued trick shots, attempting looping, underhanded efforts from halfcourt before the game. He indulged in showy, copycat gestures like the pre-game powder throw. (Kevin Garnett did it first). He was not the winner we thought, not by a long shot in the Boston series. He was the fabulous curiosity, the bearded lady, the dancing bear.
He rubbed it in, dancing and preening, when the Cavs won and, at least twice, against Boston in 2008 and Orlando in 2009, he left without shaking hands after they lost. By joining the stocked-with-superstars Miami Heat, he becomes on the court what his rooting interests in the New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys made him off it -- a front-runner.
As far as the "multiple" championships go that the abdicated "King" thinks will ratify greatness, is that really so? Until the rise of Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson in the 1980s and '90s, Jerry West and Oscar Robertson were commonly considered the best guards in NBA history. They won two championships between them. Years of excellence established their reputations, despite the obstacles the Bill Russell dynasty presented.
James will be compared to Modell, although NBA basketball, of sorts, will continue here, and NFL football, the biggest thing in town by far, did not for three years. Of course Modell should have sold to a local buyer, but he was down to his last resort in order to stay in the game when he moved the Browns to ease his financial burdens. James had plenty of time, at age 25, to redeem his feeble efforts against Boston. Garnett, for example, stayed a decade in a less competitive situation in Minnesota and left more honorably.
Modell's move meant he sacrificed his chance for his sport's Hall of Fame.
James -- despite the problems he and Dwyane Wade will have in sharing the ball, despite the need to keep the third mercenary, Chris Bosh, happy too -- probably thinks he has won the world.
Everywhere but home, although he said he will still live in Akron.
Because home is gone. Because it's personal here too.
© 2010 cleveland.com. All rights reserved.
LeBron's unsavory 'Decision' spectacle
He chose the Heat for justifiable reasons, but the way he announced it wasn't pretty
By Gene Wojciechowski
July 8, 2010
BOSTON - MAY 07: (FILE PHOTO) LeBron James rests against the Boston Celtics in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2010 NBA Playoffs at TD Banknorth Garden on May 7, 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts. James announced July 8, 2010 that he will play for the Miami Heat during a live broadcast on ESPN. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
And now I'd like to present … The Column on The Decision, which was announced by The Egotist, who has lost The Respect of The Columnist for jacking around The Cavs, The Bulls, The Knicks, The Nets and The Clippers (yes, even The Clippers) before deciding on The Heat and milking it for every Favre-like minute as he talked about The King in The Third Person.
Please tell me it's over, or is LeBron James still blabbering away about the agony of free agency?
If nothing else, the James Team's manufactured saga makes you yearn for simpler times, like when Michael Jordan, who actually won things such as championships, announced one of his monumental career decisions in a concise "I'm back" fax.
But no, we got 27 minutes of TV appetizers, followed by eight seconds of LeBron steak ("This fall -- man, this is very tough -- um, this fall I'm going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat"), followed by 33-plus minutes of Worcestershire sauce. The whole thing was semi-ridiculous, although it did reveal a vain, self-absorbed side of James that's as attractive as braided nose hair.
Anyway, he's going to Miami to team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh! Whooee!
Duh. Where else did you think he'd sign once Wade re-upped with Team Riley and Bosh followed? To Cleveland? Sure, because everyone wants to play for a team with little cap space and Mo Williams as your point guard. To the Bulls and a rookie head coach and a sometimes dysfunctional front office? To New York and the countdown to Amare Stoudamire's next injury? To New Jersey and more questions marks than in this paragraph? To Los Angeles and Donald Sterling and the shadow of the Lakers and Kobe Bryant?
The minute Wade and Bosh chose Miami is the minute The Decision was made. James can (and did) frame it any way he wants; but if winning a championship was his No. 1 priority -- and he said weeks and weeks ago that it was -- then the Heat made the most sense, followed closely by the Bulls.
Nearly five months ago, I wrote a column outlining how and why a James-Wade-Bosh signing could happen. At the time, the Knicks were the team best positioned to pull off the audacious move. But that was before Heat president (and eventual coach?) Pat Riley started dumping salaries into Biscayne Bay. Then he kept Wade, recruited Bosh and that was that.
I don't have a problem with James' choice. Had he selected anyone but the Heat or the Bulls, he would have backtracked on his free agency campaign promise of caring only about wins, not money. By signing with the Heat, he'll get both -- maybe not as much money had he stayed in Cleveland; but in the short and long run, he'll have a better chance at an NBA title.
What bothers me isn't so much the contrived nature of the announcement, but that James was such a willing participant, if not the creator, of the spectacle. He is an immensely gifted player -- the best in the NBA -- but he has won nothing. Zilch. Goose eggs. At least Wade has a championship ring. Whatever James won in high school doesn't count.
Can you imagine what Kobe was thinking as he watched Thursday evening's announcement? He must have been seething. He's probably already counting the months, weeks and days until the Lakers play the Heat during the regular season. Knowing how Bryant uses such things as motivation, he's almost surely hoping the Heat win the Eastern Conference and face the Lakers in the Finals.
James did the Heat, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America (a reported $2.5 million in donated revenue from the telecast of The Decision) and the Lakers a huge favor Thursday night. As for the Cavs, Bulls, Knicks, Nets and Clippers, those franchises deserve better than the dog and LeBron show.
If, as James said Thursday night, he made up his mind that morning, then he owed those franchises the courtesy of a phone call. If it leaked before the TV show, then it leaked. It's not like it was a secret. ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard reported ALL day and night that James was a virtual lock to join the Heat.
Not much doubt about LeBron's clout outside the Boys & Girls Club on Thursday, at least in this fan's mind.
And is it just me, or is anyone else stunned that James informed the Heat of the decision minutes before the broadcast, but didn't do the same for the franchise that had been his only professional home?
This was a James production, filled with James-endorsed products, coordinated by James employees. Was it news? Absolutely. Was it narcissistic? Absolutely. Was ESPN a partner of sorts? Absolutely.
I don't think less of James' basketball skills, but I do think less of his instincts. He didn't grow his brand Thursday night, he grew his ego. It was clumsy, ill-conceived and unnecessary. I watched and winced.
In Cleveland, there was footage of Cavs fans burning his jersey. Dumb. Northeast Ohio ought to thank him for his seven years of loyal, blue-collar service, just as James thanked Northeast Ohio for its support. It is, as James has reminded us repeatedly, a business.
But the business of James has become a little less pure and a lot more mercenary. It wasn't who he chose, but how he chose them.
Maybe a championship, if he wins one, will make it all worthwhile. Maybe James will learn a lesson from this botched exercise in marketing. Until then, the way he handled his free agency announcement will be known by two words.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com.