Wednesday, July 14, 2010

How LeBron's Decision Affected Me

In case you haven't heard, LeBron James had a one-hour primetime special on ESPN last week to announce what team he was gonna play for. It was entitled "The Decision" and was almost as self-absorbed and un-self-aware as it sounds. He plunged a dagger into the back of the Cleveland Cavaliers, his hometown team that had helped him achieve global superstardom during his first 7 years in the NBA, and for some reason he decided to perform this soul-reaping on national television.

But that's not what I wanna talk about. Plenty of sportswriters and fans have vented their rage on this subject, castigating LeBron for his egomania, obliviousness or maybe even vindictiveness for subjecting Cleveland fans to such a public abandonment. I'd like to talk about how LeBron's decision affected me. I've been a fan of his since he went pro straight out of high school in '03. He has always seemed like a super-nice, fun kinda guy. Now he kinda seems like a jerk. Or, at best, an idiot.

Not only did he show zero sensitivity to the feelings of Cleveland fans, he showed very little regard for the feelings of people like me, fans of his who aren't from Cleveland and don't care that much where he plays. We deserve some consideration too. Sure, I would've liked to see him stay in Cleveland and exhibit loyalty to a fanbase that has become the poster child for sports-delivered gut punches. But if he was gonna leave the Cavs, the least he could've done was pick a team with a decent jersey design that didn't already have an alpha dog. Allow me to explain.

The Miami Heat, LeBron's new team, has rather boring jerseys. The colors are dark red and white with black trim, or black and white with red trim, which is fine. But the design is sterile and unimaginative, just basic block lettering. The script is slanted in a lame attempt to add some dynamism to the look. Say what you will about the Cavs, that their owner's a jerk, that their new coach is a cast-off, that their city is where championship hopes go to die, but you could NOT say that their jerseys lacked pizazz. Whether they were wearing the white-and-navy-and-wine-and-gold home jerseys or the wine-and-gold road jerseys or the navy-and-gold alternate road jerseys, they always stepped on the court in style. Maybe the Cavs don't know how to win titles, but they certainly know how to put on the Ritz.

I'm not sure if I'm willing to split with $40 for a replica LeBron Heat jersey, even though he'll be wearing No. 6 as a tribute to one of my favorite players, Julius "Dr. J" Erving. (Bill Simmons,'s "The Sports Guy" and my favorite sportswriter, will surely have a field day with that choice, since he's already tagged LeBron as another Dr. J, i.e., an outlandishly gifted athlete who would belong in the game's pantheon if not for his lack of a killer instinct. Simmons may also find it significant that LeBron hasn't mentioned the other legendary player to wear No. 6, Bill Russell, winner of a record 11 NBA titles, a ruthless competitor and firmly ensconced in the pantheon.) It'd be nice to see the Heat wear their retro jerseys, the style they sported at the dawn of the franchise, back in those myth-wreathed days of '88. I'm sure they'll be churning out all kinds of throwback jerseys for the Tropical Trio of LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to wear and for us to buy. I seem to recall the Heat donning the uniforms of the ABA's 38-years-defunct Miami Floridians not so long ago. Those may be coming out of storage as we speak.

As for the "alpha dog" argument, it feels almost like nit-picking. You see, we sports fans want our heroes to be deeply committed to winning, to the exclusion of nearly everything else in life. LeBron has shown an interest in winning by his choice, choosing to join forces with Dwyane Wade, at worst the third-best player in the NBA, and Chris Bosh, one of the league's best post players. But they have formed such a talented core that it seems like cheating for them to play on the same team. Anything less than a championship would be a disappointment, if not an outright embarrassment.

Also, we want LeBron to be the Man on whatever team he joins. As I've heard someone remark on ESPN, Jordan wouldn't have wanted to play with D-Wade; he would've wanted to beat him. And Jordan is the gold standard for competitiveness. He may've been a gambling addict who cheated on his wife and punched his teammates, but nobody fought harder to win. That's the ideal to which all NBA stars aspire, no matter how destructive the personal consequences may be. LeBron's desire to play with his All-Star friends undermines his basketball stature, even in my eyes. He should want to win but on his own terms on a team that automatically defers to him in crunch time.

It's too bad we've lionized these qualities in our sports heroes: obsessive competitiveness and anti-social individualism. Perhaps LeBron "Bron-Bron" or "King" James, Dwyane "D-Wade" or "Flash" Wade and Chris "I Could Really Use A Nickname That's Better Than CB4" or "The Texas Toothpick" Bosh will teach us all a thing or two about teamwork and friendship. I suppose if they rattled off 8 straight championships, that might be cool. But I think LeBron has forfeited his chance to supplant Jordan as the Greatest Basketball Player of All Time, which sucks because I really wanted him to be the Chosen One and, as we've all learned from the sacred parchments of countless cultures and endless viewings of The Matrix on cable, when the time comes, the Chosen One must stand alone.

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