Maybe LeBron James lacks faith in himself and knew he needed help to win his first NBA championship. (Marc Serota/Getty Images)
It's Day Five since LeDecision rocked America, and we haven't even begun cleaning up the ego droppings and broken fantasies. It's amazing and polarizing and all-encompassing, and there's more than enough embarrassment to go around.
Everyone involved is stained by this grand confluence of ego, passion and hypocrisy, so don't try to pin it just on LeBron James. He's a great basketball player turned into a caricature, a King without a Ring, addicted to hype, but he's not the lone clown in this show.
Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert joined the fun with his childish, hypocritical whine, accusing James of "cowardly betrayal." Of course, Gilbert was merrily willing to play the butt-smooching superstar game right up until the moment the superstar bit him.
Then naturally, the Rev. Jesse Jackson had to jump in for his slice of ego nourishment, accusing Gilbert of a "slave master mentality." That's a laughable, shameless attention grab by Jackson, and it's not worth deep discussion.
Why has one simple decision by a superstar to leave his hometown team in Cleveland for the sunny beaches of Miami created such a monumental stir? Lots of reasons, but here's the underlying one:
It so blatantly shattered a facade and revealed one of sports' dirty little secrets, that self-interest rules the game.
This all would be disgusting if it weren't so darn absurd. James gained sympathy from Gilbert's diatribe, and Gilbert gained sympathy from Jackson's diatribe.
And everyone feels sorry for Cleveland and all the Clevelands of the world, the ruddy types who try to compete with the pretty types, only to have sand kicked in their faces.
James went from endearing star to petulant villain not because he took the easiest path to a championship by joining Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, but because he reveled in doing it. He built his own gilded, prime-time stage because that's what the NBA celebrates, and what overbearing ESPN provides. If I ever have to hear sniveling Jim Gray or cloying Stuart Scott purr that James is "The King" again, I swear I'll empty the contents of my stomach onto my computer screen.
Wrong choice, LeBron
I understand the illusion of loyalty in sports is so outdated, it qualifies as quaint. And yes, the Cavaliers blew it, too -- they had James for seven season and reached only one NBA Finals. James had every right as a free agent to leave, and I can't really blame him. I also can't think of a clumsier, more disingenuous way to depart, than in a nationally televised spectacle.
Before that, James played with such disinterest at times during the playoffs, Gilbert suggested he'd "quit." Hmm, anyone else find it strange Gilbert was eager to dole out $120 million to a coward and a quitter? If anything, Gilbert's bitter tantrum -- for which he was fined $100,000 Monday by the NBA -- proved James' decision was at least half right. He was right to leave, now knowing what the owner truly thought of him. I think he was wrong to go to Miami because any championship there is diminished, manufactured by negotiation and friendships.
What bloated silliness, all the way around. After LeBron was done pandering to his audience, Gilbert pandered to his Cleveland audience, and then Jackson pandered to his race-conscious audience, making references that serve no purpose other than to inflame and deflect.
The final indelible stain gets slapped on the NBA, which looks as unbalanced as ever, threatening to be consumed by the star power it created. Just a few years after the Pistons won the 2004 title without a superstar, giving hope to the great unwashed, the league swung back the other way. Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and the Lakers are in charge, only because the Celtics got old, only until the Heat grow together.
A lack of faith?
When the furor dies, the NBA will have a nice batch of juicy story lines. But no one should feel good about this, except perhaps Tom Izzo, who never, ever should regret turning down a chance to coach the Cavaliers.
This is what happens when hubris is unchecked, and I'm talking about James and Gilbert and ESPN and Nike and all of James' handlers, who led him into a public-relations disaster. Everyone talks about the LeBron Brand, which seems as important to James as anything else. So what happens to the brand now, with the Chosen One revealed as the Posing One?
Desperate or just deluded, Gilbert enabled James all those years, letting James' buddies control so much, building a gleaming practice facility close to his mansion. So should anyone be shocked when the star showed no respect in the end? Gilbert was the parent who spoiled the child, and when James bolted without a phone call or real remorse, Gilbert was left to yell from behind the slammed door.
James is a great player but he's a follower, more likely to defer, and he just proved it by, in his words, "joining forces" with Wade and Bosh. In the competitive glory days of the NBA, the best desperately wanted to beat each other, not placate each other.
Nobody wins it all by himself, but nobody of luminous stature hitches a ride on someone else's team. Michael Jordan didn't, Bryant didn't, Magic Johnson didn't. You wonder, amid all the royal pomp, if James actually lacks faith in himself.
What he tried to characterize as selflessness -- taking less money to win -- is pretty flimsy, too. It's not entirely true, with the absence of a state tax in Florida narrowing the income gap if he'd stayed in Ohio.
No, this story still captivates because it's about self-indulgence and self-interest. It's about the wide, wide reach of sports in America, the ultimate magnifier of ego and passion. We hate it, love it and can't ever ignore it.
James led the Cavaliers to the best regular-season record in the league ... (Elsa/Getty Images)
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