From insinuations that Delonte West was having sex with his mother to his former owner, Dan Gilbert, throwing him under the bus to Cleveland fans burning his jersey in the streets, it’s been a tough week for one LeBron James.
The James saga will soon, mercifully, quiet down as the sports world turns its attention back to baseball and then the opening of NFL football camps. But no offseason in NBA history has been this eventful and stage stealing. This is a sport, one must realize, that is a distant third in popularity between the two big ones, the NFL and Major League Baseball. It sometimes struggles to get its due during its own season; to command center stage like this has been unprecedented and likely will not happen again any time soon. While it may seem to have been good for NBA business, the whole thing came with a price, however, and that price is LeBron James’ good name.
While he may not even realize it yet, as he dances around Miami with new teammates Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, LeBron James’ brand has taken a beating over the past week. A smallish part of this is due to the ill advised ‘LeBronathon’ that took place, culminating in a cringe worthy spectacle in Greenwich, Connecticut, as he made to the shocking announcement that the shocked nobody: that he would become a Miami Heat. (Is that how to say it? A Heat?)
James is very likely in his own insulated bubble, not unlike the bubble many say that presidents live in. A self proclaimed “King”, it’s perhaps to be expected. But the sad truth is, LeBron James probably has little idea what’s really going on out here.
And what’s really going on out here may not be fair to LeBron James.
LeBron James himself has not actually done anything wrong. He has acted without tact and without humility and failed to calculate the consequences of his actions. But at no time has he intentionally hurt anybody or broken any written rule.
When thinking about the whole LeBron James story here in the summer of 2010, the 300 pound elephant in the room, even if the established media does not want to report it, is LeBron James’ mother Gloria’s alleged relationship with James’ now former teammate, Delonte West.
It is said that West and Gloria James carried on a sexual affair of unspecified length, that LeBron James found out about it in the midst of the Cavalilers’ playoff series against the Celtics and that he was too stunned for the duration of the series to play to his typical level.
Many reports suggested that this alleged affair affected LeBron James’ decision making, as the New York Post had already had a reporter staking out his mother’s house and only an appeal by James’ representatives prevented them from running a hugely embarrassing story. This, it has been speculated is a major reason why James decided to avoid the bright lights of New York City where his personal life, and presumably that of his mothers’ would be hard to protect.
Of course, the night that James announced his intention to sign with the Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert put out a scatching letter criticizing what he describe as a “disloyal” James. He said that there was more to the story than the Cavaliers fans knew and that more would be forthcoming. While very likely written in anger, the timing and tone of the letter were curious. He suggested that James would often quit in big moments and wasn’t the competitor everybody believed he was.
Finally, Cleveland fans were filmed burning LeBron James’ jerseys in the streets. While there is no way to accurately measure what percentage of Cleveland fans actually burned anything or marched or chanted, the likely relative few that did got the attention, as is often the case.
Through an embarrassing, sad and unceremonious farewell for LeBron James, a 25 year old kid, one must wonder what exactly he did wrong in all of this. The stories about LeBron ranged from the salacious (his mother’s affair with his teammate) to the angry (Dan Gilbert) to the borderline violent (the burning of his jersey in the streets of Cleveland.
Furthermore, many suggested that James lacked a competitive drive as he joined up with two other elite players to become an instant favorite to contend for an NBA championship next year.
But, again, what did LeBron James do wrong? He gave 7 years of excitement to his hometown team (or near hometown team; LeBron is actually from nearby Akron), and when his time when he had the right to become a free agent, he exercised that right (a right all players have after a certain amount of time), and agreed to take less money to go to a team that maximized his chances to win.
In return, he’s had speculation (that very well might be accurate) that his mother’s sex life played a major role in his decision, he’s had his former owner rip him as hard as one can, had fans burn his jersey and had talk radio and print media from coast to coast rip him for a lack of drive.
Is any of this fair? Again, LeBron James exercised his right to explore his options. He decided to go to a city that might not have the same level of scrutiny that New York City would, and in the process left his hometown team.
I was critical of his ESPN special and found it difficult to watch, but even that raised a million dollars for the Boys and Girls Club.
So for all of this we are vilifying a 25 year old? It seems harsh. Yes, with big rewards comes big responsibilities, but then, LeBron James doesn’t appear to have shirked any of his responsibilities. While the fairy tale ending would have him staying home and winning a championship with the Cavaliers, sports, and life, don’t always have happy endings.
And the next time one criticizes an athlete for being ‘all about the money’, realize that James was willing to take less to go to Miami in order to win. Maybe the system that allows this stinks, but LeBron James has tried to manage personal issues not of his doing while also playing by the rules.
The upcoming days and weeks will likely tell us more about Delonte West and Gloria James. The upcoming years will tell us more about LeBron’s decision where to play. But in the here and the now, the man has done nothing wrong.
Source: Dino Nicandros, “LeBron James Goes and Dan Gilbert Blows His Top”, bleacherreport.com