LeBron James has decided to move to Florida and the world is in an uproar! Wow. The animosity directed toward the planet’s greatest basketball player is surprising, wide-spread, and ultimately unreasonable.
Though it is true that LeBron James may have broken some rules of decorum with his television special to announce his free agency decision, he is not responsible for all the hoopla surrounding that decision.
Some responsibility rests with him. Much of the attention paid to James in this year’s off-season was from the people who get paid to write and talk about celebrities and athletes. The sports media had a huge investment in LeBron James and in the drama of his period of NBA contract limbo.
Perhaps if the sports media were the only branch of popular-professional interest in Mr. James, then his final decision to join Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami would have met with the kind of response it deserved – excitement and acceptance – above all, acceptance.
However, there was seemingly no limit to the number of parties interested in reporting on LeBron James off-the-court decision. NPR was reporting on June 30 that on July 1 the free agency period would begin and, in their way, hyping the decision he would make a week later. We’re talking about NPR, the news and human interest publically funded radio network. In no way are they part of the “sports media”.
And in no way were they alone in picking up the LeBron James free agency story.
Blaming LeBron James for the attentions he received this summer is strictly ridiculous. Blaming him for choosing to hold a televised special on ESPN announcing his decision is also out of bounds. How can we blame someone for exercising the options extended to him?
Are people getting angry that LeBron took advantage of his (unprecedented) opportunities? They shouldn’t be. That is exactly why there was such a deep excitement about LeBron playing the market as a free agent – the unprecedented possibilities.
Getting angry with LeBron for adding suspense and bravado to this amazing free agent period is like rooting for him to dunk then getting mad when he flexes and growls afterward. The flexing and growling are part of the show. When you root for him to dunk you root for him to flex and growl.
When you hype his free agency decision, you give him the chance to go on national television and do a special – for a charity! – something he certainly could not have pulled off without the intensity of interest heaped upon him in the media at large.
Maureen Dowd has a column (nytimes.com) condemning LeBron James for his public attitude, his bluster, his pomposity put on display in his ESPN special. In the column she suggests that Kobe Bryant has re-signed with the Lakers several times without the LeBron-style attention seeking, but she forgets Kobe’s infamous press conference announcing his leap into the NBA draft at age 17 – which, had he been as famous then as he is now, would have been a television special too.
Dowd draws more comparisons – to Alex Rodriguez and Tom Brady – suggesting that they are humble where LeBron James is not. Let us not fail to see this event in the light of LeBron’s special fame with its attendant special endorsement opportunities.
When you can endorse a charity (raising 2.5 million dollars for it) and gather 9 million viewers to witness your career announcement, you are proving that you can sell product. This was shrewd, if juvenile. Yet, one must hesitate to deem the television special as childish when, again, the media world created an immense pressure ball surrounding the question that the special intended to answer.
If LeBron had simply called a press conference would the fall-out around the country have been so intense? Probably not, but, really, what is the difference between a half and hour Q&A and a 28 minute special? At least this way the Boys and Girls Club got something out of it.
The issue at the root of LeBron James’ decision was how to win a championship. It was a professional decision.
If the chips are now stacked in Miami’s favor that is no fault of LeBron James, just as the acquisition of Pau Gasol was not Kobe Bryant’s “fault”.
At the start of last season, the Lakers suited up one league MVP and scoring champion (Kobe Bryant), one defensive player of the year and All-Star (Ron Artest), and a seven-foot All-Star (Pau Gasol) and people were cheering for them.
Now that Miami looks to up the ante a bit – just a bit – the dogs bark, the sky falls, and hate rains down on a player, in LeBron James, who simply made the decision everyone was asking him to make.
He was a free agent. Perhaps we should emphasize the each word in the term. He was free, unencumbered, owing no one anything. He was an agent, a person capable of deciding for himself what would be best.
His talent and his fame made his decision an incredibly exciting and dramatic one. The fact that he further emphasized these things should not be held against him by anyone who had any part – even the smallest – in building the hype around his decision. Sadly, it seems that the very people who made the money off of this decision and built up its importance – the pundits and talking heads – are now suggesting very vocally and irrationally that LeBron James has made a huge mistake.
Choosing an opportunity to win by joining an All-Star cast doesn’t seem like a mistake.
Finally, to combat the suggestion that Wade, Bosh, and James have “hijacked the championship” and that everyone will be rooting against the Miami Heat, the point has already been made that there are plenty of teams with multiple All-Stars.
When Dennis Rodman joined the Chicago Bulls in 1996 to play with Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan, there was not so much vitriol spewed regarding collusion between the stars. That team won 72 games – an NBA record – and the record stands as a legitimate testament to the tenacity and sheer will to win that was Jordan’s hallmark.
There were no accusations of hijacking.
When the Boston Celtics signed two big name free agents several years ago then went on to win a championship, everyone cheered the resurgence of a “classic franchise”.
The Lakers have multiple All-Stars. The Orlando Magic start three current and former All-Stars who are in or near their prime. (Ok, Maybe Vince Carter is a few years over the hump, but he can still play.)
The Spurs added Richard Jefferson (an All-Star with the Nets) to their roster last season to join Tim Duncan (MVP & All-Star), Tony Parker (All-Star) and Manu Ginobli (All-Star & Gold Medal Winner). Did you hear anyone boo-hoo-ing that one?
Clearly, this method of stacking the line-up with talent makes sense and results in championships – sometimes. But no amount of talent can guarantee a championship.
We will just have to see how much anger the average NBA fan carries into the season with them. The fans of at least one team will be giddy until opening day.
New York Times dot com