Friday, July 9, 2010

The Decision aftermath

I have a strange relationship with the city of Cleveland. I’ve lived here for two post-college years, working a job that I landed with the help of an acquaintance who happens to be my current boss. I’ve found the bare minimum of friends (the few that I have don’t like me very much, as evidenced by an e-mail I received earlier today from one of them telling me I was being an ass or some such at the bars last night). I’ve found very few activities—aside from my hockey team, I don’t really do much but golf, both of which can be performed elsewhere. And the city is at least partially responsible for the recent dissolution of a long-term, long-distance relationship that I realistically thought was Going Somewhere—this being the main impetus for my social collapse and general absence from this blog during the offseason.

For two years, I’ve spent a large amount of time following the Cavaliers, a team that I openly root against (I’m a Pistons fan; divisional rivals, etc.), to the point that I seriously contemplated starting a blog called “In the Enemy’s Corner” and taking a legitimate approach to reporting on and analyzing the team. The organization fascinated me for one reason: LeBron James.

“He doesn’t exist. He’s not real,” is my common refrain when describing James. He’s omnipotent. The things he’s physically capable of don’t exist in the lexicon of basketball, and watching him is like watching a demigod descend onto a waxed, hardwood floor; he’s a Shakespeare play. And as I decried for the last two years only to be told I don’t know anything about basketball, on the court he was surrounded by the equivalent of high-paid grade schoolers that couldn’t make a lay up.

I watched The Decision last night on ESPN in my apartment with a friend who has, for the last several years, been a Cavaliers season ticket owner. When LeBron announced he was taking his talents to South Beach, she let out a four-letter word loud enough that I was worried that the children who live in the house across the street might hear. She was upset. She was broken. Mostly, she was angry that she had already bought season tickets and owner Dan Gilbert had raised the price of tickets $3 per seat, per game (an extra $120 or so, but it’s the principal of the thing). At the bar later she showed me Gilbert’s rant to which I responded, “What an embarrassment. Who goes to the internet to post something like that publicly moments after something like this.” I didn’t realize that Dan Gilbert had written it.

In the streets, people were crying and burning James jerseys.

I’ve been mostly appalled today watching the reaction of the city, coworkers, friends, and the general public. LeBron is selfish and arrogant and he betrayed the city. This is the refrain of everyone in earshot. How could he do this to Cleveland?

I was talking to a friend about the impending decision two days ago. He said, “None of those guys is a legacy player in the same way that LBJ wants to be,” when I compared the Celtics Big 3 to the current situation in Miami. I responded, “Is he really itching to become what you want him to be? That's a bullshit conclusion to jump to, especially because there's a very real chance he joins Wade and Bosh in Miami, which says that maybe he doesn't give a fuck about being whatever it is you and Michael Wilbon think he wants to be.” (As an aside, I hate Michael Wilbon. That’s all.) A lot has been imposed on James, unfairly too.

What the city of Cleveland has failed to realize is that this is not about them. That’s not meant to be consolation: this is not an It’s Not You It’s Me situation. I mean it very literally: LeBron James going to Miami and no longer playing for the Cavaliers has nothing to do with the city of Cleveland. It’s about LeBron James and basketball, not curses and betrayal. Much like James, this whole situation is being saddled with a bunch of storylines similar to, “If MSU wins the NCAA Tournament in Detroit, it saves the city.” That sort of shark-jumping, begging-for-drama storyline that’s imposed on far too many sports stories.

So now LeBron James is essentially banished from his home state of Ohio. And that’s fine. That’s everyone’s right. He’ll be booed across the country for the way he handled the whole situation—rightly so, to an extent—and he’ll probably win multiple championships. Most importantly, maybe now, LeBron James can just be LeBron James.

2 comments: said...

With the signing of James, I want to congratulate the Miami Heat on winning the 2011 (yes, I said 2011) NBA title!

agaerig said...

This is half-right. The initial promise of LeBron James-- the Idea-- was EVERYTHING: Jordan but more approachable; Duncan but flashier; Magic but elevating his hometown. For seven years, EVERYTHING seemed possible. Save for a lack of championships (which still seemed on the near horizon), LeBron was successfully being everything to everyone.

That he has chosen to be less than that is, essentially, fine. I think he probably passed up a once-in-a-generation (or perhaps a once-in-every-other-generation) opportunity to be that player, that figure, but it's his business if he wants something different.

I don't, however, think it's right to let him have it both ways. You question your friends' and analysts' assumptions about what James wants for himself, but those assumptions aren't based on pennies in fountains. Nor are they based solely on his play. Players who don't wish to be EVERYTHING shouldn't have thousand-foot-wide billboards; they shouldn't sign kabillion-dollar contracts with Nike; they shouldn't appear on the cover of GQ; they shouldn't choose to wear the number Michael Jordan wore. They definitely should not host narcissistic hour-long television specials devoted to themselves.

You're right that analysts often misinterpret players' desires and wishes: not everyone has Jordan in them. But it's wrong to say that they misinterpreted James' desires and wishes. Indeed, every indication he has ever given anyone is that he wishes to be EVERYTHING. Often, he has stated it explicitly. On Thursday he acted in a way absolutely incongruous with being EVERYTHING. LeBron has a right to change course; everyone else has a right to be angry, to feel betrayed.


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