Why So Mad at LeBron?

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[This story appears on page 4 of the July 15 print edition of Ace.]

Misplaced Rage at LeBron
by Kevin Faris

Party in the city where the heat is on
All night on the beach till the break of dawn
Welcome to Miami (bienvenido a Miami)

 – Will Smith

Unless you have been living in the parts of Kentucky that exist only on F/X’s “Justified” (which by the way is AWESOME), then you have heard about LeBron James’s decision to leave Cleveland and take his talents to South Beach.  In the grand history of the world, this is the only time where people are upset that someone is choosing to leave Cleveland (which I’m sure is lovely when the lake is not on fire) to go to Miami (which I know is lovely, humidity notwithstanding). 

Now, I want to be clear.  If you are from Cleveland or a fan of the Cleveland Cavaliers, then you have every right to be upset, angry, and borderline violent about this decision. That’s what fans do. What surprises me is the large number of people who are not Cleveland or even NBA fans who are flipping out about LBJ’s decision. The anger is strange in that it is so vitriolic and based mostly around extremely subjective reasons.  Here are a few of the arguments out there and why I think they’re misplaced.

  1. Kobe and/or Jordan would not have done this. Do you know why they would not have done this?  Because they didn’t have to. Let’s start with MJ.  MJ was on a struggling Chicago team that eventually surrounded him with a quality coach (Phil Jackson) and a great teammate (Scottie Pippen).  Cleveland surrounded LBJ with a variety of average and unproven coaches and the best teammate he ever had was Carlos Boozer for one year.  For an example of how to surround a young star with talent to grow and work with, look at Oklahoma City and Kevin Durant.  Kobe manipulated the draft to end up being traded to the LA Lakers where he was quickly joined by a young dominating Shaquille O’Neal and then by Phil Jackson.  Kobe was selfish enough to force both out in order to win by himself.  When that didn’t work he threatened to leave in free agency, demanded a trade (which LBJ never did) and was a non-factor in the title hunt until the arrival of Pau Gasol.  In short, Kobe and MJ had better organizations which supplied better teammates and coaches.  LBJ has that now with Pat Riley and the Miami Heat.  The only thing LBJ did that Kobe and MJ didn’t do was start his career with a good organization.
  2. LBJ is leaving to play 2nd banana to Dwyane Wade.  If you asked everyone last week who was the better player, LBJ or Wade, almost everyone would answer LBJ.  Why does that change now?  Because LBJ came to Miami, which was Wade’s team?  Why?  Seriously, why?  None of us have any idea how this is going to play out so let’s wait until we anoint Wade as the leader and LBJ as the complementary player.  The fact is every great player needs another great player and Wade needed someone like LBJ or Chris Bosch just as badly as they needed him. Wade has won a ring, but like Kobe, he won with a motivated Shaq.  LBJ has done more in Cleveland than Wade has done in Miami the past few years, with comparable supporting casts.
  3. LBJ dragged this out because he’s a drama queen.  LBJ became a free agent on July 1st and announced on July 8th.  That’s seven days.  ESPN wanted him to wait until July 14th and announce at the ESPYs.  The go to comparison here is Brett Favre, who drags out his will he/won’t he play decision all summer.  My wife screams when she hears Brett Favre’s name.  At this point, LBJ has not triggered this type of response.  The coverage was excessive, but the wait was nowhere near Favre length.
  4. The TV show was terrible.  Actually, everyone was right.  This show was horrendous and I actually think ESPN came off looking worse than LBJ, who looked extremely uncomfortable.  I have no idea who thought this would be a good idea, but you know what…people watched.  Lots of people watched.  And the Boys and Girls Club got some cash.  But still, what a terrible show.
  5. He owed Cleveland a ring.  LBJ fulfilled and honored every contract he signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers and brought them more success and money than ever in their history.  He did not win a championship, true, but he played and worked hard during his seven years there. He re-signed at the end of his rookie contract and that was Cleveland’s opportunity to surround him with a proper supporting cast.  They did not.  If you want to say that LBJ failed the city, then understand that the organization failed him.

In short, I believe LBJ made the best choice if the desire is a potential championship.  Loyalty (and the biggest contract) in Cleveland would have meant a new coach and basically the same team since few free agents are interested in going there. New York has the glitz and glamour for marketing, but also a limited roster. I don’t think New Jersey or the LA Clippers were ever a real possibility. 

That left Chicago and Miami as the places to go if he wanted to win.  Miami, however, offered friends from the Olympic team plus Pat Riley.  In the end, LBJ took less money (although the sign and trade and Florida taxes cover most of that) and suffered the backlash of leaving for his best chance of winning a championship next year. So, be angry if you must. Mock him and call him names. Whatever makes you feel good.  Just admit you will watch and be ready to see him win.  A lot.

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