Witnessing The Fall … For Now

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By Site Lead Arturo R. García

Better get comfy now: the case of The People vs. Lebron James might go through a lull or two over the summer – wedding incidents notwithstanding – but it’ll resume in full force when the NBA season starts again this fall.

For now, almost one week after “The Decision,” everybody involved is looking for sympathy. But aside from those poor kids who were herded onto live television to watch their hometown hero drag his one-man show out longer than the Lost finale, they’re all falling short.

James, of course, has to take most of the blame for this debacle. As an alleged lifelong sports fan, he had to know what he was risking by turning his break-up with both the Cleveland Cavaliers and his native Ohio into a one-night-stand with reality television. If James had taken the usual route for this announcement – you know, a faux-solemn press conference, which would’ve still given ESPN some ratings – it’d all be over but the spin control by this point. Instead, it’s only just begun.

This much is for sure: James is going to get paid well by his new team, the Miami Heat, and in teaming up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, he gets what he says he wanted most – something that, according to ESPN’s Bill Simmons, he’s wanted for a long time:

A few weeks after the 2008 Summer Olympics, Someone Who Knows Things told me the following rumor: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Chris Paul became such good friends during the 2007 Olympic trials, and then during their 2008 Olympics excursion in Beijing, that they actually made a pact in China to play together. You know, like one of those pacts in a chick flick where two friends agree to get married if both of them are single when they turn 40.

Simmons goes on to suggest that Wade and Bosh kept up the charade, including a second meeting between Wade and the Chicago Bulls, so they could gather footage for their own presumably bad reality shows. Which begs the question, why not just film a team series? Would The Brotherhood of the Traveling Sweatpants really have been any less watchable than that Chad Johnson Ochocinco mess?

lebronreveal1 It also makes you wonder how B these new BFFs really are when Bosh and Wade not only let James go through with this show, but didn’t even do a cameo to back him up or tell everyone, “You don’t understand, we had to do this – we pinky-sweared!” Instead, James was left to face the music, with this half-surprised look on his face following The Reveal, like he was wondering, they’re not cheering. Why aren’t they cheering? Do I need to give Cleveland a rose?

For James to go to Miami and play a really tall Questlove to Wade’s Black Thought (and Bosh’s Jimmy Fallon) also seems counter-intuitive to the idea of getting more titles more quickly, when you consider that he just traded the pressure of building a championship team in Cleveland for the pressure of having to damn well win championships, plural, after this display. And, as Slam Magazine’s Vincent Thomas points out, having to do so with an inferior team:

People who defend LeBron’s decision have noted that he’s done “what we always say we want athletes to do: be about winning, not money.” Negative. If LeBron went to Chicago, he’d have left the same $30 million on the table for a shot at multiple titles. In fact, Chicago’s full roster will probably always be better than Miami’s. Put it like this: Derrick Rose, on some nights, is almost as good as DWade; Carlos Boozer is, on many nights, just as good as good and productive as Chris Bosh; and Miami has no chance to attract role players the caliber of Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, no youngster as promising as Taj Gibson. There’s no way that, at the start of the season, Miami’s 8-man rotation will be as good as Chicago’s 8-man rotation would have been with LeBron.

And the Bulls aren’t even considered a major contender in the NBA right now. There’s still teams like Orlando and Boston out there, not to mention the scourge of the City of Los Angeles’ public sanitation department, Kobe Bryant’s Lakers – and their fans.

Speaking of fans, let’s not forget the kind of things that happen whenever a revered athlete strings multiple cities along while the media followed along fawningly:

Poor Cleveland; it can’t even start the offensive trends. And make no mistake, introducing burning imagery into the story of a young black man, even in the context of “justifiable anger,” gets problematic. For one week, James really did create his own Entourage-like scenario; he didn’t just beat the NBA system, he had it responding to whatever he decided to do. Which, of course, wasn’t going to go over too well with some folks:

This shocking act of disloyalty from our home grown “chosen one” sends the exact opposite lesson of what we would want our children to learn. And “who” we would want them to grow-up to become.

But the good news is that this heartless and callous action can only serve as the antidote to the so-called “curse” on Cleveland, Ohio.

The self-declared former “King” will be taking the “curse” with him down south. And until he does “right” by Cleveland and Ohio, James (and the town where he plays) will unfortunately own this dreaded spell and bad karma.
- Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert

burn1 I don’t know what was more troubling: that a billionaire would post the equivalent of a Facebook break-up status on his official team website, or that he’d do so in Comic Sans. As Thomas notes in Slam, the worth of the Cavaliers franchise has gone up by $100 million, and it’s even turned a profit in a time when the NBA is girding itself for a possible labor dispute as early as next year. That probably wasn’t thanks to Delonte West. So forget the native son; Gilbert’s most peeved at losing his meal ticket. How awkward is this season’s Cavs media guide going to be? What’ll it say on the cover? Now 100% All-Star free!?

But of course, it’s not entirely up to the Cavs to sell themselves; ESPN is its’ most eager broadcast partner, and the powers-that-be there had the chance to end this whole mess before it even started with a single word: No. After all, nobody forced them to accept Team James’ pitch for this show to take place. And sure, Michael Wilbon might be “candid” with CNN about his misgivings now, but he was still right there for the broadcast, wasn’t he? Waiting for Jim Gray to finish so he could get his shot at face time with the man of the hour.

Similarly, the kvetching from Sports Illustrated and most other outlets stank of sour grapes; would the venerable SI really have taken the high road in this instance? Probably not – it would’ve trotted Jack McCallum or Dan Patrick out there on CNN just as eagerly as ESPN did its’ own talent. And in the long run, if the Heat manages to, you know, not stink, ESPN (with some nudging from the league, perhaps?) can better use its’ platform to reposition this new James Gang as “The Three Amigos” or somesuch. It won’t be quite the same song as Fox and ESPN reminding us every week that Brett Favre was “just having fun,” but you know it’s coming. And it won’t be stopping any time soon.