LeBron James is just a Giant Douche.

Finally, it is over.  After years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes and seconds of anticipating where LeBron James would end up once he became a free agent, the wait is now over.  LeBron James is now officially a member of the Miami Heat where he will join superstars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, in the process forming a dominant triumvirate that has catapulted the Heat into the mainstream media.  After meeting with the Knicks, Nets, Bulls, Clippers, Heat and incumbent Cavaliers, LeBron chose South Beach as his destination in his quest for a NBA championship.

This entire process and the decision he made have portrayed LeBron in a different light than what the public has been accustomed to since he was drafted as an 18-year old high school kid.  LeBron has never had any off-the-court issues, is regarded as a good teammate and a fair competitor, and has always helped his community through charity work and philanthropy.  However, the free agency process has changed the public perception of King James, and not for the better.  It was obvious that he was going to test the free agent waters, and even the Cleveland Cavaliers knew that.  Any successful athlete that has put in the time and had success certainly earns the right to explore free agency and see what his own market value is.  But this process became a reality TV show.  It became The Bachelor where LeBron was being courted by desperate suitors, all looking to have a ring placed on their finger. 

LeBron’s suitors all lined up and gave presentations to him showcasing the benefits of why he should join their franchise.  It was borderline pathetic seeing these organizations beg, plead and grovel for King James to bring his court to their court.  But then to find out that “The Decision” would be revealed to the public in a televised primetime special on ESPN made the whole thing even more grotesque.  Not even Alex Rodriguez was this pretentious when he signed either of his mega free agent contracts.  Not even Brett Favre demanded this type of media coverage to make his annual decision of whether or not to retire. 

Before we even get to the ESPN “special,” the media coverage and time dedicated to breaking down the decision on sports talk TV and radio was excessive and obnoxious.  Personally, I am a closet Knicks’ fan (only closeted since 2000).  Of course I wanted LeBron to come to New York and revitalize the Garden.  But hearing day after day why he should go here or go there, what happens if this one signs here, blah blah blah.  It was just too much.  I couldn’t take it anymore.  I reached a point where I really didn’t care where he signed, I just wanted it to be official so people would stop speculating and predicting possible scenarios.  It baffled my mind that a professional athlete with 7 years of experience and only one appearance in a championship series (and no titles) garnered this much attention.  Yes, LeBron is an amazing basketball player and can easily transform a team into a contender (as he did single-handedly in Cleveland).  He transcends the sports and brings unlimited exposure and marketability to any team he is on.  But what the hell has he done to warrant this type of attention?  Did he cure cancer?  Did he plug the oil spill in the Gulf?  Did he find Nicole Brown Simpson’s real killer?  No, he is a talented basketball player.

So the ESPN special comes on and we are treated to the charismatic Jim Gray asking LeBron very poignant questions, such as “Do you still bite your fingernails?”  There is no doubt that all teams pursuing LeBron offered psychological counseling and therapy to break LeBron of this habit.  This would have led some to believe the Clippers were the favorite to land LeBron..get it…he bites his nails and would play for the Clippers…get it?  Ok moving on.  So at this point, we are told by LeBron that none of the six potential teams know what his decision is (despite various sources claiming it was Miami earlier in the day).  These teams all traded players away and made various personnel decisions to clear significant salary cap space in an attempt to sign James to a max contract.  They were all allegedly in the dark when James, finally 27 minutes into the hour-long special, stated that he was taking his talent down to South Beach.  After 7 years, King James was deserting his hometown fans to join his buddies down in Miami in the hopes of winning a championship.

Now, let me say something first.  I am the first to criticize an athlete when they sign a contract for the most amount of money with a team that has no chance of winning.  When it is so plainly obvious that an athlete doesn’t care about winning and only his bank account, I have a little problem with that.  So LeBron’s rationale to leave Cleveland (and an additional $30,000,000) and go to Miami because he has the best chance of winning a title has some nobility.  I always appreciate an athlete that puts winning ahead of money.  However, in LeBron’s case, money cannot really be considered a factor here.  He was going to get maximum money no matter where he signed, but his financial status is truly cemented and augmented by his branding, advertising and marketing.  So in the end he wants to win titles.  He probably wants to be considered at the same level as Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.  But there is one very large distinction between Michael/Kobe and King James – Michael and Kobe won with THEIR OWN teams.  The Bulls were Michael Jordan’s team that he helped nurture and grow into contenders and subsequently winners.  The Lakers were Kobe’s team that won with Shaq and without Shaq.  Neither of these players deserted their teams when they weren’t winning.  They helped build the foundation for their respective successes and won where they started. 

LeBron clearly changed the Cavaliers’ fortunes when he joined the team.  The Cavs were one of the worst teams in the NBA for quite some time when he came along.  Instantly, the Cavs were a playoff contending team every year, and even the Eastern Conference champions once.  But no matter who was on LeBron’s supporting cast, including Shaq, they couldn’t get over the hump.  So instead of continuing to build the team and take that next step, he bolts as soon as an opportunity arises to play with two other superstars under a team run by Pat Riley.  Now LeBron is a player on someone else’s team.  Make no mistake about it, the Miami Heat are Dwyane Wade’s team.  He is the heart and soul of the Heat, and he has won a championship with this team.  Now Chris Bosh and LeBron James have come to join Wade’s team.  So no matter how many titles LeBron wins on the Heat, or anywhere else for that matter, he will never be regarded in the same light as Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant. 

The letter issued by Cavaliers’ owner Dan Gilbert was shocking.  While I can appreciate Gilbert’s attempt to appease the Cleveland fan base and instill some sense of confidence in the organization, his words and message about LeBron were vindictive and unprofessional.  To expect an athlete in today’s environment to maintain loyalty and selflessness are unrealistic.  LeBron earned the right to become a free agent and pursue whatever opportunity he felt was best for him.  is that selfish?  Maybe, but maybe not.  As the owner of the team, Gilbert’s verbal attack on LeBron’s reputation and personality makes him seem like a scorned lover whose significant other left him for another man.  LeBron fulfilled his contractual obligations to the Cleveland organization and brought them out of the depths of irrelevance and mediocrity.  LeBron single-handedly made people care about the Cavaliers.  Despite how painful it must be for the Cavaliers to lose him, LeBron had every right to make this decision and choose his own destiny.  Dan Gilbert made the whole thing too personal, and this sends the wrong message to his other players and every other professional athlete that makes an unpopular decision. 

At the end of the day, this is just another marquee sports figure who has decided to pursue other opportunities by changing teams.  It has happened plenty of times before and will happen many more times in the future.  But the whole process of how this was handled and reported leaves a sour taste in my mouth.  Not because I feel bad for Cleveland, not because I am upset LeBron didn’t join the Knicks, and not because LeBron doesn’t feel he can lead a team on his own to a title.  I have a sour taste about it because this process made LeBron seem more important than a team and the entire NBA.  This whole process was milked for more than it was worth, and it unfortunately ruined a relatively pristine public perception of one of the game’s most talented players.  It also proved why the NBA is perceived so negatively by the public as compared to the other major sports. 

I look forward to ESPN’s coverage of where Eddy Curry will sign as a free agent next summer.  There will probably be a televised special on ESPN 2 hosted by an intern.

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