Wednesday, July 14, 2010

My Decision on "The Decision"

You didn’t really think I was going to let the LeBron James “Decision” pass by without chiming in, did you? Truth be told, immediately after watching the hour long debacle last Thursday, I was ready to pound out 3,000 words. I, however, decided to take some time and let the news sink in. In part, I wanted to let some of the back stories come out. And, in part, I didn’t want to offer a knee jerk reaction and come across like a hyperbolic moron. Too bad Cavs owner Dan Gilbert didn’t do the same. Ah, who am I kidding? Gilbert’s letter turned out to be one of the most fascinating things to come out of this whole insane situation. It was hilarious, ridiculous, idiotic, insane, horribly offensive, and it was the greatest use of all caps and exclamation points this side of Kim Kardashian’s Twitter feed. Frankly, I’m still not sure Mel Gibson wasn’t the author. In other words, thanks for the entertainment, Danny. All that said, where do I stand on this whole situation? Well, I have to break it down into two parts:

Part I – The Delivery

Before we get to the actual decision and its ramifications, we simply cannot ignore the hour long LeBron self love fest we witnessed last Thursday. And, as I typically do, I’m going to cop out and address it with seven questions and answers:

7) Was the television special necessary? If LeBron’s goal was to reveal himself as a self consumed 25 year old gazillionaire that loves the spotlight while alienating every NBA fan in 49 ½ states (at least temporarily), the answer is a resounding “Yes”. If his goal was ANYTHING else (do I have to pay Dan Gilbert royalties for the all caps?), then the answer is a resounding “No”. I’m going to give LBJ the benefit of the doubt and assume his goal was the latter and chalk this answer up as a “No”.

6) Was the television special a big middle finger to Cleveland? Honestly, for the 72 hours following the announcement, I absolutely felt this answer was an unequivocal “Yes”. Then, I saw Rachel Nichols’ interview with the Recalcitrant 3 (a big prize to the first person to get that reference), and I changed my opinion. Why? After watching LeBron’s demeanor and listening to his answers, I am convinced that he is 100% happy with where he is and how he arrived there. In other words, I think he is presently so consumed with himself that he wasn’t acting maliciously when he made the announcement. Instead, I am convinced that he simply felt that he was entitled (more on this word in a moment…) to this spotlight, and he felt America wanted to dedicate an hour of their lives to hear his decision and his reasons for it. And, you know what? He was right. For all the bitching and moaning about the ESPN special, not the least of which has been from me, the special did a 7.3 rating, which dwarfed the rating ABC garnered when LBJ and the Cavs played in the NBA Finals in ’07. Does the rating justify the self indulgence? Of course not. I mean, millions of people are watching the series finale of “The Hills” tonight. Does that justify “The Hills” existence?

5) Should we be surprised that LeBron is a self consumed athlete that was insensitive to the long suffering fans in his home town? Based on what I just wrote in the preceding paragraph, I bet you are expecting me to say “No”. I bet you are expecting me to mount a spirited defense of LeBron and claim that we, the celebrity obsessed fans, have engaged in such hero worship that we have actually enabled and encouraged LBJ’s self indulgence and obsession. Well, you would be right.

Honestly, in the wake of the Tiger Woods scandal, it absolutely blows my mind that anybody is still surprised that any of our biggest sports stars and celebrities are raging ego maniacs. In his own historically awful television special, Tiger himself explained how he felt he was “entitled” to live the life he did. Why should we be surprised that LBJ, the only athlete we have that approaches the same level of fame as Tiger, would similarly feel entitled to his hour of self indulgence? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not blaming these guys. I’m not judging these guys. And, I’m not excusing these guys. All I’m saying is that any act of public (or private in Tiger’s case) self indulgence should not surprise us.

4) Should we be surprised that LeBron announced his decision on an hour long nationally televised special? In light of my previous answer, I bet you are expecting me to give this question a quick and dismissive “No”. In this case, you would be incorrect. While I believe that we should not be surprised that LBJ was capable of this type of self indulgence, I’m still shocked that he went through with this disaster. To draw again from the Tiger scandal, if athletes and celebrities learned nothing else from that disaster, shouldn’t they have learned that controlling and delivering the message in a manner that appeases the public is far more important than the message itself? Obviously, LBJ and his advisors didn’t learn this lesson. If anything from this entire debacle is shocking, it’s the fact that, only 8 months after Tiger wrote the book on how not to handle a difficult situation, LBJ decided to write the epilogue. It’s completely stupefying.

3) Was there a “right” way for LBJ to handle this announcement? Absolutely! In fact, it was very easy. The moment LBJ decided he wasn’t going back to Cleveland (or immediately after Game 6 against Boston if he already knew he was leaving), he should have called a press conference in his high school gym in Akron, and he should have said this:

I love Ohio. I love Akron, Cleveland, and all the Cavs fans around the country. That said, I am 25 years old, and I have spent my entire life in Ohio. For the past 7 years, I have given everything I have to the Cavs and the pursuit of a championship for Ohio. Unfortunately, we have come up short, and I will always regret this. The time has come, however, for me to move on. I’m not sure where I will play next year, but it will not be in Cleveland. This decision has nothing to do with the Cavs or the people of Ohio. It is about me and my desire, at age 25, to experience something new and to seek new challenges. I know this decision will be met with much consternation in Ohio, but I only hope you believe me when I say that I truly hope time will heal all wounds and the Cavs fans will one day understand my decision and will always think of me as a proud son of Ohio.

Then, once he decided on a new team, he should have held a typical press conference at the offices of the new team, holding his new jersey. THAT’S IT!!!! (Again, thanks for the all caps motivation, Danny). If he follows this plan (i.e. the “it’s not you, it’s me” plan), Cleveland is pissed in the short term, but they get over it eventually, and Cleveland’s friends respect LBJ’s candor, and maybe one day LBJ hooks up with one of Cleveland’s friends after they run into each other at a party! At any rate, there was an easy solution for LBJ and a “right” way to handle this situation. The thing that really infuriates me is not that LBJ took the route he did, it’s that he is paying some guys millions of dollars to advise him to take that route when the correct route was so damn easy. If anybody sees LBJ, please tell him I’m happy to advise him for a fraction of what these clowns are charging him.

2) What did LeBron gain by holding the hour long special? Nothing.

1) What did LeBron lose by holding the hour long special? In the short term, a lot of fans. In the long term, nothing. In three years, if LBJ, Wade, and Bosh are wearing two rings, all will be forgotten. Winning leads to forgiveness (see Bryant, Kobe). Forgiveness leads to billion dollar Nike ad campaigns (again, see Bryant, Kobe). Billion dollar Nike ad campaigns lead to unfathomable levels of fame, fortune, and love from the fans (once again, see Bryant, Kobe). In short (and, I do mean short because I’ve already typed Kobe Bryant’s name four more times than I can stomach), if Kobe can come back from his “ordeal”, LBJ will be just fine. If we, as fans, have proved one thing over and over, it’s that we just can’t stay mad at our stars. If they win, we flock. Don’t believe me? You don’t have to ask Kobe. David Ortiz, Andy Petite, and Alex Rodriguez can enlighten you.

Part II – The Decision

I will be brief. I promise. When I first heard the announcement, I was angry. I was furious that LeBron would shrink from the challenge of leading his own team to a championship. I was furious that he would team up with D. Wade on D. Wade’s team. Why was I furious? Because, I believe that LBJ is the only player I have ever seen that has the chance to achieve the all around greatness MJ achieved. And, given the fact that I loved everything about the MJ era, I was truly hopeful I could relive it to some degree through LBJ. But, in an instant, LBJ eliminated any chance of that. I agree whole heartedly with Bill Simmons, Charles Barkley, and everyone else that has made the point that MJ would have wanted to beat D. Wade, not play with him. I also agree with those folks that, by choosing to play with D. Wade, LBJ has diminished the “greatness” of every title he may win in the future. I agree with all those things for all the same reasons Simmons, et. al. have already expressed. And, for those reasons, I was angry when LBJ announced the “Decision”.

Six days later, however, I am happy to report that I have gained a little perspective, and I am now far from angry with LBJ’s decision. Why? Well, first of all, at some point I remembered that this whole thing is about sports, which, for a 32 year old out of shape working stiff, should be nothing more than an entertaining distraction from real life and should, under no circumstances lead to anger (other than Georgia Tech, Hawks, Falcons, or Braves losses – I’ve gained perspective. I didn’t have a lobotomy) Second, I actually thought about what was going on here. Specifically, a 25 year old guy decided that he wanted to do something that made him happy. He decided that he wanted to make 9 figures while working with some of his best friends in a city that boasts some of the most fun activities and beautiful women in the world. Now, please re-read the previous two sentences and tell me one thing about them that sounds even the least bit crazy. I’ll save you the time…you can’t. When you look at LBJ’s decision in plain and unambiguous terms, it makes perfect sense. When I was 25, I spent my time occasionally attending class and studying, frequently playing playstation, and more frequently drinking at every bar in Manhattan that didn’t have a cover charge. In other words, when I was 25, if somebody gave me an opportunity remotely similar to LBJ’s opportunity, I would have pulled both hamstrings running to jump on it. Hell, if somebody gave it to me now, the only difference would be that I would throw my back out in addition to pulling the hammies.

As for the MJ issue, it is what it is. In my mind, and the mind of many others, LBJ has given up the opportunity to stand shoulder to shoulder with the greatest of all time. I sense that he understands that, and he is clearly okay with it. Therefore, any regret I have over his decision is a me problem, not an LBJ problem. Therefore, at the end of the day, I hate the way he announced it, but I am okay with his decision. And, as a lover of the game, I can now admit something I would have never admitted 6 days ago: I cannot wait to watch these guys play together. If nothing else, it will be entertaining as hell.

Now that I have officially signed off on the Recalcitrant 3 in Miami, it’s time for me to turn my attention to sharing my thoughts on the World Cup. The good news about that is that I have four years before anybody cares about soccer again, so I should have no problem getting that piece together in time.