Friday, July 09, 2010

Decision 2010: James leaves Cleveland behind

LeBron James made the right decision the wrong way.

I first realized James had officially lost touch with reality on Wednesday when the ESPN press release announcing "The Decision," the hour-long vehicle in which the NBA's best player announced his intention to flee the tortured city of Cleveland for Miami, arrived in my inbox.

I certainly had no problem with James choosing the Heat. It's not my place to tell a 25-year-old-man in the prime of his life to give up the sun and sand of South Beach for the harsh winters and reeling local economy in the Forest City.

To be blunt if most of us, including just about everybody who lives in Cleveland right now, were given the opportunity to work in either place, the decision really wouldn't be all that difficult. James had every right to pack his bags for the tax haven that is Florida, but it would have been nice if he handled his exit with a bit more class.

By shopping his divorce from the Cavs to ESPN, James essentially flipped his middle finger at his hometown fans and the people that loved and supported him since high school.

I'm not sure who was steering James during this debacle. It's hard to believe his agent Leon Rose, with all of his experience, would have pushed LeBron toward a public relations disaster. I suppose Maverick Carter or one of his other immature hangers-on could have been in his ear, but at the end of the day it's James who came across as the selfish, ego-driven athlete that thinks he's bigger than the game.

In fact, I haven't seen such narcissism on national television since Lex Luger was flexing in front of a mirror for Vince McMahon in the 1990s.

In one moment, James went from the most popular figure in Cleveland to a pariah that now rivals Art Modell, who moved the former Cleveland Browns to Baltimore in 1995, as the most vilified sports figure in the city's history.

Wherever the bad advice came from, it's all spilt milk now and James will have to rebuild a tattered reputation and the backlash that has already ensued when he plunged the dagger into Cleveland's collective heart.

Already, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert sounded like part spurned lover, part nonsensical fan and part gypsy when he released an open letter to his team's fans that read more like an extremist rant coming from a wing nut like Ann Coulter or Keith Olbermann.

"As you now know, our former hero, who grew up in the very region that he deserted this evening, is no longer a Cleveland Cavalier," Gilbert wrote. This was announced with a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build- up culminating with a national TV special of his "decision" unlike anything ever "witnessed" in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment.

"Clearly, this is bitterly disappointing to all of us. You simply don't deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal. You have given so much and deserve so much more. In the meantime, I want to make one statement to you tonight: I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER 'KING' WINS ONE. You can take it to the bank.

"If you thought we were motivated before tonight to bring the hardware to Cleveland, I can tell you that this shameful display of selfishness and betrayal by one of our very own has shifted our "motivation" to previously unknown and previously never experienced levels. Some people think they should go to heaven but NOT have to die to get there. Sorry, but that's simply not how it works.

"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."

If you think that's bad, Gilbert went even further in a phone interview with The Associated Press when he accused James of quitting during the Cavaliers' second-round playoffs series against the Boston Celtics, who rallied from a 2-1 deficit to eliminate Cleveland.

"He has gotten a free pass," Gilbert told The AP. "People have covered up for (James) for way too long. Tonight we saw who he really is. He quit. Not just in Game 5, but in Games 2, 4 and 6. Watch the tape. The Boston series was unlike anything in the history of sports for a superstar."

Clearly Gilbert has already moved to the second stage (anger) of the Kubler- Ross model, commonly known as the five stages of grief. Since there is no more bargaining to do the only things left for Cleveland are depression and acceptance.

For his part, James was at least smart enough to point out that he is taking less money to go to South Florida in an effort to win a championship with his friends, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

"I feel like it's going to give me the best opportunity to win and to win for multiple years," James said in his decision announcement interview with ESPN's Jim Gray. "Not only just to win in the regular season, to win five games in a row or three games in a row, I want to be able to win championships, and I feel I can compete down there."

The questions now will turn to James' bloated ego, the one that was on full blast during "The Decision" broadcast.

Can a self-centered, conceited egomaniac handle sharing the spotlight with two other All-Stars and develop the chemistry needed by a championship team?

Stay tuned.

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