On a plane to LA right now and had the urge to write so I decided to jot down some semi-coherent thoughts/rambles on LeBron. Also, I’m on a plane right now and can still use the Internet! I find this crazy, and felt like it was something that shouldn’t go to waste, even though this ride has been bumpier than (insert joke here).
I should preface all this by saying that I’m a huge LeBron James fan. I love watching him play, and I love how he plays. I love the way he embraces his place in the world, speaking up against Donald Sterling and in support of Trayvon Martin, in a way that Michael Jordan, he of the belief that “Republicans buy sneakers, too,” never did or would. I love how LeBron is becoming the Voice of NBA Players, and seems to be on a mission to do all he possibly can to help his constituency reclaim some of the agency that it lost in the latest Collective Bagraining Agreement.
So yeah, to say I’m a fan of LeBron’s would be fair. So when I say that I think he’s skating a bit right now, I want to be clear that I’m doing so from a room nowhere near where Skip Bayless sleeps.
Here’s my problem. Actually, there are a few things I’d like to take issue with, perhaps foremost being that by going back to Cleveland, LeBron allowed Dan Gilbert to win, which pretty much goes contrary to all those praise-worthy actions I mentioned few paragraphs above.
NBA Owner Dan Gilbert is—how should we put this?—a petulant incompetent nincompoop—I love that word!—who, if not for the too-racist-to-call-racist Donald Sterling, might still hold the title of Owner Players Hate the Most. It starts with that letter, you know, the one where he pretty much called LeBron uppity. But it also goes deeper than that. Not only did Dan Gilbert cry after LeBron left for Miami the way a spoiled two-year old does when his toy is taken away, but he also made it his mission to take as many rights away from NBA players as possible.
It was Dan Gilbert who, during the NBA’s latest labor negotiations, was most vocal from the owners’ side about how the league needed to make a hard cap and take away the players’ ability to play with their friends. He got his way, which is the reason the Heat couldn’t built a better roster around LeBron in recent years and hey look what just dropped in Gilbert’s lap because of that.
It was Dan Gilbert who was most vocal about the need to reverse the Lakers trade for Chris Paul. To continue with the poor analogy from above, Dan Gilbert was the two-year-old who thinks that because he had his toy taken away from him, no other two-year-old should be allowed to play with toys either. And make no mistake—Dan Gilbert views the Cavaliers, and their players, as toys.
By going back to Cleveland, LeBron allowed this man to win. He allowed an owner who has gone through more GMs and coaches in the past four years than most teams do in a decade, to now find himself on top of the basketball world, about to see his team compete for championships and his pockets overflow with cash.
This is what LeBron left Miami for. More so, it might be the first time since his initial Decision that LeBron took the easy path. Which is funny, because when he did that last time the public crucified him; this time around there’s only praise.
Are we really sure that the ”I’m coming home” narrative is truly what’s at play here? Maybe I’m just cynical, but it kind of seems like he and his friends decided, for a number of reasons—which you can read about in other places—to head back to Cleveland, and then figured out how to best package the decision so that this time around there would be no vitriol.
LeBron just chose a younger team, and, covertly, lowered the expectation bar about three rungs. In Miami it was championship or bust every year for him; in his essay for SI LeBron went out of his way to say that he’s not thinking about championships yet with his new team. And no one seems to have a problem with this. I’m not saying he did anything wrong, but I also don’t see how you can argue that it’s not a man taking the easier route.
Again, I love LeBron. I still think he has a shot to be the greatest player ever, and I don’t know if there will ever be a player I enjoy watching more. And while I’m kind of disappointed in his decision to go back to the Cavs, it’s not the kind of thing that’s going to make me route against him or turn into Skip Bayless. I just think it’s another example of how we’re all three-dimensional, and the reasoning behind our decisions—whether going home to help the hometown, or joining up with some superstar friends to chase rings—are never as simple as we pretend they are.
One last thought: I think there’s a fascinating study or piece somewhere in here on how absolutely crazy, and, one could say, simple-minded, sports fans are. All it took to come back to LeBron’s side was a well-crafted message. Nuance and looking at a story from all different angles is not the sports fans’ strength.