Friday, July 11, 2014

LeBron Decided: Reflecting on the Future of Miami and LeBron

As a Heat fan, this is an incredibly sad day. The team over the past few years has given me immense joy and made me love NBA basketball to a level I thought I never would. That is largely attributable to the overlooked sacrifices that LeBron, Wade, and Bosh (along with many others) made over the years. Their sacrifices and their effort should be applauded. They are consummate professionals, and young people should look up to them. Instead of kids in pick-up games pulling up for a shot and yelling "KOBE!," hopefully they will start to appreciate the nuances of the game and the way that LeBron used every physical and mental tool he had to showcase those nuances. 

Congratulation to LeBron James for getting that monkey off his back. It was unfair that he had it there, but like he said, certain things "bigger than basketball." It takes a certain maturity to realize that. In my opinion, he will unquestionably bring Cleveland another championship. Maybe not next year, but certainly very soon. He's very smart for not falling into the hype and saying that it'll happen, though. I just hope that their management doesn't squander their picks and fail at bringing in great veterans to surround LeBron (something that Pat Riley was the best in the world at). I genuinely hope his return gives him the chance to get his due and rack up some more rings. Extremely sad to see it finally be over for the Big Three era, but I would love to see him surpass Jordan and Kobe in the ring-count. 

LeBron is a model professional athlete and should be celebrated. The comparisons to Jordan, Kobe, Magic, Bird, and others are just plain stupid. By now, people should realize that he is not them. He is a great person, a great role model, and perhaps better than all of them at the game of basketball. He doesn't have a "killer instinct" like Kobe or Jordan maybe, but he is definitely better than Kobe, and has a solid chance at surpassing Jordan by the end of his career. People should stop living in the past and trying to define LeBron based on the models that came before him. There has been no one ever like him in the game of basketball. In the age of social media and instant information dissemination, he has handled himself for the most part incredibly well. Even the backlash for The Decision (admittedly ill-advised) was beyond ridiculous. He is a superstar that wants to engage with fans, wants to mentor younger players, and loves the game; he has fun playing; he's a great family man; he's generous to his teammates, friends, and family, and genuinely just wants to be liked. Sometimes that impulse pulls him in the wrong direction, but the sentiment is right. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to be liked and wanting to help others. LeBron won't be bitter at the end of his career and in his Hall of Fame speech like Jordan was. 

Watch this video and tell me you think that this is a role model of a superstar professional athlete:

Kudos to LeBron for carving out his own identity, despite the unbearable din of criticism form the talking heads in the background. 

It seems like this move was not made purely for basketball reasons, but to set up his families future and their lives and to set up the end of his NBA career. I doubt he will leave Cleveland again, but I'd imagine he'll be playing until he's around 38, so it will be interesting to see how that goes. I'm sure he will retire as a Cavalier as long as they don't totally screw things up there. I want to see his jersey in the rafters of the Triple A as well. 

LeBron wants his wife to have their third child surrounded by family and wants his children to grow up where he grew up. That's totally understandable. I think the best basketball move for him would have been to take a long contract with ETOs every year to give him the maximum protection and flexibility, or a one or two year contract with Miami to finish out the run with the Big Three. After all, they absolutely would have gotten back to the Finals with how weak the East is. There would be no adjustment period, and there would be consistency of a championship caliber. Miami is also an easier place to convince free agents to come, especially at a discount because of their lack of a state tax. (Interesting note: this state tax issue was irrelevant to LeBron because he has always filed taxes in Ohio and is registered to vote there; this was made clear when he was called in for jury duty last year). 

Cleveland (well, Akron) is his home, and despite the ridiculous circumstances and totally unjustifiable vitriol spewed at him when he left, he was always going to come back at some point. I just thought and hoped that it would be after another championship or two in Miami once Cleveland had some time to develop their young talent some more and get more complementary pieces in place for LeBron. I'd hate to see a situation in which LeBron struggles to bring a ring back to Cleveland (unless it's Miami taking it from him in the ECF). But, that's the risk he's willing to run with a rookie NBA head coach, poor management, and an owner who has made his "fairweather" attitude toward LeBron more than clear. 

I thought that the Miami being "college" example was particularly poignant  in his incredibly well-crafted letter and makes sense given that he never got to experience that and have fun with guys that were his friends (while still racking up rings and Finals appearances). Honestly, he would have three championships right now if he managed to play to his potential in that first year. You can't really blame Riley, Spoelstra, or anyone else there (except Dirk). 

Riley should've brought me in the room in Vegas the other day to close the deal - my last real Big Three-era Heat boast/LeBron recruiting pitch:

* * *
The idea of Miami fans being the worst fans in the NBA is a popular trope. I have to tell you, though, that in my life growing up in South Florida (even pre-LeBron and even pre-Wade), this is certainly not the case. Yes, lots of rich people buy tickets to Heat games to participate in the spectacle of it all, show up late, leave early, etc. etc. This is all well-documented on a very popular vine. However, I've been to Yankee games where people clear out just as early, and I've been to plenty of other big sporting events where stuff like that happens in equally big moments. There are real Heat fans in Miami. Staying at a game isn't the metric for a true fan. A true fan is one who watches almost every regular season game, follows all the player updates and free agent/trade rumors, and genuinely is emotionally moved by the team winning or losing. The Heat losing this year was soul-crushing, and them winning the past two years was pure elation for me and my merry band of Heat-fan friends. 

The Heat organization is built on loyalty and hard-work, two values that Riley instilled there since he joined in a leadership capacity. These are values that personally resonate with me, and I loved to see them result in such grandiose success over the past four years. I'm very sad it won't continue in the same way, and that I won't be able to root for LeBron in the ridiculous fashion that I have for the past several years. However, I was a LeBron fan before he came to the Heat, and will always be a LeBron fan wherever he is except when he's up against the Heat. No one feels like LeBron betrayed us, and no one in Miami is jumping down his throat for this Decision. 

You tell me what "fairweather" is and who the class organization is:

Miami - 

Cleveland -

Dear Cleveland, All Of Northeast Ohio and Cleveland Cavaliers Supporters Wherever You May Be Tonight;
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.
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.
The good news is that the ownership team and the rest of the hard-working, loyal, and driven staff over here at your hometown Cavaliers have not betrayed you nor NEVER will betray you.
There is so much more to tell you about the events of the recent past and our more than exciting future. Over the next several days and weeks, we will be communicating much of that to you.
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:
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.
Just watch.
Sleep well, Cleveland.
Tomorrow is a new and much brighter day....
I PROMISE you that our energy, focus, capital, knowledge and experience will be directed at one thing and one thing only:
DELIVERING YOU the championship you have long deserved and is long overdue....
Dan Gilbert
Majority Owner
Cleveland Cavaliers

* * *

Regardless of it all, I want to reiterate my gratitude for all the joy LeBron has brought me over the past few years. Looking forward to more and watching him grow into the undisputed #GOAT. 

Even as a Heat fan, it will be really fun for everyone to bear witness to the first time this happens again:

Best of luck, LeBron. You've rectified the Decision fallout, and when you win a few more, you're going to be universally revered again like you should be.