LeBron James is the King, all right.
The King of Crass. The King of Callous. The King of Cowardice.
What kind of man arranges and stars in a nationally televised infomercial during which he kicks his hometown to the curb? What kind of man summons a crowd of millions to watch him break up with a city that has loved and supported him for 25 years?
LeBron James dragged the Cleveland Cavaliers to the center table of the most crowded, well-lighted joint on the sports landscape Thursday night, then loudly dumped them on the spot.
The basketball news is that two-time defending most valuable player James has announced he will be joining stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat.
The human news is that, almost overnight, one of basketball’s most likable figures has turned into a complete jerk.
James has every right to use free agency to leave a place where he didn’t feel he could win a championship. But he had no right to publicly humiliate his neighbors in the process.
That hourlong ESPN program produced and directed by the 25-year-old James and his team of young sycophants Thursday was called “The Decision.” It turns out the biggest decision was by James to strip himself of the most basic human decency, and he will again never look the same.
If you are going to leave the team where you’ve spent all seven seasons, leave the area where you’ve spent all 25 years, doesn’t decorum dictate that you do it quietly, gently, gracefully? Given that this town hasn’t enjoyed a major sports championship in 46 years, and given that your departure could keep them from winning anything for many more years, don’t you think of them first? Did no part of last season’s $15.8-million salary mandate, you know, manners?
You want to leave this place where you are so beloved, fine. Leave it like a man. Issue a news release announcing your decision and thanking Cleveland for its support. Hold a local news conference with the Cleveland media to reiterate those thanks. Then, and only then, do you appear on a national ESPN show to talk about your decision.
But no, years of coddling have filled James with such narcissism that he no longer sees anyone but himself. While reaping financial rewards as this country’s most successful basketball prodigy, James has paid the price in a failure to develop integrity or character. Hey, if you can dunk on someone, why do you have to be sensitive to them?
(I interrupt this rant to remind the dear reader of another notion that James has conveniently ignored in his quest for fame. He. Has. Won. Zero. Championships.)
So anyway, the hell with Cleveland. James stepped on the makeshift ESPN stage at a youth gym in Greenwich, Conn., on Thursday wearing a tight shirt and a weird grin. He stretched the suspense for 30 full minutes, then finally announced he was “taking my talents to South Beach” while admitting that the Cavaliers were also hearing this for the first time.
That was why this show was so wrong. It wasn’t about a lack of journalistic ethics, but human ethics. James used his awesome power not to inform or entertain, but to belittle. After his announcement, there appeared video of Cleveland fans screaming at a bar television, then burning a James shirt in the street. Maybe this would have happened if James had been a little more discerning, but I doubt it. Cleveland had been nationally embarrassed, and reacted in the small way that James made it feel.
I thought he would never arrange the show if he wasn’t going to Cleveland. I thought wrong. It turns out, when it comes to LeBron James, I thought wrong about a lot of things.
I thought he was a leader. But by going to a team that already has an established superstar who has already won one NBA title, he showed he is a follower. He doesn’t want the ball in the final minute. He doesn’t want the pressure in the final month. The way he crumbled against Boston in this year’s postseason was not a blip. The King doesn’t have the stomach to be the Man.
Don’t buy the spin that, because he could have made a guaranteed $30 million more on a potential Cavaliers contract, James is leaving Cleveland only because he wants to win. Cleveland did win while he was there, making it to the NBA Finals once and finishing with basketball’s best record twice. He left because he didn’t have the innards to take the final step with complementary players that the Cavaliers continued to acquire.
At the end of his infomercial Thursday, while pumping the Boys & Girls clubs who benefited from the commercials sold for this mess, James talked about helping the children and kindly noted, “One day we might have another LeBron.”
Lord, I hope not.