The summer of LeBron James’ discontent
“As my pastor said, ‘The king is gone.... but The King of Kings is still here.’”
--posted in the Akron Beacon Journal, Aug. 8, 2010
LeBron James lives in Miami now, and infamy, crossing more than the Ohio line when he left Cleveland, with that Nike billboard of LeBron, head thrown back, arms outstretched and the proclamation taking the religious overtones even further:
“We are all witnesses.”
They and He — er, he — just didn’t know what they would witness.
With all that has been said since, there’s something nobody knows about James.
This wasn’t what he had in mind.
He wasn’t out to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
He didn’t have South Beach on his mind, but the Cuyahoga River.
He didn’t imagine this last spring when he won his second MVP award in a row and the No. 1-seeded Cavaliers looked as if they would stroll to the Eastern finals, with only Orlando between them and the long-awaited LeBron- Kobe Bryant Finals matchup.
Even after their fall in the second round to Boston, James remained open to — or intent on — staying … if the Cavaliers could bring someone in.
Unfortunately, with Toronto ready to take Anderson Varejao and J.J. Hickson in a sign-and-trade, Bosh turned it down.
By then, Amare Stoudemire was New York-bound.
An NBA source says the Cavaliers then offered Mo Williams and Jamario Moon for the Clippers’ Baron Davis, desperate to please James, who likes Baron and was down on Mo ... even with newly hired Coach Byron Scott having clashed with Davis in New Orleans.
Realizing he was the only star who wanted to be in Cleveland, James made his announcement on that ESPN special — “going, aptly, to My-Am-Me [which] played like ‘The Bachelor,’ without the rose for the winner,” wrote the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd, taking a break from lampooning presidents
So much for the charmed portion of that life.
The first modern(shudder) star
“LeBron will win the MVP every year until he retires... I don’t even know if Michael Jordan was as hyped as he is and then he goes out and exceeds it.”
--Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy,
April 11, 2010
It’s no surprise if James was torched, with so little examination of what really happened in July.
No one cared.
It was his time.
Amazingly, James lived up to the unprecedented hype he got at 17, taking the 17-65 Cavaliers he joined in 2003 to the Finals in 2007 and No. 1 seedings in 2009 and 2010 as back-to-back MVP.
After that, unfortunately, he ran out of exploits.
No one cared if LeBron’s team had so little else, it will disappear from the face of the earth without him.
At his level of expectations, any failure is total and personal, an effect warped by the Internet, which admits anonymous fan rage, made even crazier as social networks expanded participation with Facebook (launched in 2003) and Twitter (2006).
Arriving in 2003, James can be seen as the first truly modern star, or good luck.
In fact, his deconstruction process was well underway.
In 2009, after playing spectacularly in Cleveland’s upset by Orlando in the Eastern finals, LeBron was excoriated — for not congratulating Magic players
In 2010 when he turned mortal in the Cavaliers’ shocking loss to the Celtics, the criticism turned savage: quitter, mercenary, wannabe, never-was.
Mortal for LeBron meant averaging 27 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.2 assists, with a sore right elbow that, he admitted sometimes “locked up.”
FoxSports.com’s Charley Rosen, a former Phil Jackson assistant coach, listed only these possibilities:
--James, himself, doesn’t believe the overwhelming hype... and there’s an undercurrent of self-doubt working in his subconscious.
--Or, he’s simply the king of chokers.
--Or, his bags are already packed and he’s headed out of town.
Of course, if few sympathized with James’ plight, he had set himself up.
Convinced he’s bionic, James refuses to seek a second opinion or take an anti-inflammatory injection.
If no one knows James or modern stars like Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant, it’s because outsiders never get close.
GQ put James on September’s cover, one of the biggest star turns left in the print medium, boasting of “unprecedented access” for its story, “Three Weeks in Crazyville Riding Shotgun.”
The story showed how little access anyone gets with J.R. Moehringer describing ongoing negotiations for each interview, with one room rejected because “LeBron hasn’t been in it before and doesn’t like being in strange rooms with strangers.”
James doesn’t say a word in the piece about the kind of team he’s looking for or where he might go.
LeBron mused about people in Akron, his hometown, resenting Cleveland people — but it wasn’t close to the depth of feeling he shows in a subsequent tweet:
“Don’t think for one min that I haven’t been taking mental notes of everyone taking shots at me this summer. And I mean everyone!”
Obi-Wan: You were the Chosen One! You were supposed to destroy the Sith, not join them...
Anakin Skywalker: I HATE YOU!
Obi-Wan: You were my brother, Anakin. I loved you!
[Anakin, now too close to the lava river, catches fire.]
“Dan Gilbert’s response to LeBron joining Miami,”
posted on Youtube by felixneedsajob
Mercifully, after Gilbert, the Cavaliers’ owner, accused James of “cowardly betrayal” and said he “quit,” and a summer of punditry, the eagerly awaited NBA season approaches.
Settling in, James said last week, “If I was a fan and I was on the outside looking in, I could be upset a little bit if one of my favorite players left....
“But you have to get over it.”
Unfortunately, that went over badly in Cleveland, obliging James to tweet:
“Let’s clear this up! I never said to the Cavs fans to ‘get over it.’ I’ve never and will never say anything bad about them. 7 years of joy!”
It’s beyond farce, with CNN’s Soledad O’Brien asking James if race was part of this backlash, LeBron saying it was, LeBron ripped for playing the race card, LeBron inviting haters to post tweets ... and several replying with racial taunts.
With ESPN’s first “microsite” devoted to one team, if LeBron Fatigue hasn’t arrived, it’s on its way.
LeBron is fine, still talking to the media before games as he did in Cleveland — making him the last NBA superstar who will.
He plays with such fury, a scout at their rout of Detroit in the opener, said, “If LeBron had changed jerseys at halftime, the Pistons would have won.”
Whether the hype has anything to do with it or not, it has been a trying preseason with Wade rejoining the team after a hamstring injury as Mike Miller left because of a broken thumb.
“It’s not ideal,” Wade said. "... But you know what? You don’t get a chance to win a championship in Game 1 of the season or Game 2 or 3. We got eight or nine months.”
In the big picture, James is 25 and has eight or nine seasons, although he’ll never forget this one.