"Now I embody every characteristic of the egotistic/He know, he so... gifted." Kanye West
In case you've been living under a rock or have no knowledge of or interest in sports whatsoever, LeBron James long thought to be the best basketball player of a generation decided to uproot himself from the only home he has ever known in Cleveland last week and "take (his) talents to South Beach" announcing "The Decision" in a one-hour ESPN special.
His decision immediately unleashed a torrent of criticism from local fans who burned his jersey, said some pretty horrible (but possibly true) things about his mother, and generally just flooded the streets to yell obscenities. No fan was drunker, less calculated, or more haterific than Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert who fired out an ill-advised letter. (Except you're going to need to imagine that this letter was written in Comic Sans font... because it was.)
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. ...
To which the Reverend Jesse Jackson responded:
He speaks as an owner of LeBron and not the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers. His feelings of betrayal personify a slave master mentality. He sees LeBron as a runaway slave. This is an owner employee relationship--between business partners--and LeBron honored his contract. ...
LeBron is not a child, nor is he bound to play on Gilbert’s plantation and be demeaned. ...
And that pretty much brings you up to speed on where we are today.
Now various and sundry sports talking heads have attacked LeBron for his decision to spurn the Cavs for the greener pastures of Miami and a chance to compile championships with his friends Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. He has been attacked for everything from disloyalty to the cities of Akron and Cleveland and state of Ohio, to an alleged fear of trying to win championships without surrounding himself with other highly talented players, to joining Dwayne Wade's team, to being an egomaniac more concerned with pushing a brand than chasing the greatness of previous players like Michael Jordan. Now rather than rehash all of the arguments I have made over the last week asserting that LeBron did his time in Cleveland and isn't the first 25-year-old to get out while he had the chance, that he can forge his own path to greatness without following the Jordan model to a T, or that you can't join someone else's team when the "team" is only four guys and not even enough to run fullcourt games; I think I just want to focus on the charge that "The Decision" special was nothing more than the overblown overindulgence of an overhyped athlete.
See, I think it is much more than that. No matter what he does the rest of his career, if he ever lives up to the "King James" and "Chosen One" monikers, or how many rings he puts on fingers... last week, LeBron James changed the game forever.
Like Michael Douglas in Wall Street, he took control of his own destiny in every way. Why? Because only he could. For the first time in the free agency era, a player didn't have to negotiate with teams or try to come to terms on a deal. Teams came to him offering cart blanche and more. They cleared their rosters, freed up money meant for him, tried to put their team in a situation over the better part of two years just to have a chance to talk to LeBron.
Now this freaks people out. Because everyone likes it better when these players are under control. We already hate them for the money they make and the cars they drive and the women they pursue. (See my previous loosely-related post "hater nation.") But to have to stomach that one man can direct his own destiny without control from a team, an owner, a city, a fan base, the media, an agent, a PR rep, or anyone other than himself. Now that we just can't swallow. The hate is too thick to stomach.
This will destroy basketball. It will shatter the dreams of little children who believe in heroes and puppies and rainbows. This is the death of loyalty and fidelity and bravery and integrity. Everything good has perished. Only the dark reign of egotism remains.
LeBron is not the destroyer of basketball. He is the liberator of it.
We hate him because we can't do what he can.
Imagine if you had the opportunity to declare free agency in some part of your life. Don't have a job. That's fine. Declare free agency. Watch the job offers come rolling in. Don't like your cell phone company. You're a free agent now. Discounts are coming your way. Need a better rate on your car loan, mortgage, retirement plan. Free agency. Time to put those banks in competition with each other. This is the free market, baby. Greed is good.
As a single, relatively well-to-do, comparatively young, certainly available man, I'm ready to declare some free agency of my own. I'm ready to start hearing some offers. I'll take my talents to South Beach myself if I like the terms of the contract being offered.
Point is, free agency is the way of the world. We all take advantage of it any chance that we get. It's not only farcical but entirely hypocritical to judge LeBron just because he is the biggest free agent in the world and made the decision he thought was best for him.
You don't like players having all that power? You better get used to it. The game is changed. We are all witnesses. And we are all free agents.