Last Saturday I woke up and had to ask myself, “Did the last 48 hours really happen?” The previous two days had been unlike any others in the history of American sport. We’d witnessed a free agent feeding frenzy, the fall from public grace of a superstar, and the formation of the greatest video game team of all time.
Let’s start off with LeBron James’ ridiculous hour-long ESPN special, “The Decision,” in which he announced his intention to leave his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers in favor of the Miami Heat. I have been for the last few months a fierce LeBron James apologist and defendant, even publishing a several thousand word article defending him after his playoff collapse against the Boston Celtics — but this was indefensible.
Having a one-hour TV special just to announce where you are going to play basketball only served to damage an already hurting public image. My biggest question is, who exactly is advising the self-titled King James? Ever since the end of the playoffs LeBron has done one thing after another (culminating in last night’s special) to hurt his public image.
The situation reminds me in a bizarre way of the Tiger Woods scandal. After the news about the accident and the infidelities broke, we watched as Tiger Woods completely mishandled the situation, forever damaging his image and brand. One had to ask who was advising him. The situation with LeBron seems to be eerily similar. LeBron may have forever damaged his image with the way he handled not only the hour-long TV special, but the manner in which he treated the Cleveland Cavaliers organization.
Then there’s the question of whether this was the best basketball decision LeBron could have made for himself. James could have potentially stayed in Cleveland, tried to convince other free agents to join him, hoped and fought to win a championship, and become the most famous and beloved person ever from the state of Ohio. Or he could have gone to the Knicks and taken on the challenge of saving professional basketball in New York City. Or he could have gone to the Chicago Bulls, a roster with already great players like Derrick Rose, Joaquim Noah, Carlos Boozer and recent addition Kyle Korver. James would have been the alpha dog and undisputed leader of a team full of young talent that could have been a potential dynasty. Not to mention he would have been literally trying to fill the shoes of the greatest player of all time, and prove himself worthy to be called the king.
But no, he took the seemingly easy way out, signing in Miami where we won’t have to be the alpha dog, employing the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” philosophy and essentially throwing in the towel when it comes to trying to be the greatest player of all time.
However, in Miami all kinds of questions arise. Is Chris Bosh really all that? Who’s team will it be — Dwyane Wade’s or LeBron James’? With so little cap space, who are the other eight players on the roster going to be? What happens if one of the big three get injured? Can the country handle the amount of Dan Lebatard we will have to endure over the next year? When you think about it, Miami seems to make the least sense. In the short term perhaps it makes sense, but in the long term, from a viewpoint of LeBron’s legacy, it makes very little sense. Which is why I think, he doesn’t actually want to play in Miami.
Let me explain. For months, rumors and speculation have been flying around that, during the Bejing Olympics, LeBron, Wade, Bosh, and possibly Chris Paul made some sort of agreement/blood pact/satanic oath that they would play together once they all became free agents. I present the thesis that this actually did occur. However, LeBron figured that economic reality would render this impossible and that it would never actually happen. Yet, when free agency rolled around, suddenly the Miami Heat had the cap space to pull it off and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were suddenly reminding him of his deal with the devil.
I think LeBron James is and has always been very aware of the concept of legacy. I think he would have loved the opportunity to play in Chicago and try to fill the vacant shoes of Michael Jordan. However, if LeBron is one thing, he is loyal to his friends. Here’s a man who has essentially kept the same core group of friends his entire life, proving to be extremely dependent and loyal to them. When he saw his friends in Miami, he realized he had to go through on the promise he had made — so he signed there.
Go back and watch the announcement from this past Thursday. There is little emotion — LeBron looks nervous, scared, and about as excited to go to Miami as Ali was to go on that date with the guy who sounded like a muppet on The Bachelorette. He doesn’t want to be there, yet he feels obligated to do so. As paradoxical as it seems (considering he betrayed his hometown on national television), I think his decision was actually based on loyalty.
Whether or not this is the case, on Friday we saw him put on a Miami Heat uniform for the first time and be introduced alongside Wade and Bosh at a rally. Interestingly enough, Wade was always in the middle of his two new teammates. Whether this was intentional or not, it still begs the question: Who is this team’s leader? Down two with five seconds left, who is taking the last shot?
Also, the question must be asked, is Chris Bosh really a superstar player. The stats would seem to indicate yes, but his record and time in the league would indicate no. Bosh has yet to play a big game in his career, and how he will handle the pressure is something that must be considered. Furthermore, Bosh is (at best) an average defensive player, and at some point he will have to guard the likes of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. Will he be up to the challenge?
Then there’s the question of who is really running the team. Coach Eric Spoelstra has received public support from both Wade and James — but everyone knows master manipulator Pat Riley is actually the man behind the curtain and he could replace Spoelstra with himself at any time. Riley may be the only person with the force of personality capable of keeping these three egos in check and it’s generally assumed that he will take over at some point.
While the Heat may have three great players, the big three have now taken up so much cap space that they will be forced to play with essentially unproven, minimum salary players filling up the bench and the rest of the roster. Does this make them better than, say, the Los Angeles Lakers? Are they even the favorites?
In a seven-game series, we can say that Dwayne Wade and Kobe Bryant almost cancel each other out. Pau Gasol and Chris Bosh will put on a spectacle by guarding each other equally poorly. And while we can give the Heat the edge in a Ron Artest-LeBron James match-up, the question remains: Are the rest of the Heat players going to be as good as Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, Derek Fisher, or (dare I even say) “Big Game” Sasha Vujacic? I would think not. Does that then make the Heat even the favorites to win the NBA title?
When it comes down to it, we have a team in Miami who is faced with plenty of issues coming into the season, including:
a) A star player who doesn’t necessarily want to be there;
b) A coach who is overshadowed by his GM and who could, at any moment, be replaced by him;
c) No defensive stopping ability, especially in the paint;
d) No role players;
e) No 3-point shooting;
f) A big man who is unproven in big games;
g) Real questions as to who is and will be the leader of the team, and who will take the final shot;
h) Potential match-up problems with the teams at the top of the league.
Does anyone see this turning out well? Sure, I suppose I could be wrong about LeBron’s desire to be in Miami and maybe Eric Spoelstra will turn out to be the next Phil Jackson. Perhaps Mario Chalmers is the next Rajon Rondo. Everything could fall into place — sometimes the perfect storm does happen.
I just don’t forecast one for South Beach this coming season.
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