Monday, July 12, 2010

LeBron is Burning

Well, my Puddlers, I am sure that you have all been waiting for me to weigh in on all things basketball in the wake of “The Decision.”  I was at a party the other night and someone asked me to give my opinion of “The Decision.” I went into a long discussion of the different theories of basketball and what this means for the league next year, when the person I was speaking to asked:

 “But what do you think of the actual delivery?”

The only way I could respond was to say the following:

“Well, I consider myself a history buff, so I have to say that the TV special was the worst thing of all time.”

Now, of course that is hyperbole, but – is it?

I am going to split this post up into my play-by-play account of watching “The Decision Special” with my own thoughts on the actual decision itself and what it means for basketball as well as the legacies of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan.  So, lets get to the night of “The Decision” shall we?


- “The Decision” begins with an introduction laying out the fact that LeBron James is about to make a decision.  There is a strange voice narrating that makes me sweat.  Oh, wait, my apartment is literally 99 degrees, that’s why I’m sweating

- Jon Barry compares waiting to LeBron James to the movie Trading Places when they wait for the crop report.  This is nothing like that. LeBron James was not part of two rich men’s elaborate $1.00 bet in order to switch places with a pompous rich stock broker.  Although, the rise and fall of the MSG stock on the day before and the day of “The Decision” does have some tie-ins.

- Mike Wilbon, Jon Barry and Stuart Scott go through the relevance of LeBron James’ decision to Cleveland. Depressed city. Depressed fans.  The city will die if he doesn’t come back.  Classic sports stories that deserve to be aired on national television.

- Stuart Scott narrates the failures in LeBron James’ career. Wait, if the entire show is going to be like this, well, then this IS my kind of “Must See TV.” Anything to make people remember Wade is better.

- Camera shows LeBron preparing in the gym of the Boys and Girls club. Wow, reminds me of wrestling a lot.  I really hope we see a chair shot tonight. LeBron chooses Cleveland, then rips off his shirt, revealing a Heat jersey (my sources say) gives Jim Grey a chair shot and puts on sunglasses while his NEW music plays.

- Stuart Scott goes through the free agent signings so far. A lot of bad deals. Tons.  This is the NBA.

- We come back to the studio and Jon Barry says that Chicago is the best situation for LeBron.  Young, talented point guard, great defensive center, good low post scorer, nice complimentary role players.  Duh.

- Chris Broussard says that LeBron will pick the Heat.  Chris Broussard made his name during the past two weeks. He has had all the inside and breaking news and has been right about basically all of it. He is the one who really cashed in.

- Jon Barry and Michael Wilbon discuss the makeup of an NBA team when you have three stars as opposed to one star.  They discuss the merits of staying with one team.

- There is a graphic of LeBron James in different jerseys of the teams that have been courting him.  I think he does look good in the Nets and the Bulls jerseys.


- Broussard with a great line, “My heart says Cleveland, but my sources say Miami.” This man MADE HIS CAREER this past week.

- There are more delays and graphics before we actually go to LeBron.  I have seen so many multi-colored graphics depicting the U.S. and how they are voting about LeBron this week.

- Now we get to see old high school clips of LeBron.  Yeah, we know.

- We get a replay of LeBron’s first NBA game in 2003.  I mean they are really toturing Cleveland fans right now.  I’m getting slightly uncomfortable and now it’s not the stifling heat of my apartment.

- Finally, we are kicked to Jim Grey and LeBron.  Jim Grey makes a limp joke about LeBron’s powder and then asks the obvious joke question, “What’s been going on?”

- This pre-Decision interview is completely bizarre.  Jim Grey is so out of touch.  He is just stringing a TV audience and a tortured fan base along. Is this journalism? What is this?

- I caught a shot of the little kids in the back who are watching. It’s so surreal.  Jim Grey references Barack Obama’s desire for LeBron to play in Chicago.  Mr. President, I love you, but for these next two years, please keep your nose out of the NBA and other sporting events. Just stick to the multitude of political problems we have – thank you.

- LeBron claims he made his decision this morning.  He says his mom helped him make the Decision.  Oh, mom buffer.  This is going to be bad.
- LeBron says he changed his mind in his dreams. Dreams? DREAM TEAM? SPOILER ALERT?

- Jim Grey is just a master at dragging this interview out.  However, to be fair, this whole situation has been dragged out entirely too long.

- LeBron James: “I just want to be in the best opportunity to win.”


- Grey asks the question.

- LeBron James: “Next year, I will be taking my talents to South Beach where I’ll be playing for the Miami Heat.”  There it is!  LeBron breaks everyone’s heart on live, national television. Ohio is snapped in two.

- Biggest double cross since the nWo. This OOZES of wrestling. There have been rumors of this conspiracy since the 2008 Olympics.  The meeting on the beach was rumored and it came true.  The actual decision came true.  LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh; Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash.

- In this instance, the LeBron/Wade competition and legacy has totally shifted.  I would have loved them to be on different teams.

- I gotta say that the post-Decision speech was very articulate.  It’s probably the best he could do after all of that.


- We go back to the studio.  Broussard is gone? Oh, getting a raise and his own show?  He NAILED the 2010 Free Agency period.

- Reaction shots: In Miami they are happy. In Cleveland, they are sad. Right before they show the reaction, Jon Barry goes, “Oh, no.” This is classic trainwreck TV.

- Back to LeBron James in the gym.


- My head is spinning. I am so confused legacy wise.

- LeBron says championships are championships.  Really interesting. He is feeling his mortality at 25.


- LeBron is doing well in his interview with Michael Wilbon.  I do buy what he says about great players making others better.  OK, Bulls  had some GREAT roleplayers when Jordan played.  But there were literally a ton of scrubs on each era of championship teams. Jordan and Pippen made a lot of those guys better.

- Wilbon wants to talk turkey.  How much money in the contract?


- They are burning LeBron’s jersey in Cleveland.  That is an image we will always see for years to come.  Iconic. Yes. Terrible. Yes.


- We get one more moment with LeBron.  He says that he hasn’t turned on his phone since the Decision.

- Stuart Scott says Cleveland is devastated. LeBron makes the point that he is going to be taking less money. Ok, notes.  But, come on – one hour, back-stabbing TV special? That ain’t no pay-cut.

- Jon Barry is asking hard-hitting questions about sharing the ball.  LeBron says that they will all probably have less points per game.

- LeBron makes one mistake by not using himself as being downgraded.  He says, “I’m not going to down-grade D-Wade, D-Wade isn’t going to downgrade Bosh.”  We’ll give him a pass after this extra brutal hour.  That was terrible for everyone.

- Wilbon asks the Olympic conspiracy question. LeBron says it was in the making. Yes!  I knew that one NBA conspiracy theory was right. He calls it a “dream come true.”

- The one fan question we get is, can LeBron beat Obama in HORSE? ARE YOU SERIOUS? NOOOOO! MR. PRESIDENT!! Why?  I blame Obama for everything. For The Decision.  What a softball for LeBron to hit out to end the show.


- I thought this ended at 10:00? Oh, Lebron makes the announcement of the charity donation figure.  There is good in this after all. And that philanthropic gesture segues us fluidly into SportsCenter for some over-analysis.  This is the American Dream.

So, that was my play-by-play of the night as it happened.  I have had quite a few days to ruminate on what occurred on July 8, 2010 when LeBron made his decision to move to the Miami Heat from the Cleveland Cavaliers. As you all know, I love the NBA, so I believe that this was one of the best things that could happen to the NBA.  Although, the league is in danger of a lockout after the 2010-2011 season, this makes the storylines heading into the 2010-2011 season more interesting than they could have been otherwise.  Sure, the common sense side of me says that if LeBron had gone to Chicago to play with Rose, Boozer, Noah, Deng, and Gibson, he would have been a much more natural fit and their roster would have been extremely deep.  They would have become the favorite to win the East and most likely the NBA Championship, except that they still don’t really have the size to match the Lakers.  The East would have been interesting because the Bulls would have been a great team; Bosh and Wade and the higher-quality free agents they could have signed in Miami would have been a great team; the Celtics, getting the band back one more time, this time with a full season of chemistry and a Rondo who knows he is the best player on the team, are a great time looking to avenge their loss; the Magic are a spurned team that is feeling overlooked; the Hawks are headcases that are talented and can excite; the Bucks are quietly better; the Knicks might make the playoffs.  All of these things are exciting storylines and they are just happening in the East. In the West, you get Oklahoma City looking to stake a claim as the second best team; the Mavericks looking to capitalize on the end of Dirk’s prime; the Lakers looking to three-peat; and now that Stoudemire and Boozer and other free agents have moved East, the West is suddenly even more wide open than it has been in the past.

Yet, LeBron chose Miami. He chose a storyline with more drama – such an abundance of drama that it feels completely manufactured as if it were some kind of storyline concocted by Vince McMahon or Eric Bischoff back in the nWo days. So, you get all of the above terrific NBA storylines (the Bulls are still going to be a damn dangerous team with Boozer and now Korver and possibly Reddick for Rose to drive and dish too. Plus, they will play even better defense, and they weren’t bad at all at the end of last year), plus the intrigue of the Heat.  The fact that these three stars are looking to conduct what is the equivalent of an NBA science experiment.  They are basically putting forward the thesis that the Secret of Basketball (as Bill Simmons said) is knowing your role on the court, filling that role, and playing unselfishly. So far, they have all said the right things. They are sacrificing money, they will sacrifice numbers, they will make each other better and round out each other’s games, they will raise the games of the teammmates around them.  Other players are going to be tempted to take less money to play with them (Udonis Haslem made that decision today, Mike Miller is pending). The way they even fill out the roster is going to be an intriguing story.  Who will be the rest of the players on this team? They only have five players as of today. Can they make Mario Chalmers a serviceable to better than average NBA point guard by taking so much attention and pressure off him that he can just focus on his outside shooting and defense and eventually get overpaid when he forgets that Wade, LeBron and Bosh made him better than he was.  Can these three guys make players who are over the hill seem relevant and vibrant again by setting them up to succeed? Can they make a rookie a household name?  This is all stuff I want to find out as an NBA fan. I want to have these theories proved to me.  That anyone can thrive if they play with talent and if that talent plays unselfishly and within the roles of the team, within the perameters that allow for success.

Now, we get to the actual nitty gritty. To what I want to talk about.  I have been an unabashed Dwyane Wade fan and out of this whole situation, Dwyane Wade has emerged as the winner.  Even as recent as this past spring, it was looking like there was no way to stem the tide on the public’s perception of LeBron James as the best player in the NBA, as the most talented, and the fact that he would forever overshadow Dwyane Wade, who was in most cases his equal and in some areas his superior: most importantly in the category of championships.  Now, after one night, LeBron James has forever put himself beneath Dwyane Wade in the spectrum of the NBA and its greatest players. Wade will always have one more title than LeBron and people will always wonder why LeBron would want to have played with Dwyane Wade.  In the subsequent days since the Decision, we have seen the trio on TV and in public and Wade always appears at the center with LeBron and Bosh flanking him.  Wade is better known as a finisher and his game is the closest we have seen to Michael Jordan’s.  LeBron has always been praised for his passing and his well-rounded game, the fact that he contains so much Magic Johnson in him.  He has never had that killer instinct to take over a series that M.J. had or that Kobe has.  You could never picture him turning a series on its head, like Wade did in the 2006 NBA Finals  or dominating a series like Michael Jordan in the 1993 NBA Finals, both against teams that were better (Kobe has still never really done this). So, by choosing to play with Wade, by joining forces, LeBron has in some way acknowledged that he would feel more comforable facilitating. I am not saying he will be a Pippen role, it will be something we haven’t seen before, but he will not be the killer.  I usually agree with Bill Simmons about teams needing an Alpha Dog who will take the lost shot, and I think that this team will have an Alpha Dog (Wade) but I think they will redefine how limited those roles are.  They will still keep the structure that leads to success, but they will change how we view it. I think Simmons has gotten a little carried away in his naysaying of this Decision and how the Heat are going to proceed. And if he reads this and puts me in my place, I would be more than happy.

I am not going to harp on LeBron for seeking help.  I don’t want to compare him to Jordan or compare Wade to Jordan or compare Kobe to Jordan (he would like that too damn much). I don’t want to do it because now, I can finally, truly see, how unique of a HUMAN BEING Michael Jordan was.  Not just a basketball player.  He had some kind of psychological disorder of competitiveness.  I know that most players back in the 80’s and 90’s were more competitive and antagonistic towards each other, but Jordan (as we have seen in his HOF speech) took it to another level. His ability to raise a conflict, to create a challenge at the expense of whoever was in his way or even in his peripherary was extraordinary and also frightening. I was watching old footage of Jordan recently and realized there was no way to compare him.  Even Kobe on his best days, even if he wasn’t a dick, would never make us say his name the way people used to say “Michael Jordan.”  LeBron had the chance, I’ll admit – even more than Wade.  However, it is an different era and LeBron isn’t like Michael Jordan – no human being really is and I argue they shouldn’t be.  Michael Jordan’s ability, his name, his drive and nearly insane desire touch something within us that is hard to define, it gets at a part of human nature that not all of us want to know, that part of us that wants to succeed no matter what it costs and to make others feel foolish for even trying to stop what was inevitable.  It is a powerful force and element of the human soul and sometimes I don’t understand how he was able to personify it with such athletic beauty and grace.

Howcver, besides Jordan’s singular ability, we live in an era of basketball that is very much informed by the AAU culture of organized, nationwide, youth basketball.  Many of these players have known each other in some way or another since they were younger.  They are friends, they have grown up friendly and want to remain that way. Wade stayed at LeBron’s house when the Heat and Cavaliers would play each other.  That would have never happened in the past with Michael or Charles or Larry or Magic.  In a league that has over-expanded, where too many players have set the precedent of playing for a paycheck or for deferring to players who are better than them, where roleplayers hardly ever seek out the moment to help support the star, these stars would rather trust each other for the bulk of the work rather than wait around for a team to fit into place.  We would all rather work with our friends rather than strangers that we can’t trust.  So, I don’t blame any of these guys. Sure, those of us that love sports and that love the history of sports want our stars to seek out greatness.  Charles Barkley has criticized this decision.  Charles Barkley never won an NBA title and was a terrible defensive player and a bit of a headcase himself. I love Charles Barkley, but he is wrong in many ways.  However, judging Charles because he didn’t win a championship is wrong because championships aren’t everything, because they are very often born of circumstance and organization and things beyond the control of the player. The player or players can seize their destiny when they have the chance and very often Charles couldn’t, but he wasn’t often put in a situation to do just that.  However, championships do make up most of what a player’s legacy is.  Now, LeBron, Wade and Bosh have taken control of their destiny. They have chosen to give up individual accolades; they have given up the chance to carve out an individual identity in the historybook of the NBA; they have decided to make their reputation on themselves as a team, as three players who wanted to bring themselves to the championship at the cost of what it might mean to them as players – this is the ultimate gesture of team and that’s why I want to watch.  They have the talent, they have the situation they want.  The players will come to play with them.  Riley will get them the roleplayers.  It’s just up to them to deliver on their word and all the posturing it took for them to get their ideal situation. 

They should be able to do it, because they don’t have the shadow of Jordan looming over them – no one should anymore. 

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