I don’t have a problem with today’s superstar athletes. In a lot of cases, it isn’t about the championships; it’s about the brand. After seven years in Cleveland, LeBron James decided to go for the money and play elsewhere, correctly surmising that his total income (salary + endorsements + future earning potential = total earning power) had a much larger upside somewhere else – in his case, Miami. In all likelihood he will become a billionaire before his 35th birthday. Hard to turn that down, sentiment for the hometown be damned.
In this case, LeBron went for the chance to both become one of the wealthiest African-Americans ever AND win an NBA championship. Kudos. Just don’t try to sell me on LeBron being “The Man” anymore.
I’ve always hated when a superstar athlete enters a league, says that he wants to put the team on his shoulders and build a championship around himself, fails time after time after time, then abandons that team for another that is much better and has superstar players and that athlete just settles for contributing as the missing piece because “it’s about winning championships.” I’ve always felt that if you were the hyper-competitive superstar that you say you are then why aren’t you “The Man”, “The Go-To Guy”, the kind of “superstar” that can carry a team?
LeBron James is a definite Hall-of-Famer. His bust will one day grace Springfield, Massachusetts. And I don’t have a problem with him leaving Cleveland, my place of birth, a place that has suffered one sports ignominy after another for almost 50 years and deserved to have a LeBron James win it a championship. No, LeBron chose the Miami Heat, a team that we are certain beyond a shadow of a doubt has a hyper-competitive mega-superstar. Maybe you’ve heard of him: Dwayne Wade. And the reason we are certain Wade is the goods? He’s already put the team on his shoulders and won an NBA championship (with the “help” of somebody else who thought he was “The Man”, “The Most Dominant Ever”, but ended up playing a major supporting role instead, Shaquille O’Neal). Wade has been in Miami for eight seasons, so it is probably safe to assume that he won’t be giving up his status as “The Man” who steps up at nut-crunching time and takes over a game anytime soon. Sure, Miami hit the free agent mother lode this offseason by also getting All-Star center Chris Bosh, which makes for the most lethal triumvirate in the NBA. But let’s not kid ourselves; Bosh is the most recent incarnation of O’Neal. Wade is still “The Man”.
There was a moment during the final quarter of the 2008 Olympic gold-medal basketball game, when everyone on the American team was staring at each other wondering who was going to step up against a red-hot Spain team, there were a few minutes of tentative, “I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes here” basketball before Kobe Bryant (not LeBron, not Wade and certainly not Bosh) said, “Screw it, get out of my way” and took over the key portion of the game. There will be moments like that on a game-by-game basis in Miami – and despite having an All-Star center and a supposed mega-superstar, this is still Dwayne Wade’s team, so we know he can say, “Screw it, get out of my way”! You need to have a special type of mentality to want that moment, and I’m just not sure LeBron has it.
Maybe LeBron knows that he isn’t wired that way. Maybe he wants to be an unselfish creator like Magic Johnson or a do-it-all wingman like Scottie Pippen. Maybe he believes that if Wade carries the crunch-time load, it will free LeBron to do LeBron things and average a triple-double every game without having that burden of “I’ve gotta create every shot for us in the final four minutes.” Maybe he thinks it’s his best chance to win.
And if so, then it’s a cop-out. Any hyper-competitive mega-superstar would rather beat Dwayne Wade than play with him. Don’t you want to find the Ali to your Frazier, the Sampras to your Agassi, the Yankees to your anybody, the Tekeru Kobayashi to your Joey Chestnut, and have that rival pull the greatness out of you? That’s why I was holding out hope that LeBron would sign with New York or Chicago (or stay in Cleveland), because he’d be saying, “Fine. Kobe, Dwight and Melo all have their teams. Wade and Bosh have their team. The Celtics are still there. Durant’s team is coming. I’m gonna go out and build MY team, and I’m kicking all their asses.” That’s what Jordan would have done. Hell, that’s what Kobe would have done.
With LeBron and Bosh coming to South Florida, that is exactly what Wade is doing: The King (Wade) calling for his court (Prince LeBron and Prince Chris).
In May, after the Cavs were ousted in the conference semifinals, I kind of figured that LeBron was facing one of the greatest sports decisions ever: WINNING (Chicago), LOYALTY (Cleveland) or a chance at IMMORTALITY (New York).
I never thought he would pick HELP!