Sunday, January 23, 2011

Is Lebron James the new villain of the NBA?

"I've decided to take my talents to South Beach". Those infamous words changed everything. Lebron James went from hero to villain in the blink of an eye. July 9th, 2010 we were all "witnesses". The league's best player and reigning two-time MVP decided to abandon the franchise that drafted him, 45 minutes up interstate I-77 N from Quicken loans arena. He left the team that had the best record in the league, the team that reached the finals in 2007, and the one that dominated the eastern conference for the last half decade. James left because all of those accolades were reached because of him. As an athlete, you have a very short shelf life. Your career is measured in dog years and any injury at any moment can end your playing days forever. Your drafted, you play, and the next thing you know your an analyst at ESPN critiquing the new batch of rising young superstars.

Call him arrogant, self centered, and naive for how he went about the decision, but let's not pretend this hasn't been done before, in basketball or in life. Some that don't know Lebron, don't know how savvy he is. He is a historian of the game like Kobe, a marketing genius like Mike, and has the comedic presence of Peyton Manning. 

Believe what you will, but Lebron is smart. He does have many ears in his inner circle, but at the end of the day the ear that he listens to is his own. He's an athlete that knows where he stands, the cards he holds, and limited time he has to use that leverage. He gave seven years, half of his NBA career to a franchise that was never dedicated to winning. We know this from the simple fact of watching the Cavaliers without Lebron this season. They have reverted back to the team they were before Lebron was drafted, a twenty win team dwelling at the bottom of the eastern conference's basement. The player we all thought was the robin to Lebron's batman, Mo Williams proved to have benefited greatly with Lebron at his side. On any other competitive team in the league, he's nothing more than a bench player. The Cavaliers owner, Dan Gilbert's big move was bringing in "40-year-old" Antwan Jamison as their answer to get Lebron and the Cavs over the hump. This was their acquisition they worked on for six years. A player over the hill and way out of his prime.

When Kobe faced a rough patch with the Lakers after Shaq departed to Miami, Phil Jackson recognized it and brought in the skilled Spaniard Pau Gasol to fill the void. Only then, did the Lakers regroup and begin to win championships again. As big as one player is to turning a franchise around, no team does it alone with one superstar. It takes a second and often a third star to win it all. History tells us this from Bird, Parish, Mchale and Jabar, Magic, Worthy to Duncan, Ginobili, Parker and Allen, Pierce, and Garnett. Lebron saw what happens when one star plays with garbage and he didn't want to become another cautionary tale. So many others have played in the league, played well, but have no hardware to show for it. Their rewards for carrying the load are more physical punishment, heavier knees, and ultimately shorter and less productive careers. The Allen Iverson's and Tracy Mcgrady's of the world are a testament to what little rewards come with being the only star of a franchise. The numbers are there, but no rings. They have a legacy with an asterisk of team mediocrity. They are forever remembered as great players, but never great winners. Lebron, a student of the game recognized this trend and said enough. He didn't want to play a decade and a half in a city that wasn't committed to bringing in players to help him carry the load. 

We make it out that Lebron was the first to leave his city for greener pastures, but the precedent was set in baseball in 1969 by Curt Flood of the St. Louis Cardinals. Maybe Lebron reached back far in sports history and saw what Curt Flood fought for. Flood, a defensive standout, refused to accept a trade in the 1969 season ultimately appealing the case to the supreme court. Although his legal challenge was unsuccessful, it brought about additional solidarity among players as they fought against baseball's reserve clause and sought free agency. 

In a letter to Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, Flood demanded that the commissioner declare him a free agent:
        December 24, 1969
After twelve years in the major leagues, I do not feel I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes. I believe that any system which produces that result violates my basic rights as a citizen and is inconsistent with the laws of the United States and of the several States.
It is my desire to play baseball in 1970, and I am capable of playing. I have received a contract offer from the Philadelphia club, but I believe I have the right to consider offers from other clubs before making any decision. I, therefore, request that you make known to all Major League clubs my feelings in this matter, and advise them of my availability for the 1970 season.

Fans don't go to games to see the owners, they come to watch the players. The NBA's car is driven by the stars, the owners just provide the roads. Micheal Jordan and Charles Barkley criticized Lebron for his decision saying they could never play with rival superstars. We live in a different sports era today. Players on rival teams are friends off the court, tweet one another, and do commercials regularly together. James might not actually be a villain, but has learned since being booed in every city but Miami, that he is now portrayed as one. Like batman said at the end of the Dark Knight, "I'm whatever Gotham need me to be". Lebron has realized he can never go back to being the kid from Akron playing for his hometown team. If the league and fans want to paint him as the villain, Lebron will provide the brush.

No comments:

Post a Comment