The Things I Think: Stop Bitching About LeBron

It's his life and his career. So spare me all the whining about his lack of loyalty, his ego, and his "civic responsibility"

When LeBron James last week announced on national television that he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat, one thing became clear about the American sporting public: we like our stars big, but not too big.

Was James’ first name LeBron or Jesse? Because the way most of us perceived this act, you may have thought he robbed a Cleveland bank, killed 10 guards to get to the loot, got into a getaway car and got so far down the road, law enforcement was left with faces redder than the script on the Cavs’ uniforms.

The aftermath was exactly like asking the hot girl to the prom, having her turn you down, then, in scorn, you spreading it all over school that afternoon that she’s a slut. [SIGNUP]

Why was everyone so outraged? The guy made a decision to have his contract run out and join a team that he thought had a better chance of winning. He did this at the personal sacrifice of taking a little less money to leave Cleveland while also diminishing his star power. Now people will say that for however great LeBron James is, he needed the help of two other superstars — Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh — to help him win a championship.

Guess what? It’s his life and he can do whatever he wants. That’s what freedom of choice is. That’s why all of us are allowed to leave our jobs, pack our bags, and move to another situation that’s seemingly better for us — whether we go to a new job or just a new town because it has better weather.

What other great player didn’t need other great players to win championships? Michael Jordan (who seemingly grows in sainthood every single year despite numerous flaws in character) needed a Hall of Famer named Scottie Pippen and some very good role players to win something. Remember the early days when people wondered whether the great Mike would ever win? Kobe had Shaq, Shaq left, and the Lakers went barren until they were able to swindle Jerry West, the then GM of the Memphis Grizzlies, into giving up Pau Gasol. West obviosuly still had a soft spot in his heart for his olf franchise.

Here was one rationale I heard most last week: people didn’t have a problem with James going to the Heat, but the narcissistic way he did it — kidnapping an entire network and having his own, one-hour reality TV show to make the announcement — well, that was way over the top. And it was. But LeBron James is merely a creation of us. We’re the ones who make our stars what they are today. They’re not players anymore. They’re not even men. They’re brands. There’s no way we’re going to change any of that unless we go back in time, and stop buying the tickets for the games, or the merchandise in the stores that our kids wear as school uniforms, or fawning over the highlight dunks on ESPN, or putting a camera into these kids faces when they are 15-year old athletic prodigies, or patronizing reality shows, or watching Jersey Shore, for Christ’s sake. Be honest, watching LeBron’s “The Decision” was like picking a scab. People warned you not to touch it, but you just couldn’t help yourself. Now ESPN can say all they want that about its journalistic principles. Fact of the matter is that the sports network agreed to telecast the event because they knew that millions of people would watch it and if they didn’t take it, someone like Versus would have, and Comcast is a competitor.

Was there really any good way for LeBron James to announce he was leaving Cleveland for another team?  The guy carried the franchise for six years, playing with a bunch of mutts. He got tired of it. It would have taken the Cavaliers a couple of more years to put together the right pieces to help the guy. Why stay for the chance to win when you know if you go south, you can win right away?

We complain constantly about athletes who are in it simply for the money. So here’s a guy who decides winning is more important than money, or being the solitary face of a franchise (like he would have been with the Knicks and maybe the Nets, where he could have been the toast of Manhattan and the owner of the riches that come with that) and we still bitch and moan.

And oh, those poor other pro teams. Someone put a gun to their head to participate in the LeBron sweepstakes, right? Wrong. They willingly agreed to LeBron’s terms to follow him to Cleveland, and present a him board room proposal on why their team and their city was best for King James. They coveted him. It was his world and they were simply invited to walk through it. We’re supposed to feel sorry for these multi-million dollar organizations who sign and discard players like pieces of furniture when it suits them? Why, because LeBron James left all but one at the alter and didn’t have the “courtesy” to tell them his decision beforehand? Please.

And of this “civic responsibility” LeBron James had to rescue Cleveland? Seems like there’s a mayor in that town, right? Seems like there are a few other pro teams there right? Can LeBron help it if organizations like the Browns and the Indians still suck? You want sports to change the climate in Cleveland, then do a better job managing the teams — like many others have done throughout our nation’s cities, including the Phillies. Talk to me about “civic responsibility” the next time one of you abandons the city (and weakens its tax base) to move to this nice home in the suburbs.

Nah, I have absolutely no problem with LeBron James. It is his life, and he made a decision that he thought would be better for him professionally and personally. And I think it’s going to be great for the NBA to have this super team. You’ll either be entertained by how three great players play together in a quest to win a championship, or you will root for the rest of the league to give this super team its comeuppance. It’s dynamic theatre.

About the only problem I had about this whole spectacle last week was this: Why Jim Gray?

Listen to MIKE MISSANELLI weekday afternoons on 97.5 FM The Fanatic.