LeBron James had the NBA world talking in the time leading up to 2010, when his impending free agency was on the horizon. Controversy ensued when he made the decision to leave his home and the Cleveland Cavaliers to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat. In a matter of moments, LeBron went from a beloved figure to a super-villain.
But what was the crime he committed, and did it merit so much disdain?
LeBron had violated the longstanding, unwritten rule of loyalty in the NBA. This rule of loyalty frowns upon star players leaving their teams in search of greener pastures. The unwritten rules also condemn the joining of stars as a sign of weakness. Instead, it is believed that players should stay the course and patiently await their opportunity to reach the pinnacle of the sport.
However, there are two things that are certainly not guaranteed in an NBA career: career longevity and opportunities to win NBA Championships.
So why are players bound by such extreme notions of loyalty and encouraged to waste away precious time in impossible situations—especially when franchises move players daily?
When a player is traded, it is referred to as “part of the business.”
Not the way the past greats did it
Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant and Larry Bird are widely used as examples to smite LeBron’s decision, as all three players built their legacies with the same teams throughout their careers—the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics, respectively. (Kobe Bryant was originally drafted by the Charlotte Hornets.)
The comparison of these three greats to LeBron’s career is unfair due to the fact that Bird and Magic did not have to leave their teams because they were championship quality almost instantly.
Magic’s Lakers won an NBA Championship in just his rookie season, while Bird’s Celtics raised the trophy in only his second season in the league. Just as important to Kobe’s success was the Laker franchise’s ability to surround him with great talent.
LeBron did not have that luxury in Cleveland.
Now fast forward to 2013: LeBron James has amassed two NBA Championships, two Finals MVPs and now has a chance to be in the conversation as the greatest player of all time when he retires. Had he not put “loyalty” aside, he would probably still be chasing that elusive championship instead of chasing history.
When LeBron James made “The Decision,” he didn’t just alter his legacy.
He put to rest all of these unwritten rules.
Next summer, he will be at that road once more, when he can opt out of his contract and become a free agent. He can take solace in the fact that he didn’t do it the Bird way or the Magic or the Michael Jordan way—he did it LeBron’s way.
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