For the last couple of days, when it was announced that LeBron's free agency decision would be televised in a one-hour special on ESPN, every thought that I had regarding this "Special Presentation" was negative. In my mind, the most horrifying aspect of making this decision on live TV was the inevitable tearing out of the hearts of all the people associated, in one way or another, with the Cleveland Cavaliers. However, at 8:30 P.M., similarly to millions upon millions across the country, there I was sitting in front of the television waiting for the spectacle to begin. I even wound up watching ESPN for an hour or so after The Decision came to an end. I have no idea what that says about me, but that's not really relevant right now.
As I sat and watched and ever since it was said that LeBron to Miami was basically a "done deal", my emotions have been puzzling to me to say the least. I am a person who loves basketball and loves the NBA, but, unlike with other sports that I follow, I do not have a team that I have rooted for and lived and died with. As a lifelong North Carolina fan, I attached myself to the Bulls during the Jordan years and they became "my" team. After Jordan, though, I followed the league intently, but mostly threw my support around individual players. Eventually, through his days at Marquette and then with the Heat, I became an avid Dwyane Wade fan and, thus, chose the Heat as my team to support. Also, during that time, I, like many others, became a huge LeBron James fan. I loved the way he played the game and thought he was potentially the most talented pure basketball player that ever lived.
Based on those developments, you would assume that I would be beyond excited about The Decision and the potential building of a dynasty in Miami. I am sad to say, though, that is not what I am feeling. My range of emotions, rather than bordering on elation and unbridled anticipation for the upcoming season and the years to follow, have a hint of sadness and disappointment that crosses many levels. Let me try and break down what I am feeling more clearly:
1. Sadness - The sadness I feel for the Cleveland fans, organization, and city in general is surprising to me because I have no ties to the city or the fan base whatsoever. Honestly, I can't even imagine what they are feeling right now. A town that really only had one positive thing to collectively rally around in the LeBron and the Cavaliers, now, once again has nothing. The city is economically challenged, as many are, but now the one thing and one person that brought hope or at the very least an escape from the trying times that "real life" brings, basically kicked the city and it's inhabitants when it was down. By going on national TV to make this announcement, LeBron not only destroyed the morale of an already shaken city, but decided to do it in front of millions nation-wide. I see now way that LeBron is ever welcomed back into that city, which is a shame because one of the most endearing things about LeBron was the connection he had with the city and the fans.
2. Disappointment - I listened to a lot of the "experts" tonight talking about how unselfish LeBron was being by taking less money, putting his ego aside, and making this decision based solely on winning championships. In some ways, I agree with those sentiments. It is refreshing at times to see superstars put aside their normal craving for the spotlight and sacrificing for the greater good of a team while trying to achieve an ultimate goal. This is the reason why so many people, including myself, thoroughly enjoyed watching all of these guys play on the national team. However, the Olympics are one thing and this is another. My expectations for LeBron have always been that he was the type of player that I thought and hoped would be able to lead a team to multiple championships and become regarded as the greatest player since Michael Jordan and could potentially enter into the conversation with the all-time greats. His pure basketball talent warranted those expectations in my mind. However, the past couple of playoff disappointments and then this decision tonight changed that for me.
Maybe he will win multiple titles in Miami and achieve some level of greatness, but the fact that he didn't relish the challenge of stepping his game up another level in order to bring a championship to the city that he supposedly loved and truly cement his place in the basketball pantheon diminishes him in my eyes. The one knock on LeBron, and the thing that separated guys like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant from him, was that he didn't seem to just have that killer mentality. He did in certain games and situations, but it was always more of his pure physical prowess wearing teams down rather than him just breaking the spirit of his opponents with an unrelenting desire to step on their throats.
This is an odd stance for me to take since the reason why I dislike Kobe Bryant so much is because I always thought that he wanted to win more because winning made people look upon him as being great rather than just winning for the sake of winning. It seemed like Kobe winning without Kobe being the star, would not be nearly as satisfying to him. However, the one positive about Kobe is that he willingly accepts the challenge of being great and feeds off that challenge and takes someone trying to beat his team very personal. LeBron never seemed to do that and now he won't really have to in Miami. D-Wade already has shown that he can be that killer as well and now LeBron can almost become the second fiddle. That would be fine for almost any other player in the league, but a player with the talent, gifts, and unlimited ability like LeBron should not be content settling for anything less than greatness.
3. Indecision - As a type this, I am sitting below the Dwyane Wade jersey hanging on my wall. My hope going into free agency was that Pat Riley, who is getting a ton of credit right now, but who has made a ton of questionable moves in Miami, would surround D-Wade with the pieces to get the Heat back into title contention. However, now that he has done just that, there is a part of me is unsure whether I really want to root for this team. I am such a big Wade fan, though, and still do love LeBron's actual game, so this feeling may subside when they actually get on the court, but, right now, I just am not sure. Doesn't help either that I can't stand Chris Bosh's game and think he is the luckiest guy on the planet tonight.
4. Confidence - With everything I wrote above, the honest truth is that I do think these three players will actually fit well together and will have a chance to win multiple titles. I still think there are some potential land mines that could derail this potential dynasty, but I have the gut feeling that they will be able to figure it all out in the end on the court and make it work. The key will be, though, whether Coach Spoelstra and Pat Riley figure out the style of play they want to run and can get the role players around the big three to fit whatever style they come up with.
In the end, this night and this free agency period, that has been anticipated for two years now, has potentially changed the landscape of the league. The only question now is whether it has actually changed it for the better.