When I arrived home yesterday afternoon there were three people sitting at the dining room table waiting to ask me a question. None of them were basketball fans.
"Why is everybody so mad at LeBron James?"
Just like that, LeBron had become such a mainstream villain that three people who watched a combined two basketball games last season were wanting to understand it. In trying to come up with a reasonable explanation for this, I realized that maybe there isn't one.
After a lot of stuttering and bumbling around I finally landed: People hate LeBron because of the one hour special. It was annoying. He kept referring to himself in the third person, he had Vitamin Water all around him, and giving the ad revenue to charity, seemed phony since this whole thing was clearly about promoting LeBron James. I get that. It's just not enough for me to hate the guy.
Some people are angry over the decision itself. They have that right, even if it doesn't make sense. In the end he took less money to pursue an opportunity where he would have the greatest chance of winning a championship. I won't hate him for that.
I've heard some complain about LeBron stringing all these teams along for an unacceptable amount of time. In reality, he was a free agent for two weeks. He made sure to hear all his suitors out before making his decision. He did not take too long. He did not string any teams along.
This process did change how I think about LeBron. I see a clear divergence between LeBron James Global Icon Billionaire Wanna Be and LeBron James the basketball player. Understanding the two explains LeBron's free agency reasonably well. Global Icon rubs people the wrong way. That's when we see LeBron looking to milk every opportunity to promote his brand. That's the part of LeBron that not only arranges "The Decision," but invites bottles of Vitamin Water to hang out on the set.
In general, when we come across people that are blatantly and rigorously self-promoting, we find them annoying. Maybe Global Icon will realize this some day and turn it down to a more socially acceptable level. Maybe not.
But Global Icon would not have chose the Miami Heat. He would have went to the Knicks for the spotlight. Or he would have chose to stay in Cleveland, where he'd get max money and be the undisputed alpha star of the team. This is how we know that the decision (in contrast to "The Decision") was made by LeBron James the basketball player.
LeBron, at his core, is a facilitator. He played unrelenting scorer in Cleveland because his team needed it. I believe he is at his most content on the court when he is distributing to his teammates. In Miami he will be able to do this more than anywhere else. Not too mention he gets to join a team that on paper is likely to be competing for championships for the next five years.
It's significant that LeBron chose to listen to his basketball player side to make the biggest decision of his career. As much as he talks about Global Icon, his decision is evidence of who he feels is more important. We now know who the "alpha" of his personality really is. I can't hate LeBron over how he handled his free agency. If anything, I like him more for it.