From the jump, it seemed LeBron James could do no wrong. In 2002, at the ripe age of 17, LeBron James was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, the headline screamed “The Chosen One”. That same year, ESPN, the world wide leader in sports, televised one of LeBron’s high school basketball games. The world was enthralled with LeBron, so gifted, so talented, so young. If anyone was ever next, it was him. In 2003, 18 year old LeBron was a lock to be the #1 pick in the NBA. He sat at home and got to witness NBA franchises attempt to tank games to try to get the first pick to acquire his services. The winner in these sweepstakes was the Cleveland Cavaliers, who muddled there way to a 17 -65 record, a great feat of futility given the watered down condition of the Eastern Conference. And so it began, the NBA’s first overture to LeBron was made.
And from there? It escalated. By the time he turned 25, the Cavs organization had essentially succumbed to each and every wish LeBron might have. Players were traded or signed based on LeBron’s wishes, Cavs coaches catered to what LeBron wanted, else be looking for employment elsewhere, LeBron’s childhood running mates were given jobs in the Cavs organization. Fitting that he would call himself the King since everywhere he went, he was treated like royalty. And so, after 7 years of being catered to, to getting every toy he wanted, to having no curfew, to never being reprimanded, why is it that everyone stands slack jawed that LeBron is doing what LeBron wants to do and how he wants to do it?
And now it seems he can do no right. It is unsettling that the main critics are those who, in large part, have shaped how he acts and is received today. Take Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cavs, after hearing LeBron announce he was going to South Beach, denounced LeBron a quitter, said he was waited on and covered for by the Cavs organization, said he was basically a malcontent. Uh, Dan, isn’t this the same guy you were hoping would sign on to your franchise for 6 more years and you were going to pay $120 more million? The same guy who you fired your head coach and general manager for in hopes of luring him back? Did the act of him spurning you magically change those playoff games from just a couple of off nights to him quitting? All of a sudden, the extra care and personnel moves afforded a superstar changed from rewards earned by a man who boosted the value of the franchise nearly 90% since his arrival to excessive demands of a diva?
Almost as guilty is ESPN, employing talking heads chastising LeBron that he has ruined his legacy and acted like a coward. You know, the same ESPN who has showcased LeBron since he was a high schooler. The same network that helped coordinate and telecast The Decision and had 24/7 crawling updates as to who LeBron was meeting with and when for the last month.
The easy story is to depict LeBron as a villain. A 25 year old prima donna, dictating what NBA franchises and cities will do, having self serving shows and interviews all the while raking in millions of dollars. But in reality, is he really to blame? From the time he stepped into the NBA, he has had franchises falling over themselves for his services. He has had hip hop moguls, international billionaires, and Fortune 100 companies wanting a piece of him. He has captured the attention of respected sports reporters and networks, all losing sleep over where he was going to play basketball next year. He has all the fans spellbound about what he is going do not only on the court, but off the court.
To say LeBron showcased an ego that might dwarf even his skills on the court is pretty much spot on, have you ever met an Alpha Dog who doesn’t act that way? To say The Decision was poorly executed would be an understatement, it was poorly thought out and had no direction. But to lambaste him for conducting his business this way is like reprimanding your child for living the way that you raised them.
They say don’t hate the player, hate the game. In this case, that holds truer than ever.