LeBron James has faced an incredible amount of backlash due to his decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat.
He has been labelled a quitter, a coward, and soft. Many believe James has forfeited the opportunity to join basketball's greatest players.
While there are certainly negative aspects to his decision, and some criticism is worthy, James ultimately made the decision most winners should make: join the best basketball club possible.
I will make a case for James by looking at four contentions as to why LeBron should be criticized:
1) He quit on his team. 2) He took the easy way out. 3) By joining Wade's team, he can't be among the greatest ever. 4) Clearly, "The Decision" showed LeBron's egotistical nature.
1. He Quit on His Team
Many feel that during the playoffs against Boston, LeBron simply shut down.
It's been said that he didn't show the competitive fire necessary to beat the Celtics, and he was very passive, especially towards the latter part of the series.
It's widely believed that LeBron consciously made this decision.
Should James be criticized?
To me, this doesn't hold water.
Why would a man who wants to be remembered among the greatest of all time simply quit in the playoffs? Surely he knew that if he just stopped caring, the criticism would damper his reputation?
It is well known LeBron James is striving to become a billionaire. Would he intentionally damage his brand, perhaps irrevocably?
I highly doubt it, and James isn't stupid enough to do so.
Although he had a bad game, his performance in game 6 was overcriticized because of the poor showing the game before. 27 points and 19 rebounds is extremely impressive, and his numbers during the series suggest he was competing.
Also important to take into account was his stellar defense on Paul Pierce throughout the series.
2. He Took the Easy Way Out
LeBron James never won a ring with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He came moderately close the past two years, and has been in the running for five. The Cavs were never able to get over the hump.
What would make LeBron believe they could have next season?
The team acquired Ramon Sessions, sure, but no basketball moves had been made before LeBron's decision. No players were added.
The coach and GM were fired and replaced by Byron Scott and Chris Grant. Scott, while a solid coach, would not be able to persuade LeBron to stay and Grant was still unproven.
Mo Williams was constantly disappearing, Shaq was a shell of himself, and Jamison struggled to incorporate himself into the offense.
Nevertheless, this team had talent, and certainly should have been able to be more competitive. They had lead the league in regular season wins for 2 seasons, after all. But is LeBron to be faulted for his teammates' performances?
Nobody was showing up to games. What more could LeBron have done? I don't understand all the criticism. He's not a leader because he couldn't motivate them? Was that said about Jordan against the Pistons? Kobe against the Celtics (2008)?
Assume he stayed with the Cavaliers. Would he have any chance at immortality as a 31-year-old without any rings? No, and fittingly, LeBron left. The fact that he put winning ahead of all else speaks volumes to his desire to win a title.
If he couldn't have won with the Cavs, where else would have gone? Chicago? Most say that LeBron with the Bulls would have been a better team than LeBron with the Heat. Doesn't that make going to Chicago the easiest way out?
There's the matter of leadership, sure. But is anyone questioning LeBron's leadership?
This is a man who led his team to the 2007 Finals with Zydrunas Ilgauskaus as the next best player. The one who single handedly won game 5 against Detroit in the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals, and the one who scored half his team's points in the Eastern Conference Finals last year against Orlando.
If not Chicago, where else? New York? Strictly a business decision, as gambling on Eddy Curry's contract would have been too risky.
New Jersey? They struck out on everybody else.
The Clippers? They had no chance. Miami was the best fit in terms of winning games.
James accepted less money and a smaller leadership role to win championships. The desire to win is what dictates a player's greatness, not the desire to be the greatest ever. I will never criticize a player who puts winning ahead of everything else.
On a final note, it's been said that LeBron's potential titles shouldn't count because of the stacked team he's on. Ridiculous. He still has to get by the Lakers, Celtics and Magic. Others have had easier paths to titles.
3. By Joining Wade's Team, He Can't Be Among the Greatest Ever.
As I said above, the path to a ring will still be difficult.
Joining other great players doesn't diminish a championship; obviously, other greats have had great players alongside them.
Magic had Kareem, Worthy, Scott, Cooper, McAdoo, Nixon and others, though of course not simultaneously.
He wasn't automatically annointed the team's leader, and even went on record saying he wouldn't have entered the draft if Chicago won the top pick because he wanted to be on Kareem's team.
Bird had McHale, Parish, Cedric Maxwell, and Dennis Johnson, among others.
Though Bird was probably looked upon as the team's leader from the start (I wasn't born then, I can't be sure), he didn't win the Finals MVP the first year he won the title; Maxwell did.
Duncan had Robinson, Parker, Ginobili, Rodman, and other very good role players.
Kobe had O'Neal, Gasol, Odom, Fisher, and some good role players as well.
All of these players were put into winning situations almost immediately, something that was not the case with LeBron James. Really, there has only been one arguable GOAT who wasn't; Michael Jordan.
MJ entered the league with Chicago, but his team wasn't a complete wash. He still had George Gervin (granted, he was very old).
Of course, he wasn't in a position to win a title, and that he stayed speaks to his greatness, but within seven years he had won a championship. Plus, he had young talent around him, and a cast that could win many more titles. LeBron gave Cleveland seven years, and didn't have nearly the same help Jordan did.
Obviously, these players are all time greats. LeBron James has to work hard to someday join them, but the thing is, he still has that chance. He has a good group around him and might get things done.
And as for the contention that this is Wade's team, I don't think that's the case at all.
Wade will be the leading scorer, but LeBron will create a niche for himself. He will rebound, defend the best wing player, play help defense and still put up around 25 points a game.
His role isn't any less; it's just different. Wade or James can both close, which was the case with many great teams in the past, and it should be no different here.
4. Clearly, "The Decision" Showed LeBron's Egotistical Nature.
While I don't think it's the worst thing he could have done, it does show LeBron is egotistical.
My response is, so what? Jordan was a gambler, Chamberlain a womanizer, and Bryant a cheater. That should not define their basketball careers at all.
While LeBron didn't owe Cleveland anything (of course they supported him, why wouldn't they?), it was still a classless move. But one that does not relate to basketball.
That's my case. I'm sure there will be disagreements, so feel free to let me know what you think. Thanks for taking the time.