LeBron James and the GQ Interview: Let It Be, Cleveland, and Move On

Tom DelamaterAnalyst IAugust 20, 2010

The GQ Interview with LeBron James is on newsstands now.
The GQ Interview with LeBron James is on newsstands now.

The September issue of GQ is now on newsstands, with LeBron James gracing the cover and a profile of the man consuming 11 pages inside.

J.R. Moehringer’s well-crafted piece sheds light on the weeks leading up to, and the immediate aftermath of, James’ decision to spurn the Cleveland Cavaliers in favor of the Miami Heat.

I read it, and it confirmed for me what I already suspected: LeBron James has moved on, and so should we.

By “we,” I mean, of course, the people of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio—the fans, the media, and, for that matter, his former teammates and colleagues in the Cavaliers organization.

James made his choice. Regardless of his reasons, Cleveland (and all that goes with it) was not good enough.

So be it.

It’s clear from the article that James regarded Cleveland as a place to play basketball, nothing more.

If that’s the case, he should go on to Miami, then. Those of us born and raised here, and who choose to still live here, will get along fine without him, thank you.

In the article, James suggests to Moehringer that he felt bad about leaving the Cavaliers.

But Cleveland?

That’s a different story, one Moehringer tells by touching on why James idolized Michael Jordan growing up, when it was Jordan who repeatedly stuck a dagger into the hearts of the Cavaliers and their fans, year after year.

He’s from Akron, James says, not Cleveland—and Akron is, after all, 30 minutes south of Cleveland.

“It’s not far, but it is far,” he tells Moehringer. “And Clevelanders, because they were the bigger-city kids when we were growing up, looked down on us….So we didn’t actually like Cleveland. We hated Cleveland growing up.”

Alrighty, then.

To be fair, James was framing the discussion in the context of his youth. Apparently, some kids from Cleveland looked down on LeBron and his friends when they were growing up.

However, this 25-year-old grown man, this mega-millionaire who is deprived of nothing on God’s green earth, then offers this plum:

“There’s a lot of people in Cleveland we still hate to this day.”


What, pray tell, was he thinking when he said that? That people would forgive his decision to forsake the region where he grew up, just because some kids were mean to him and his buddies a decade ago?

Are we to believe that he never got over it? That, when he thinks of Cleveland, he thinks of some kids who hurled insults at him during his childhood?

I know, it’s a throwaway line in an 11-page profile. Even so, as a larger-than-life celebrity who had just jilted a still-stunned city, he could have chosen his words more carefully.

Come to think of it, he could have chosen to think of Cleveland more carefully, too.

As a native of Northeast Ohio and someone who lives there today, I can say that James’ perspective is far from the norm.

I grew up a fan of the Cavs, the Browns and the Indians. The vast majority of people in the region—including the good folks of Akron—would say the same thing.

Just because James’ experience was different doesn’t excuse his remarkably insensitive view of how the people of the region view their towns and their teams.

How could he not have known that? Or, more to the point, does he simply not care?

That’s where I think the train leaves the track.

The more I read about LeBron, the more I see a man who is intensely focused on himself. I don’t think he’s unfeeling; on the contrary, Moehringer’s article reveals a flawed man who battles a host of insecurities, just like the rest of us.

James also delights in giving something back, especially to kids. He points out to Moehringer the charitable aspect to his “Decision” special, which benefited several Boys and Girls Clubs around the country, and how he hosted his annual charity bikeathon for kids in Akron this summer.

However, celebrity and narcissism go hand in hand, and with James it’s no exception.

Of Cavs fans who burned their No. 23 jerseys after he spurned their team, he says, “Maybe the ones burning my jersey were never LeBron fans anyway.”

Of Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who penned the now-famous scathing letter denouncing James’ decision just minutes after it was announced, James says, “I don’t think he ever cared about LeBron.”

Apart from sounding like something out of a “Seinfeld” episode (“Jimmy’s got some new moves!”), James sounds like someone who would rather paint the world with broad brushstrokes of his own choosing than confront the reality of things and how his actions may have caused it to be that way.

Yes, James says that he's happy—happier, in fact, than he's been in a long time.

However, he now lives in a cocoon, and is apparently comfortable with it.

From his publicist’s anal-retentive approach to selecting rooms for the GQ interviews, to the hangers-on who are perpetually around him (Moehringer’s five-sentence caricature of Kanye West is masterful), to the disturbing lack of awareness of his advisers (“How did it get so big?” says a rattled Maverick Carter, James' long-time friend and business partner, about the backlash to "The Decision"), to his attempts to deflect his critics, James seems intent on orchestrating things to meet his every whim and cater to his every comfort.

Part of that, it turns out, was to choose to be with his friends in Miami. As Moehringer points out, it’s not the first time James has done that. He did the same thing as a youngster, banding together with his friends to spurn their neighborhood school in Akron and attend an upscale parochial school across town, just so they could all stay together and play together.

Well, he’s done it again in Miami. Rather than stay in Cleveland, where he had been adored, idolized, and handsomely compensated, and try to lead the Cavaliers to an NBA title, he fell in line behind Dwayne Wade and metaphorically chose the school across town once again—this time on a much larger scale, and a much bigger stage.

Unable to lead Cleveland to the mountaintop, LeBron took his talents to a place where he presumably feels the mountaintop will come to him.

As Joe Tait, the long-time radio voice of the Cavs, said a week ago, James never accepted the mantle of leadership in Cleveland.

In Miami, he won’t have to.

The GQ article is a fascinating one, if for no other reason than to shed light on a man still in search of himself.

LeBron, we hardly knew ye. Apparently, that goes for you, too.


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