As the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics jump center on their Eastern Conference Semifinal series, the subplots and story lines fly like a high-arching, Ray Allen 3-pointer. And amongst the shots being launched, a comparison of the two "Big Threes."
During the summer of 2007, Boston imported Allen and Kevin Garnett to join resident incumbent Paul Pierce in a series of signings that would ultimately see the Celts go green, en route to the franchise's 17th title.
On the surface, this all seems similar. Why then, did the Celtics become such a neat and clean feel-good story while the Heat felt so dirty? Perhaps it comes down to "The Decision," and "The Exultation."
When James announced—in a scripted, self-indulgent sit-down—that he was "taking [his] talents to South Beach," his former town and team felt abandoned.
But when Garnett screamed—in a spontaneous, inclusive stand-up moment—that "anything is possible," his former town and team felt included.
But why? Hadn't both men essentially done the same thing? Didn't LBJ and KG each jump ship for higher ground? Didn't James and Garnett each leave the teams that drafted them in the rear-view, only to set a course towards Title Town?
Theoretically, yes. But while what they did was the same, how they did it surely wasn't. If Garnett was all-class, James was all-crass.
According to Chris Long, a television sports anchor in Minnesota, seeing Garnett leave the Twin Cities was like putting a pet up for adoption.
"We just knew we couldn't give it the right amount of care, or provide the home it deserved. Knowing it was for the best, we gave it away to someone else—confident it would have a better life in its new home with people that would provide for it better than we could. He'd be happier there, so we had to do it."
So, if Garnett was in fact that lovable Labrador (albeit, a 6-foot, 11-inch Labrador,) then James must be a different kind of canine entirely. The kind that runs away from home in hopes that the grass is greener in another yard. The kind that turns on its owner.
James' Ohio exodus was met with burning jerseys and Comic Sans-fonted hate mail. But when Garnett left the Land of 10,000 Lakes and cannon-balled into a champagne celebration in Beantown, Minnesota continued to embrace him.
Says Long, "He was our guy ... and if he couldn't win here, the next-best thing was to see him win somewhere else. It hurt a little bit to see it, but we were happy to see him so happy."
But sometime in between "The Decision" and "The Exultation," Timberwolves supporters have begun to climb off of the KG Love Train. As his career moves into its twilight, Garnett has often opted for Easy Street over the High Road.
The occasional swipe at his old franchise. or an off-handed knock against his old city.
In fact, in the months prior to LeBron's move to Miami, it was actually Garnett who served as an advisor to King James, suggesting he might want to consider leaving his current Royal Court in order to someday don the crown. Garnett's message was essentially this: Don't make the same mistake I did. Don't waste your career on a town and team that can't give you what you want.
Suffice it to say, this didn't mesh with Minnesota.
Long goes back to his pet adoption metaphor.
"It's as if we came to visit him in his new home after several years, and when we tried to pet him ... he bit us."
So, if Timberwolves Nation now treats KG like the ugly, bald-headed step-dog, can Cleveland ever re-embrace LeBron?
After all, in a sense, his is still a story of the hometown boy done good. Then again, Akron ain't Cleveland, and in a city known for it's Rock n' Roll, James' departure may always strike a chord of animosity and resentment.
If he wins with Miami, they'll say, "that should have been us."
And if his title dreams get towed under on South Beach, they'll say, "serves him right."
It seems LeBron James can never win with Cleveland. Perhaps that's why he left.