How LeBron James' "Apology" Raises Questions About His "Decision"

John StebbinsCorrespondent IMay 12, 2011

MIAMI, FL - MAY 11:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat looks on after winning Game Five of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2011 NBA Playoffs against the Boston Celtics at American Airlines Arena on May 11, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

So, LeBron James finally got to experience a playoff series win against the Boston Celtics. Good for him.

After the game, he acknowledged the contrast that it was a loss against the same Boston Celtics that led him to end his tenure with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

"I knew deep down in my heart, as much as I loved my teammates back in Cleveland and as much as I loved home, I knew it couldn't do it by myself against (the Celtics)," James said.

Really, LeBron? You were doing it by yourself? Since you departed from Cleveland, the debate constantly focused on the "supporting cast" that you played with both with the Cavs and after you took your talents to South Beach. When the Heat wound up with a lesser regular season record than his final year in Cleveland, the detractors had their day. And now that he finally beat the Celtics in the postseason, the supporters are having their day.

Now forgive me for stating the obvious, but I watched a lot of the Cavs games when he wore No. 23 for them. I didn't see one jersey. I saw five. But emotionally, he finally revealed that he felt he had to compensate for whatever flaws, weakness and incompetence he perceived in those other four guys, true or not. Also, it seemed he felt he could do nothing to lift their level of play to a sufficient level.

I never played in the NBA. Few of us have. But I can probably take an educated guess that each split second counts, and that your focus on the on-court play must require a full confidence in the teammates you're working with.

So, is anyone asking Andy V., Mo Williams, it feels to know that the guy who was supposed to lead them to victory actually didn't have full confidence in them? Now, I can understand the scrutiny over his on-court chemistry with Delonte West might've received, but LeBron can even go to his current locker room in Miami, and ask Zydrunas Ilgauskas how it felt to know that he was only there for show, as that statement could've implied.

If he felt he had to do it by himself, it's also an indirect admission he had no faith in the team around him. So while his effort as an individual player might've turned out to be honest in the 2010 postseason collapse, he also revealed that any suspected "tanking" was not in his individual performance, but in his assigned role as teammate—and especially team leader.

Of course, "doing it all by himself" was something he'd played for most of his life, it'd be easy to guess. On playgrounds growing up, you ever think he was picked second? In high school, it wasn't like he was part of a scholastic "Fab Five." And as a Cavalier, from Day One, it was him that was going to bring a title to Cleveland. All players that joined the team knew from the drying of the ink on their contract that their job description was simply—help LeBron win a title for Cleveland. Even a player with four rings—Shaquille O'Neal—became a Cav to "help the King win a ring."

It was as if it was set up to be psychologically isolated from anyone placed around him on the court.

Of course, there were other factors. Were Dan Gilbert, former GM Danny Ferry and Mike Brown trying their best to build the "right" team around him? Of course they were! Did they do a good job? Well, results showed that their mission to win the Larry O'Brien trophy was unsuccessful. Pro-James people say this was the organization's fault. Anti-James people say this was LBJ's fault.

Two things came to mind. First, if he felt like he was doing it alone, no team with him as a leader would've done it. And second, there was a major philosophical difference between him and the organization. Now that we've seen LBJ's artistry in Miami, the idea of being placed in a designed offspring of the boring-but-mistake-free San Antonio Spurs carries all the logic of taking a Ferrari off-roading.

Gilbert, Ferry and Brown did build a championship team around him. It was just that they built the wrong championship team around him. Think about it: Would Byron Scott's "Princeton offense" maximize his talents if he stayed? Doubt it.

After the 2010 postseason, I'm guessing James knew this. He looked around and saw that this great team that he loved so well was ultimately a mismatch to his talents. And when your talents aren't used properly, tanking becomes inevitable.

Where does he fit? Remember all those fast-paced "Showtime" Lakers teams? That coaching philosophy was alive and well in Miami under Pat Riley's protege (and Peter Lorre clone) Eric Spolestra. Yeah, Wade and Bosh being there helped a lot, but it was the system that probably made the actual sale and diverted him from New York, where he also could've fit in nicely with Mike D'Antoni's offense better than Cleveland's too. If you put Wade, Bosh and James in Greg Popovich's (much less Mike Brown's) system, I'm beginning to think that wouldn't bring a title, either.

Now, if any of this speculation is true, LeBron James could've explained this a lot better than the way he simply glossed it over for the past 10 months. Was it my imagination, or was that the first time LeBron actually commented substantively on the team he used to play for?

He had the chance to explain this to Jim Gray. He didn't. Had the chance to explain it when all the hoopla surrounding his return in November was going on. Nope. He simply played into the role of bad guy.

Now, here's the most interesting part. If you're still reading this far into it, let me offer you a free drink—literally. Next time you're at the sports bar, bet some guy that he can't name which team LeBron James signed with as a free agent in 2010.

You won't need to ask more than three times before someone inevitably says "Miami Heat." Which, of course, is wrong. He actually signed with the Cavaliers and then was traded  to Miami for two first-round picks, two second round picks, the right to swap first-round picks in 2012, two more first-round picks from 2013-2017 and a $14.5 Million trade exception.

Funny. When Kevin Garnett left Minnesota, they got a second-hand nucleus from an (at best) second-rate Celtics team. And what did Orlando get for Shaq? Nothing. Not the best rebuilding strategies if you ask me.

The reason why the sign-and-trade deal occurred was so Pat Riley could sign his core "Big Three" for a sixth year. It better work, for with that deal in addition to a similar sign-and-trade deal with the Raptors to lock up Chris Bosh for a sixth year, the Heat's next draft pick will be to sign LBJ's first-born. It still seems like too much to give up to potentially aid the fast-tracking the rebuilding of two teams for one more year of a potential dynasty when you have the chance to build your legacy with draft picks as well as free agency. For that sixth year, the Heat limited their options to only free agency.

Now, if James and Bosh ware truly driven to bring a dynasty to Miami, they would've known the cost of that sixth year. If it was truly pre-arranged at the 2008 Olympics—like many believe, why would they go along with a situation that left either team with anything? It seems unlikely that if they could pre-arrange one five-year deal, that they could certainly pre-arrange a second for when the first is done and still leave their new boss with maximum options to continually build around them.

Of course, the Cavs were in no position to force that sixth year on Miami, thereby inducing all these draft picks, either. So you know the idea didn't come from them either. Willing participants? Sure. But what other option did they have?

I can only think of two suspects: First, the NBA itself, which—if true—would probably put David Stern closer to Vince McMahon more than the alleged-but-not-(dis)provable 2002 Western Conference conspiracy theory ever could. Or second, James himself didn't mind leaving a going-away gift.

If this speculative notion is also true, then it really makes you wonder why no one ever sells this point to keep LeBron from looking like a backstabber. To play into the much-overused "break-up" analogy, there's a big difference between "You've never made me happy, so I'm leaving you for someone else," and "Hey, you're really great, but we're growing apart. But even though I'm moving out, I'll still pay the rest of the lease because I really want you to find someone to make you happy." Even though you still get pissed, it makes it a lot easier to get over it when the rent gets paid.

As I stated before, if any of this revisionist speculation is true, James had his chances to clear the air a lot better than he has in the past 10 months. So when he said,  "The way it panned out with all the friends and family and the fans back home*, I apologize for the way it happened," his intentions sound nice, but there's still lots of questions that need to be answered.

(*Psst. LeBron, Are you saying Miami's not your home?)

Of course, if he was behind the attempt to fast-track Cleveland's rebuilding, think about the ramifications of it was successful enough to make sure the Heat's run wasn't four...or five...or seven...but only maybe three. And if Gilbert, new GM Chris Grant and now-Head Coach Byron Scott were successful in winning a title with this fast-tracked rebuilding, how awkward would LeBron look taking responsibility for actions that could thwart his own long-term success?

You can almost argue he might've tried to serve two masters—his hometown that made him what he became and his career aspirations that his hometown couldn't reach. Now, just as his on-court play, Cleveland wasn't exactly going to suit his personal style, which was more glamorous than what you find in Northeastern Ohio in January. But, knowing that many of the fairweather fans that stayed with him—in addition to those who joined him in July—make a hobby of bashing his last residence, the more he doesn't stick up for his old stomping grounds, the more it only fuels the feelings of abandonment. Again, if I'm right, he owes it to himself to set the record straight about how people interpreted his departure if it's being inaccurately portrayed.

Maybe he's just not good at goodbyes. Of course, at his stage of life, I wasn't very good at them either. But either way, it might just turn out that his detractors could be just as right—and wrong—as his supporters, leaving both looking like idiots and the NBA looking cheap for merely exploiting this ongoing controversy that could've been largely prevented if the right questions were asked—and answered so we can all focus on the on-court product instead of the off-court drama.

(Note: Commenters, keep in mind I'm just a fan like you are. Granted, I've written skeptical pieces about "The Decision" in the past, but now with this latest development, I think I've offered enough to show that an fair, open-minded discussion might be worth undertaking.)