LeBron James' Legacy Is Forever Tarnished, Win or Lose

Tom MechinAnalyst IMay 23, 2011

AUBURN HILLS, MI - MAY 21: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland sits on the bench during the final seconds of game seven of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Detroit Pistons during the 2006 NBA Playoffs on May 21, 2006 at the Palace of Aubrun Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan. The Pistons defeated the Cavs 79-61 to win their series 4-3.  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 Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Call me a hater if you want.  Say I’m jealous and that I don’t know what I’m talking about.  I’m sure I’ll hear all of that and a whole lot more after writing this.  But none of it is true.  I am not a hater; I do not like watching people fail unless they truly deserve it.  And I really, really wanted to like LeBron James.  

From the first moment I read about him—the quote was something along the lines of “He’d be playing in the NBA right now if it weren’t for his junior year of high school getting in the way”—I was intrigued and began following whatever information I could.  At times it was speculated that the Cleveland Cavaliers were purposely playing poorly and trying to lose in an attempt to assure themselves of the first pick in the draft.  Whether their strategy worked or whether fate simply helped them out a little bit, the lottery fell in their favor and Cleveland was able to select the hometown hero who would lead the entire city of Cleveland to the promised land.

In seven seasons with the Cavaliers, James did not disappoint.  He brought loads of fans to the arena, won a Rookie of the Year award, two MVPs and helped guide the team to the playoffs and even an NBA Finals appearance.  He was everything Cleveland could ask for, and no one could imagine him leaving.

And then came “The Decision,” and a lot of the country, and a lot of basketball fans, lost respect for LeBron James.

I was one of those basketball fans.  Having no emotional investment in any of the potential landing spots for James, I truly didn’t care where he ended up.  Up until the last moment, I couldn’t see how he could leave Cleveland.  It was his hometown (OK, he grew up in Akron, but it’s the same thing), they had gotten so close to a championship and winning that ring in Cleveland would have cemented his legacy—not only in his hometown, but in the NBA as well.

Instead James decided to take the easier way out.  He left his hometown for a better team in Miami and forever damaged his legacy.  He will never again be seen as the savior, as the chosen one, as the player an entire city and legion of fans could rally around.  No matter how many championship rings he wins in Miami, they will not equal the value of one won in Cleveland.

What motivated James to leave?  It would have been easier understood if he had chosen the Knicks or Nets over Cleveland, and helped build something from the ground up in sports’ biggest market.  But joining a future Hall of Famer in Dwayne Wade and potentially another one in Chris Bosh tells me that LeBron James doubted the “talents” he took to South Beach, and that’s where I lost respect for him.  James quit on the Cavaliers and the entire city of Cleveland.  He quit in the playoffs and then walked away when things didn’t go his way.

James has said he wants to become the first billion dollar athlete, and he may do it.  He also may hope to one day be considered the game of basketball’s best player ever.  And that too may have been in his reach had he stayed in Cleveland—it’s not anymore.  No matter what LeBron James does the rest of his career, he will not equal Michael Jordan.  He could win 10 NBA titles, as many scoring titles and MVPs as Jordan, and still not measure up.  And it has nothing to do with talent because James has all of that.  I’m convinced if he wanted to he could go out and lead the league in scoring, assists, rebounds, blocks, steals or any combination in any given season; he’s that talented.  

But he’s a coward.  He didn’t have the guts to stick it out in Cleveland, to be the player that turned it all around and won a championship(s) for his hometown team.  He left for greener pastures with better players who could help him win a championship.  Michael Jordan never would have done that.  He wouldn’t have left Chicago to go play with other Hall of Famers just to win a championship.  Instead he stayed with the team and turned its players into Hall of Famers.  (Anyone believe Scottie Pippen would be the player he was had Jordan not been a part of that team?  And Dennis Rodman wore out his welcome in two cities before, and a couple after, playing alongside basketball’s greatest player.)

Again, I’m not a hater.  I don’t like watching people fail and for seven years I rooted for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to win an NBA Championship.  It would have been fun to watch and made a terrific, feel-good story.  But that’s all over now.  LeBron James gave up his legacy for an easier time winning, and I don’t see how anyone can respect that.  This is one time I hope for failure.