At 9:26 pm EST Wednesday night, LeBron James told us what we already knew.
Since Tuesday night, the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Stephen A. Smith had been betting his reputation on LeBron’s choice of the Miami Heat, and nearly three hours before the climactic moment, rumors of preparations for a big party in South Beach had been confirmed.
At 9:28, I flipped to a rerun of Community.
I’ve always liked LeBron, and I had no particular dog in this fight, but somehow the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth. I’m not sure exactly why. It’s not because LeBron James, like every other professional athlete, doesn’t have the right to choose the team he plays for. It isn’t exactly because the whole thing was, as Fanhouse.com’s Kevin Blackstone wrote, that James “appeared to be egotistical and megalomaniacal.” Or, as another Fanhouse writer, Milton Kent, wrote, the whole idea of making his announcement on ESPN smacked of “narcissism run amuck.”
Well, actually, it did, and they’re both right.
The entire production was a mismatch with its subject, who appeared, before today,to be the one genuine superstar in sports who was likable and genuinely down to earth.
It wasn’t exactly that James was hypocritical … No, I take that back, on reflection he was very hypocritical. He told ESPN announcer Jim Gray, “I’m not doing this for the money. I could have made more money staying in Cleveland.” Bull shit — which is the first time I’ve ever used that term in referring to LeBron James. Miami is the team that James has the best chance of winning a championship with, and if he does that, he will be the most marketable athlete in the world, passing up Kobe Bryant as the number one sports shoe seller in China. He may well become, by the time he’s 28 – the age, lest we forget, Michael Jordan won his first title – one of the wealthiest men on the planet.
But it was inevitable he was going to be that anyway, and does it really make all that much difference whether his net worth is $100 billion or only $80 billion? LeBron James seemed to be that rare professional athlete to whom that extra $20 billion (give or take a few hundred million) wasn’t what the game was all about. Well, we all fell for that one hard, didn’t we? Here was the greatest basketball player in the world (at least the greatest who has never won a title), and he really looked as if he liked attending Akron U games and reminiscing about that championship year with his high school homies. (If you want to get a cheap copy of LeBron’s memoirs, Shooting Stars, coauthored with high price whore Buzz Bissinger, Barnes & Noble is probably putting them out on the bargain table even as you read this.)
Well, I’m betting LBJ won’t be handing out trophies at any holiday tournaments in Ohio this year. But a gated oceanfront estate can be consoling.
The thing is that if LeBron really did care about the hearts he broke back home, he wouldn’t have made his announcement through a vulgar stunt like this. He would have done it the tasteful way – faked some tears while standing in front of a microphone in a basketball auditorium, maybe wearing some shades to make it seem like he didn’t want anyone to see how red his eyes were. He could have pretended to care a little bit. Now, overnight he’s made himself into the most marked man in all of professional sports. If LBJ and the Heat don’t win next year, not only does LeBron go down, he’ll be taking the NBA with him.
Our dads used to tell us that in sports, “No player is bigger than the game.” But that’s not true anymore. LeBron James is far, far bigger than the game he plays. I doubt if half the audience who tuned in to “The Decision” could name ten other active professional basketball players – no, make that five. In a way, our dads were right, because Lebron James being bigger than basketball has diminished basketball, and ultimately that fact will diminish LeBron James.