There are some fascinating new issues surfacing in the aftershock of LeBron James’s decision to join the Miami Heat, most notably Tyler Kepner in yesterday’s New York Times.
Kepner makes several valid parallels between A-Rod and James, such as, “Like Rodriguez, James grew up without a father to guide him. Like Rodriguez, James was anointed as the future of the sport as a teenager, then largely lived up to the hype. Like Rodriguez, James became a free agent at 25 after playing seven years for his first team without winning a championship.”
He jumps the track, though, when the subject turns to money…
“When Rodriguez went from Seattle to Texas the reason was money, and to his credit, Rodriguez acknowledged that; he has always said that he was proud of his contract. James rejected more money from the Cleveland Cavaliers to take less with the Heat. His reason was to win a title by teaming with his fellow superstars, Dywane Wade and Chris Bosh.”
In fact, James hasn’t made a deal for less money, he’s made a deal that offers him the possibility of tapping into a vast new fortune. If LeBron wins a championship with the Heat, he quickly becomes the most marketable athlete in the world.
Darren Rovell, sports business reporter for CNBC, pointed out more than a month ago that “Kobe Bryant is bigger than LeBron in China because he’s won championships.” In other words, winning a title would almost certainly pole-vault LBJ into the top spot among the world’s professional athletes.
On Deadspin.com in “LeBron James Is Not A Cocksucker,” Tommy Craggs fell for the same pitch: “I still don’t get it. In almost every way LeBron did what fans always demand of their stars: that they elevate winning above all else, that they privilege the team above personal gain, that they be ‘Not Just About The Money’ … this was the best player in the world knocking a few large off the price tag because he wanted to win.”
Like Craggs, I don’t begrudge LeBron either the championship ring or the bucks. But let’s not kid ourselves: The bigger bucks come with the ring, which is exactly why James opted for South Beach.
The reason why so many are offended is because the manner in which James made the announcement in ESPN was in such blatant contradiction to the image LeBron has sold over the past few years as a “relatively small town American boy.” As Sherri Shepherd said on yesterday’s The View — and, by the way, she’s the only one to my knowledge to have stated it this way — “If he just announced ahead of time to the people in his hometown that ‘I’ve given you seven good years and I feel I need to move on.’ and then told everyone where he was going to go on ESPN he wouldn’t have gotten such a bad reaction.” Spot-on, Sherri.
As for the continual childish rant from the New York press (typified by the New York Post‘s front page headline, “Welcome to NY, Jackass!” in response to James’s visit here for a friends’ wedding). Let’s stop pretending that New York should be indignant on behalf of Cleveland. New York didn’t give a crap taking C.C. Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez, Johan Santana, or any other high-priced free agent from anyone else’s team. New Yorkers are angry because LeBron rejected New York — because he rubbed it in the fans’ faces that when it comes to pro basketball, New York is as much of a backwater as Cleveland.
Kepner’s story, though, raises at least one issue that he doesn’t deal with — that in fact no one has yet. Namely, that there’s one very big difference between A-Rod and LBJ: Rodriguez chose to come to New York. He wanted to play here and a huge portion of the fans and press still dump on him and in fact are still dumping on him. Well before any of the steroid allegations, Rodriguez was already known around the league as the most despised player in baseball, and not just in Seattle and Texas. He was booed vociferously in just about every major league park he played in, and let’s not pretend we don’t know the real reason: He wanted to come to New York.
There might be another reason besides the money and a chance of a championship ring that LeBron rejected us. Jay-Z or one of his other pals that he goes to Yankee games with might have pointed out to him that A-Rod has done everything New York could have asked, including winning MVP awards and leading his team to a World Series victory. And he still gets booed by a lot of fans and ripped in the press. And that is absolutely not going to happen to LeBron in Miami — if the Heat win.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 13, 2010