Saturday, July 10, 2010

Lingering Items--All LeBrand All The Time Edition


There's nothing about the LeBron James story that looks any better 24 hours later. Maybe some of the anger has dissipated, but the hurt will linger for a long time for a lot of people.

So much was wrapped up in LeBetrayal that it's hard at times to corral all the thoughts into a coherent narrative. There is the history of all the various sports teams in this town and the generations they've gone without a championship. There is the history of the two cities—Cleveland and Akron—that just screams that their better days are long gone. There are the people in these towns forced to endure the sharpest edges of everything bad, be it the weather, the economy, or just the scorn for well, being who they are.

And yet through it all I wondered what this town's reaction would have been if the situation were slightly different. What if James had been playing for some other former doormat town through the magic of the NBA's ping pong balls these last 7 years and then still gone to Miami even with the Cavaliers making their best pitch for him to come to Cleveland? What if it had been the Cavs, like the Heat and the Bulls, clearing cap space these last few years to sign James and another max free agent, only to find themselves abandoned at the alter? Would the reaction still be the same?

It's an interesting hypothetical. Sure James would have been turning his back on Cleveland and this area, but it would have only been in the same way he turned his back on far bigger media markets like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Cleveland fans would be disappointed certainly, but likely not to this level.

It's one thing to ask the prettiest girl out and get turned down. It's another thing to be married to the prettiest girl for 7 years and have two or three kids with her only to see her walk away emotionless abandoning everything the two of you've built because she likes the beach better.

This is all a roundabout way of saying that I don't think it's ever going to be too harsh to call James' decision to abandon this town a betrayal. It feels that way because that's in fact what he did. He positioned himself as one of us, a guy who understood everything this town stood for and everything it had been through and he acted as if he was the one chosen to turn it all around.

That's maybe too big of a burden to put on anyone, especially a 25-year-old multimillionaire with a lousy upbringing, but gee it never felt that way until Thursday at around 9:19 p.m.

It was James who led Clevelanders down that path in the first place. He may have been playing it cool and close to the vest but in those rare unguarded moments when LeBron wasn't just building LeBrand he'd occasionally let it slip that this was his destiny all along.

Maybe it was all wishful thinking. Most of it probably was. But when you're only given tea leaves to read then all you'll read are tea leaves. And almost every one of them, even to this day, seemed to lead to but one conclusion for everyone around here but James himself.

**

Some of the national writers, those with a vested interest in defending LeBrand in order to maintain their limited access to his idiot ramblings, have come to the conclusion that James owed this town nothing, that he held up his end of the bargain. Really?

James played mostly hard throughout his time in Cleveland and for that he was richly rewarded with millions in salary and even more in endorsements. But that is only part of the bargain.

What those writers fail to appreciate is that two towns, Akron and Cleveland, literally raised James and put him in a position to do exactly what he just did. James may have put in the work on the court, but if it weren't for the people of these two towns, James may not have ever made it to the court. What did James do to repay that? Hold a bike rally in Akron? Have a 3-on-3 tournament? Pass out turkeys at Christmas?

That's all nice, solid stuff but pick a carpetbagging superstar in any town and you'll find them doing likewise. It's all part of building their brand as well. No, what I'm talking about here is the fact that at some point James became the King of the World on the backs of a town that literally raised him from the time he was a a mere king-in-waiting.

There are many individual heroes in the James story, the people who without recognition took in James as he was kicking around from apartment to apartment while his young mother was trying to straighten out her own life. There are the other heroes that showed him every little courtesy along the way, from those who maybe helped him get a good grade in history class to those who grabbed him by the shoulder from time to time and told him to straighten up and keep out of trouble.

There are also the hundreds and thousands and millions around the region that respected his privacy and literally let him be the superstar that lived next door.

That kind of love, that kind of respect demands a response in kind. Instead James became Tiger Woods, the spoiled brat with the otherworldly talent who Big Timed everyone else. My guess is that even now he can't imagine what all the fuss is over in this town.

It's laughable to read the quotes from the other athletes coming to his defense as well. The clueless are always the last to realize they're clueless.

James may not have owed it to this town to stay here forever, that's a debatable point. But he certainly owed it a far more gracious exit than he gave it. You may only get one chance to make a first impression, but it's equally true that you only get one chance to make a last impression. In this case, and no matter what comes afterward, nothing is going to change the way people feel about having a knife stuck in their backs on national television.

**
Establishing his own Twitter account, James used it on Friday to announce, as he headed to Miami and the only adoring fans he currently has left, that the road to history starts now. In a sense he's right. Just not for the reasons he thinks.

The chutzpah it took to send that Twitter message is almost a textbook reaction from someone who so rightly is taking it on the chin. Rather than acknowledge the missteps, the classless execution of a decision he didn't have to make, James instead seems emboldened by the backlash.

It won't always be that way.

There will come a point when James realize that of all the words used to describe him over his career the the most pertinent and the one that stings the most will turn out to be “coward.”

Some suggest that the issue isn't the fact that James decided to leave Cleveland. Baloney. On the most basic level, James is a coward because he chose Miami. He branded himself as the Chosen One and the King but he ended up someone who needed the reflected glory of someone else in order to make the history he now seeks.

What kind of Chosen One, what kind of King, what kind of superstar thinks like that? It's one thing to surround yourself with talent in order to make yourself better, but it's another thing to instead run away from the pressure of being “the Man” and instead become, essentially Dwyane Wade's Scottie Pippen. Anything for a ring, I guess.

Paint it anyway you want, and soon I expect the apologists to come out in force and try to write a different narrative, but none of that will change the fact that James simply doesn't have the guts to effectively lead a team to a championship. And it will be that way in Miami. James will never be seen as the one leading Miami and you can literally see the relief in his face at that fact. Seeking the shelter of a cocoon of a different making, James is now Wade's wing man and will never again be seen as someone that you'd ever want to fully trust with the last shot.

But that's hardly the only reason James is a coward. Mostly he's a coward because he didn't have the stomach to play it straight with anyone, including the owner who placated and catered to his every whim.

I don't buy it for a minute that this whole thing wasn't per-ordained months, if not years ago. James went through the public dog-and-pony show to make it all look legit but in the end it was all just a farce. He never was going to New York, New Jersey or Chicago. He wasn't ever going to stay in Cleveland. He wanted out and just didn't have the guts to publicly say it.

You can make the argument that by putting himself on national television to announce The Decision, James showed a special kind of guts. Hardly.

The camera is faceless. It doesn't blink and it doesn't respond. That's for real live human beings. When Gilbert detailed the classless way that James left town, it becomes all the more understandable why James went on television in the first place.

The same lack of courage that caused him to fold like a deck chair in the playoffs against Boston is the same lack of courage he displayed in running away, is the same lack of courage he displayed in not returning one call that Gilbert made to him throughout this process. See the pattern?

Think about that for a moment. Gilbert and the Cavs bent over backward to accommodate James' every wish. Sure they had a vested interest in doing so, but the fact remains that they did in fact make those gestures. Yet James couldn't even answer one of his 10 cell phones he probably keeps or respond to a simple text?

It may take a village to raise a child, but it turns out that Clevelanders all along were just raising the village idiot.

Consider that James didn't even have the courage to call Gilbert directly to say “thanks for all you've done. I know this will be difficult to hear but I'm heading to Miami because that's where I think I will have the best chance to win multiple championships.”

Instead James had one of his guys make that call, a classless move if ever there was one. Adversity doesn't build character, it reveals it. When the Cavs were faced with a tougher than expected Boston team, James' lack of character actually came through. But that was just a prelude to the complete lack of character and integrity he demonstrated in dealing with Gilbert.

Debate all you want what team is a better fit for James in this phase of his career but there is no debate on how he should have handled this whole thing.

Then there is Gilbert. I'm not sure his own advisers probably thought it was a good idea to blast James as he did, but damn it sure felt good to finally hear an owner dispense with political correctness and just let his feelings fly.

Gilbert may come to regret his blast at James, but he shouldn't. And for those who disagree I say, point to anything Gilbert said that was objectively wrong and then maybe I'll listen to that point of view.

**

The other thing I keep hearing is that someone around James should have given James better counseling, should have pulled him aside and told him how poorly he was handling this all.

The problem with that way of thinking is that it assumes the people around him do in fact no better. What evidence is there of that?

James' inner circle is made up of close friends who have been drafting behind him since high school. He's an employee of Nike as well but Nike time and again has demonstrated that they are about the least likely to pull aside one of their own and get him grounded. His agent? Put it this way, an agent doesn't get rich arguing with his client.

Then there is ESPN.

In the pursuit of ratings they let one of their own, taking money directly from James, put the farcical show together and then sold it as “news.” I'd say that Jim Gray should be fired for his role in all of this but first you'd have to fire Jim Gray's boss.

After James' posse, his agent, Nike and ESPN, who exactly is left to tell James what he needs to hear and not what he wants to hear? There wasn't an adult in the room throughout this entire mess so it's really not much of a surprise that this was handled with all the intelligence of a group of second graders trying to stage a presidential debate.

This was always a car crash in the making so no one should be surprised when the car actually crashed.

**
I caught a glimpse on Friday night of some sort of celebration going on in Miami where the Heat was introducing it's new team. Not surprisingly there were only 3 players present, James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Pretty telling stuff, actually. But it also leads to this week's question to ponder: Why exactly was James wearing a head band?

5 comments:

m. said...

i feel i owe you an apology for stating akron and cleveland raised two beautiful boys. although i have no way of knowing who you were at that 25 year-old boy-to-man transition, it seems to me lebron still has not put behind him his childish ways. i don't think it is uncommon for people of that age to handle either personal or professional breakups with all the selfish eagerness of a pup jumping over a cliff for a bone. james had poor counsel but i don't think his decision would have been different otherwise. he still thinks like a boy, and you, like a man. m.

m. said...

...and gary, just to be clear, being grown-up, man or woman, wise and worldly, does not mean the end of all manner of foolishness. nor does it mean the end of lies, whether to the one we lie down with, or to ourselves, or to the community that has blessed us. whether by statement or omission, like the man said, the lies are where the truth is. m.

m. said...

well gary, i remind myself that one of the things i most appreciate about you is your lack of censorship, whether it's your own thoughts and feelings or those of others. if lies are where the truth is in theatre and thus in life,--as all the world's a stage, i think freedom of expression means something to you, as it does to me. byron scott has stepped into a sticky bowl of porridge, would'nt you say? and so many hungry mouths to feed and tempers to pacify. where do you think the cavs organization will start after all this positioning with the draft? not necessary to go to who else will go--who do you see out there as a good one to get to make this a competitive season? you once said that you are nothing if not a team player and i believe that. it is a lucky team that has you. m.

Gary Benz said...

M: thanks for all the kind comments. They're greatly appreciated, they really are!

m. said...

you are welcome gary--just as i see things. m.