Before I get to LeBron, I want to talk about ESPN. I didn’t get to see the LeBron infomercial because I was working, but I was following along on Twitter, and I have read a lot reaction to it, and I have yet to read anything positive about it or the people involved. How ESPN could journalistically allow this to go down the way it did blows my mind. No person, much less an athlete should ever be allowed to hijack a television network the LeBron did Wednesday night. I’m sure ESPN made a lot of money off that hour, and I have no problem with that, but at what cost? I can’t imagine the NBA was happy about this because it elevated James to a point where he came off as bigger than the sport, which he is not, even if he thinks he is. ESPN is riding a fine line right now, and I just pray that something like this will ever happen again. This was a bad day for David Stern. He allowed LeBron James and ESPN to make a mockery of the NBA.
Now onto LeBron. As bad an idea as it was for ESPN to air the one hour informercial, it was an even worse idea for LeBron’s people to approach ESPN with the thought. I have no problem with LeBron James leaving the Cavaliers, but the manner in which he did it was disgraceful.
First of all that city has been as loyal to him as anyplace I have ever seen, and its been that way since the Cavs won the right to draft him. It has been an unconditional love fest. He has probably been treated better than any player in the history of sports by his team’s fans, and to leave the way he did, by stringing people along, and forcing them to watch his official decision on live national television is cruel. Was it really necessary to put his hometown through that sort of national humiliation? Cleveland has been the butt of many jokes for a long time, and one of its own just added to it. He is the new Art Modell of Cleveland, but its not just the fans that have been done wrong, its also the Cavs organization.
For the five years that Dan Gilbert has owned the Cavs, they have done everything possible to keep LeBron happy for fear of losing him. He has practically run the franchise. The team has hired his friends, they have worn the jerseys he’s wanted them to wear, and they have spent all sorts of money, all with the idea of keeping him happy. Up until he announced he was leaving they have been incredibly loyal to him, so would it have killed him to personally call owner Dan Gilbert to tell him he was leaving? That is one question I would love to hear an answer to. The Cavs were notified by one of LeBron’s guys as the infomercial was starting along with the other team’s he met with. The Cavs should have been afforded more respect that that.
My favorite part of the night came from Gilbert who ripped James in a letter to Cavalier fans, and later in an interview with the AP. I don’t remember an owner ever going to the lengths that Gilbert to denounce a former player. I’m not sure if it was the right thing to do, but he had to do it. I think he had to do it to rally his team’s fans, and also to rally his team. Don’t get me wrong though, he’s not just doing this for show. He is genuinely pissed off. He always knew the value of the team was going to hinge on LeBron staying, so he took the approach of letting LeBron do what he wanted, and he still left. I can’t wait to hear what else he has to say in the coming days, and I can’t wait to hear how James responds, if he does.
In the end, I respect the sacrifice LeBron made to win, but I also believe that he will in turn cost himself any shot of having a Kobe/Jordan type legacy, but maybe he isn’t that type of player, and its possible that he knows that already. He’ll likely never win a championship as the clear-cut #1 guy, but he hadn’t in seven years, so maybe he didn’t think he ever would. The problem is, he has now put himself in a position where he has to win, and each year he doesn’t the pressure will mount more and more. In all likelihood Dwayne Wade will get more credit if the Heat do win a title, but if they don’t LeBron will get all of the blame.