Friday, July 9, 2010

The Front-runner




I learned several things last night, but most notably I learned that LeBron James is a front-runner. Hindsight being what it is, we all should have always known that LeBron James was a front-runner. A little kid from Akron, Ohio and his favorite teams growing up were the Dallas Cowboys, New York Yankees, and Chicago Bulls? Yeah, the writing was pretty clearly on the wall that LeBron was just a fancy way of saying front-runner. Last night, Front-runner just confirmed our biggest fears as sports fans. They don't care about us. That, of course, was also almost always true, regardless of what happened last night. But last night was the first time we could so clearly see someone toying with multiple cities at once, and eventually ripping out not just the heart of Cavs fans across the country, but millions upon millions of sports fans.

This isn't about LeBron leaving Cleveland for Miami from a basketball standpoint. I understand why LeBron wanted to go to Miami--the goal as an athlete is always to win championships. Some experts argue that should have led him to Chicago, not Miami, but that's flawed logic. We all played pick up games when we were younger, in any sport. You always wanted to be with the next best kid, regardless of who else was on your team. We learn at a young age that two elite players, in any sport, can be the basis for a great team. LeBron James chose to go to Miami to play with two of his good friends that he considers to be among the best players in basketball. I fully understand the decision from a basketball standpoint, although I don't agree with it. One title in Cleveland would have been worth ten in Miami.

What I will never understand is the way LeBron handled it. This was the first high-school phenom in my childhood that actually made it. There were different kids featured every year on Sports Illustrated, and they always seemed to fail. Then LeBron came in and exceeded all the hype--he grew up with the media, and he seemed to learn very quickly how to handle them the right way. That's what made last night so much more shocking. I understand having an hour long special to announce you're going to stay in Cleveland. It's a celebration, to show your loyalty, to give back to the fans that helped you become the mega-star you are today. That would have been understandable. But to have an hour-long special in which you A) Ripped out every Cavs fan heart in less than ten seconds and B) Didn't apologize or thank the Cavs fans for your time there... instead you simply uttered 'I hope they understand.' They won't, and never will. I'm not a Cavs fan by any measure, but I won't ever understand what you did. I will never understand how someone who should be so media savvy by this point, could butcher such a major PR opportunity.

Two positives came from last night though; The Timberwolves got Michael Beasley, former #2 overall pick, for essentially nothing. That was just a footnote, obviously, on the major events of last night. The other positive? Dan Gilbert's fantastic letter to fans shortly after LeBron announced he'd be going to 'South Beach.'

I've heard people say this was a poor decision by Dan Gilbert. The theory seems to be that other stars are going to see this letter, and refuse to play for someone who would degrade their former star like that. That's not terrible logic. However, it seems to be forgotten how rarely star players actually switch teams via free agency. Before this year, Shaq was the last superstar to switch teams via free agency... back in 1994. So, ultimately, the Cavs next star is going to have to be drafted. Players don't have as much power as the casual fan seems to believe.

I loved the letter because it's exactly what I would want to see as a Cavs fan. Gilbert was clearly upset, felt betrayed, and made sure the fans understood that. His words were so concise, so to the point, that the anger was easy to spot. The letter was absolutely correct in almost every way. (The only falsity will probably be that the Cavs will win before James does... but hey, anything can happen.) Last night, LeBron James alienated more fans than he ever imagined he could. He still doesn't understand why people were turned off by his decision. Not to mention Dwyane Wade will, more than likely, always have more championships than LeBron. So much for being better than Jordan, Front-runner.