For many athletes and celebrities there is a day that stands out among all others. The day when their perfect image took a devastating blow.
For Kobe Bryant it was July 4th 2003, when an arrest warrant was served for him due to rape allegations that exposed Bryant's previously squeaky clean image as a sham. While he was acquitted of the rape charges, he admitted to cheating on his wife, and he lost many endorsements and his image as the Golden Boy of the NBA.
For Mark McGwire it was August 21st 1998 when an article was published by a reporter who had noticed a bottle of Androstendione in McGwire's locker. This eventually led to the allegations of steroid use among many of the home run sluggers in the game including McGwire and Sammy Sosa, two who were heralded as the saviors of baseball post strike. After this, everything McGwire had accomplished was called into question, and finally in 2009, McGwire came clean and admitted what everyone had suspected for years: McGwire took steroids.
For LeBron James that date is July 8th 2010, and it will forever be imprinted into the legacy of LeBron James. That was the day that LeBron made, what I believe to be, the worst mistake of his life in choosing to chase after a title by joining up with Dywane Wade and Chris Bosh with the Miami Heat. Years from now when we look back on the life and career of LeBron James, July 8th 2010 will be an important date, for that is when his public image was irreparably damaged.
Now let me be clear, what LeBron did was not on par with what Kobe and McGwire did, however it was image damaging to the point that he can never come back from. He can never be looked at like he once was. He exposed himself that night for the self centered egotist that he is.
Up til then, LeBron had the world on a string. He openly spoke of one day being a billionaire. Bypassing college and jumping straight to the NBA, James was drafted by his in-state team, The Cleveland Cavaliers. James was the proverbial Man in Ohio, and the dreams of championships danced through the heads of all the Cavalier fans. For six years he did virtually everything except win a championship. He won MVP's, went to all-star games and took his team to the NBA finals, however fell short of his ultimate goal.
He was generally looked at as one of, if not THE, best player in the NBA, and the talk was when, not if, he would win his first of many championship rings. As I said the world was his. He was making untold millions of dollars through salary and endorsements. His first Nike contract was 90 million dollars, before he even stepped onto an NBA court.
However he stumbled. He managed to trip over his giant ego, and as a result his image has been damaged beyond repair. On July 8th 2010 LeBron made the mistake of choosing to piggyback his way to a ring, rather than lead his own team to one. He'd rather be one of three instead of being the one.
He pulled a sham on all of us. I read on a message board last night a great point about LeBron. LeBron talks about wanting a challenge, and yet he took the easiest route to try to get a ring. And that's right. How can you even argue that? I mean, he could have gone to Chicago that had some solid young players, but he would unquestionably be the #1 guy. They would have been a solid bet for the Eastern Conference finals.
He could have gone to perhaps the Nets where he'd have a few young solid player such as Devin Harris and Brook Lopez that would provide a very solid supporting cast. Most importantly the Nets would still have money to add quality players.
Instead he went to the Miami Heat where there's already two superstar players, and NOBODY ELSE. The team has made a 5 year 30 million dollar offer to Mike Miller, but other than that they're going to have to surround these guys with minimum salary players. If Lebron, Wade or Bosh get injured any extended length of time, God forbid more than one, the team is done, and will struggle to make the playoffs, much less win a title.
There are those defending LeBron and saying that Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan all had superstars on their team, and nobody questions THEIR titles, so no one should question LeBron's. However this is missing a huge point: Jordan, Magic and Bird all were on their original teams when they won. Those superstars were either there when they joined the team as a rookie, or they were added later. They didn't run to another team to join up with other superstars in order to win a title.
Sports Illustrated has a great article about this where Michael Rosenberg of SI wrote:
GREENWICH, Conn., July 8, 1990 -- Michael Jordan announced on national television he's leaving Chicago to join the Detroit Pistons. Jordan said it was tough to bolt Chicago, where he was the most popular athlete in many years, because he thinks he has a better chance to win a championship if he plays with Pistons star Isiah Thomas. Jordan said by playing together, he and Thomas "won't have the pressure of going out and scoring 30 every night."
That would have sounded absurd, right? Well, it is no more absurd than what LeBron James is doing.
Jordan was 27 years old in 1990, slightly older than James is now. He had never been to the NBA Finals. He had been beaten up by the Celtics and Pistons for years. He doubted his supporting cast was good enough.
But he never doubted himself.
And it became very clear Thursday night that LeBron James does doubt himself. James will be a champion in Miami -- if not next year, then sometime after that. If you put James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh together and give Pat Riley five years to find the complementary pieces, that team will win a championship.
But James does not have the heart of a champion. He does not have the competitive fire of Jordan, the bull-headed determination of Kobe Bryant, the quiet self-confidence of Tim Duncan, the willful defiance of Isiah or the winning-is-everything hunger of Magic Johnson.
He is an extremely gifted player who wants the easy way out.
And I haven't even gotten into the arrogance and disrespect he showed his home state of Ohio. Look, I realize that he has a right to go wherever he wants. He was an employee of the Cavaliers and he has a right to leave and go play for another team. That's within his rights. However, it's the way he went about it. He has some big extravaganza on ESPN in prime-time, putting all the focus on him so he can stab his city in the heart live on television. A city who's fans live and die by the Cavaliers.
It was disrespectful how he did it. He should have been a man and told the Cavs that he was not coming back. Instead he ducked and dodged the Cavs calls and made them sit and watch as he publically rejected them in the most humiliating way possible: Live in front of a global audience. Contrast that with how Kevin Durant one of the top five players in the league right now signed his extension.
Durant signed the extension, and then sent out a twitter message telling his followers. That's it. No press conference, no dragging it out and practically screaming "look at me! look at me!"
Think of the raging ego that someone has to have to essentially make all the teams come to him. He sits back at his palatial estate and has everyone come crawling to Ohio to kiss his ring and beg him to come to their teams. Now, those teams bear some responsibility, as does ESPN and the rest of the media that has hyped this up and allowed LeBron to get it to this level, however the majority of the onus rests on LeBron.
In the aftermath of the "Decision", Cleveland erupted. There's video online of everyone in a bar gathered around hoping beyond hope that he'd stick around and help Cleveland build a championship team. When he announces Miami, they let out a chorus of gasps and boos.
People burned LeBron jerseys in the streets, and the Cavaliers owner came out and blasted LeBron's "arrogance" and called him a coward in a letter to the fans.
I'm not a Cavaliers fan. I'm also not a fan of any team that had a legit shot at signing LeBron, so this isn't a case of me being a bitter fan, mad that LeBron didn't come to my favorite team. And I have always had an ambivalent attitude towards James. I recognized his freakishly talented abilities and watched in awe at some of his highlights, however I've never been a fan or a non-fan of LeBron.
However this is crazy. I struggle to find another example of something like this. Some are comparing it to Brett Favre, but in my opinion Favre hasn't even approached the level of narcissism that James has exhibited. Favre has waffled on coming back or retiring many times over the years, however he (to my knowledge) didn't call a prime time press conference and stab Green Bay in the back by choosing to go to the New York Jets. Favre loves the limelight and attention, but at least he never had the brass balls to disrespect his home team like that.
Although if you think about it, as someone pointed out on a radio show I was listening to, Cleveland was NEVER James' home. His home was Akron Ohio. Everything he's done has shown that he has love for his home town, but Cleveland was just a place of employment. He openly rooted for the Dallas Cowboys, not the Cleveland Browns. He openly rooted for the New York Yankees, not the Cleveland Indians. So I suppose it's not that surprising that he would destroy the hopes of many in Cleveland with such pomp and circumstance.
And to be clear, LeBron didn't OWE the city of Cleveland anything in the sense of him feeling obligated to staying. He owed them the common courtesy of letting them know that he was not coming back. He owed them the common decency of not keeping them on edge while having to watch in front of the world as he publically rejected them.
Then again, LeBron's whole life has played out like a reality show, so there shouldn't be a shock that he treated the Cavaliers like the runner up on The Bachelor. Only LeBron didn't give them a hug or a kiss goodbye, he just turned his back on them, and left them standing on the stage, humiliated.