Friday, July 9, 2010

Fear of Legacy: The Wuss-ification of the NBA

Its a done deal!

LeBron James joins Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in an attempt to form a "Super Heat" team down in South Beach. While on paper this may look flashy, could it really be a juggernaut team that could dominate the league? How did LeBron handle the whole ordeal? What does this really mean to the future and legacy of LeBron?

I am sure people have mixed feelings about all this. Here are my two cents....

The Setup

LeBron has been with the Cavaliers for seven seasons.... seven long years. He was the city's only hope to bring home a championship title (of all sports). He has not been able to take them to that promised land. Not even close. The blame for failure does not lie solely on him. He never had that strong supporting cast that could help him on that journey to promised land. Not that the Cavs didn't try to get him help. It just turned out that they were simply not good enough.

Meanwhile, it so happens, either through coordinated planning or by chance, two other guys who also needed help, Bosh and Wade, were along with LeBron set to be free agents in the summer of 2010. The trio developed a bond between them during the 2008 Olympics. It is rumored that they had a pact to join forces and play for one team.

What better chance to fulfill that pact, at least for the three of the four than when they are free agents. Due to salary cap restrictions and other limitations, it was general consensus that any team could sign only two of the three guys and for obvious basketball reasons it was thought that Bosh would team up with either Wade or LeBron. But then the Miami Heat got creative with their roster maneuvering and somehow figured that they could sign all three. And voila... that what they did!

The Choices

LeBron had many options. Heck he could pick and choose wherever he wanted to go. At some of those teams, he might have been even given the freedom to pick and choose coaches and players. But, these must have been his serious considerations:

1. Loyalty: Cleveland
LeBron grew up in Akron and he has strong roots to Ohio. He was Cleveland's home grown hero. The city and its decades of misery and disappointments with sports are well documented. LeBron was that lone shiny star of hope. If he left that city, he would be ripping their hearts out and taking them with him.

LeBron would have his legacy to be concerned about. He is immensely talented and considered to be the best basketball player on the planet right now. Him leaving Cleveland would be an admission of failure that he could not win a championship on his own terms. If he really wanted to build a legacy on the lines of past basketball greats, it was imperative for him to prove to the world that he could bring home a title to Cleveland.

2. Winning: Chicago
The Bulls were the most intriguing team of all options for LeBron. They had a young talented crop of players already in Rose and Noah. And a more than solid scorer in Deng. They also added Boozer in free agency before LeBron's D day. Clearly, Bulls would have given LeBron an overall solid team ready to not only win now, but to build a potential dynasty with.

3. Fame and Glamor: New York
The only two reasons they were in the mix: MSG and yeah, its New York.

4. The Russian Enigma: New Jersey
The only two reasons they were in the mix: Mikhail Prokhorov and their young talented core of players.

5. "Help!! I can't do this by myself!!": Miami
They would have been just an after thought until they figured out that they could sign all three: LeBron, Wade and Bosh.

The Lebr(on)-achelor

LeBron had never been recruited in his professional life. This was his chance to experience people kissing any limb he put forth, begging him to come to their city. So obviously, he decided to squeeze all he could out of this opportunity.

Not only did he have serious meetings with six teams. He also had a closed knit group of associates that kept all information within the clique. He also made sure they released just enough rumors and information through random sources to create enough buzz in the media regarding his decision. While the mystery was fun for a few hours, this tactic got stale to most people sooner than anyone expected. To add to the spice of the moment, LeBron created a Twitter account, @KingJames,  in the process, proclaiming himself to be the "king".

To add to this lame charade, he and "his people" decided to have a one hour special "Decision" show on ESPN, where he would announce his new team. This shattered the boundary between sporting events and reality TV. Connecting the dots here, it is an apparent egotistical, attention mongering ploy by James to garner the entire nation's spotlight. On the face of it, nothing wrong in doing this. Just that, I would expect this type of narcissistic strategy by a Kate Gosselin or one of those women on the Real Wives of "whatever city". It's a stunt I would expect Vince McMohan to pull in WWE.

When Jordan decided to return to the Bulls after that one year of trying out baseball, he held no hoop-la to announce his comeback. He sent out a press release of two words: "I'm back!". That resonated all through the country. That's how the great ones do it.

Moreover, this would not be a big deal if he was going to announce his return to Cleveland. Using charity as a pretext, he essentially held a nationally televised celebration to announce his leaving the city. It might be business for the league and the players. But to fans, the relationship with their teams and heroes is more than that. The insensitivity on the part of LeBron is just inexcusable. The city of Cleveland must have felt betrayed, let alone the owner of the Cavs Dan Gilbert (but he pushed the envelope too far, which is a whole another thing). It should not surprise anyone that LeBron became the No.1 enemy in the state of Ohio. No doubt his jerseys were burnt. It had to be done; before the blood on the knife that stabbed the back of Ohio dried up.

I'm proud of the fact that I was not one of the millions that tuned into ESPN to witness the love fest of LeBron. But I can say this for sure, the way LeBron handled this thing over the last week, just made Kobe look like a class act. There... I said it!

Video of fans burning LeBron Jerseys

The Legacy of LeBron

Legacies cannot be built artificially. They are built naturally over time. All the great ones needed help to win championships. But they are just that: "great" because they did it on their terms. Unlike people make it seem, he did not have a bad team in Cleveland; the Cavs had the best regular season record in the league. No, they were not world beaters by any stretch of the imagination. They had no big name or big time players other than LeBron. But it still was something to build upon. Those are the humble beginnings to how legendary stories are built. Imagine the impetus even one championship to Cleveland would have had compared to say even three that might be won in South Beach, which is no given by any means.

Mulling over this for a few hours, it seems obvious to me that LeBron made this decision to bolt to Miami because he was convinced he wasn't the second coming of Jordan. I truly believe he had doubts in his mind, if he could ever win a championship in Cleveland. Even assuming that concern of his was legit, which it is to a big degree, he had the option of being the best player on a solid core of young guns in Chicago. That was probably the best situation for anyone of these so called "superstars" to thrive on and maybe even build a dynasty.

Choosing to play with Wade and Bosh in Miami over the opportunity to build his own legacy just shows:
1. He is afraid that if he was on his own, he may never win a championship, and / or
2. Playing with his buddies, where he would not have to carry the team on his shoulders every night was more important to him than the quest for basketball immortality

Either case, it was a cop-out by James. He seemingly feared if he could do justice to the immense talent bestowed upon him all by himself. He feared if he could build a legacy that was expected out of him, all by himself . Let me sum it by saying this: the great ones would have never done this!

Man up!

Today, you find these "superstars" that, for whatever reason, seem to have given in to the fact that they need each other to win. So instead of having years of rivalry between LeBron-Wade or LeBron Bosh, the NBA finds itself the first Yankees-like team. Put all the best players in the league and build a monster team that will be polarizing and attractive enough to keep ratings and interests alive for the entire league.

But, the NBA thrives on rivalries. The best years of the NBA for me, as a fan, was always when there were rivalries. More-so in basketball than any other sport, rivalries are typically formed between teams with superstars on them.

Can you even imagine Larry Bird and Magic Johnson teaming up to form one "super" team in the 80s. No way in hell! They hated each other and that turned out to be great for the league. It led to so many hard fought battles and incredible legacies that are legendary.

Would Jordon have skipped Chicago if the Bulls had lost the 90-91 Finals against Magic-led Lakers? No way in hell!! Even before that first championship, MJ held the scoring title for 4 straight seasons before that with no championship. He stayed on to fight his way to a dynasty, the likes of which was never seen before (and quite possibly never will be seen again).

I would like for these guys to man up, grow a pair and go after their own destiny. The new NBA motto seems to be, if you cannot beat them, join them! That may be smart, but it's not good for us, fans!

I like the way Bill Simmons of ESPN put it: LeBron had choices of Loyalty (with Cleveland), winning (With Chicago) or fame (with NY) and he wimped out and chose "help" (with Miami).

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