In an hour of unbelievably overcooked live TV, LeBron James went from being the nice guy you hoped would someday win a championship to the schemer you hope never does. He went from being John Elway to being A-Rod, from hero to villain.
It must have seemed a good idea at the time: LeBron and his “team” went to ESPN and pitched an one-hour special, and the Worldwide Leader does as the Worldwide Leader invariably does — it turned a news story into a circus. It offered up Stuart Scott, who said “two-time MVP” so often in the space of 10 minutes you wanted to shout: “Bill Russell was a five-time MVP, and he never needed a one-hour special to remind us!”
Bill Russell also won 11 titles, and he never had to cherry-pick his team. Neither did Michael Jordan, who took six, or Magic Johnson, who won five, or Kobe Bryant, who has five, or Tim Duncan, who has four. Even if LeBron does win a championship with the Miami Heat — and there’s no guarantee he will — it won’t be seen as a great player lifting a team; it will be seen as a bunch of glitzy free agents banding together just to burnish their respective images.
The Heat won’t be seen as the Celtics, where three guys who had never won big came together near the end of the careers to enhance one another. They’ll be viewed as the Yankees, where the operative word is always overkill. LeBron James just told us that, for all his exterior bravado, he didn’t trust himself to be the linchpin of a champion. He needs Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Can Carmelo Anthony be far behind?
We the people are funny. We like our stars, but we don’t like sure things. It will be no news when Miami wins, but it will be the lead story whenever it loses. And it won’t just be newsworthy when/if the Heat fails — it will be laugh-out-loud funny.
Had LeBron gone to the Knicks or the Bulls, had he stayed in Cleveland, we’d see him differently today. We’d see him as a superstar looking for a team he could make better, as opposed to one that might well have made do without him. A team needs both LeBron and D-Wade? The two brand names whose games most mirror one another? Why not bring Jordan out of retirement just to complete the set?
The wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, no stranger to hype, offered two sneering Tweets in response to the word circulating early Thursday that LeBron was indeed headed to Miami to ally himself with Wade and Chris Bosh. From C.O.:
“Nickname is KingJames. Kings lead with the help of an army (supporting cast on team) – a lead dog doesn’t join superstars to make it easy.”
“Kobe-Magic-Jordan-Bird all created legacies on their own teams. They didn’t join together to make winning a ring easy.”
We can argue that LeBron deserves credit for leaving money on the table. (The Cavs could have paid him more than any other team.) But money at this rarefied level is a given, and what’s a few million here or there? The trouble with being one of three — Miami Thrice! — is that LeBron will never be seen as a transcendent talent on the order of Jordan or Magic or Bird. He couldn’t take the guys around him and make them champs. He had to station himself next to D-Wade, who’s already a champ.
The Summer of LeBron figured to be strange, but it wound up being stranger than anyone could have dreamed. LeBron had the world at his feet, and he managed to alienate a goodly portion thereof. His ballyhooed “Decision” smacks of a calculated plan intent on world domination, and nobody likes a megalomaniac.
LeBron might well have outsmarted himself. A lot of folks who wouldn’t have minded if he won are now hoping he and the Miami Heat will lose. I know. I’m one of them.