Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Several years ago I'm at my cousins house and he asks me if I've heard about this High School basketball player that everyone is talking about. Submissively and intrigued I say no. It took him awhile to remember this kids name so we go about our business. A few minutes later he snaps his fingers in remembrance, gives a cheer and he tells me it's a name that nor he or I have ever heard and he spits it out .... " It's LeBron". I scrunch my face at the weird sounding name I've never heard before. He was a sophomore in High School and apparently already had NBA scouts at his games and some were trying to make negotiations to get him in the league earlier than the minimum, after his senior season. Sure enough my cousin was right.

A couple years later LeBron James' High School games are being broadcasted on ESPN as he carries his school team to the Ohio State Championship. The University of Akron and Ohio State University were heavily recruiting him and why wouldn't they? James was a 6'9 for .... gua ... uhh I'm actually not sure what position he was. He handles like a point guard, can shoot like a two, tall and long enough to play the four but listed as a small forward on his teams roster. He was bringing the ball down the floor much like Magic Johnson did ... except Magic didn't play with such power nor could his sternum be above the ten foot rim. He flew through the air, everyone watching eyes wide and mouths dropped. This kid was special. Much to the dismay of the local Universities, LeBron James entered the NBA draft. Could you imagine if he went to college and played in March Madness? (He may have been at OSU with Greg Oden and Mike Conley ... that would have been ridiculous.) Ironically, his hometown team the Cleveland Cavaliers won the draft lottery that season and picked him number on overall. (I am still suspicious that the lottery could have been fixed that year). 

Nothing I type here can give credit to how phenomenal LeBron James is so I'm going to skip the part where I'm supposed to list all of his accolades and statistics in the NBA. Everyone knows what he's done and how explosive he plays. This blog post is intended on what has happened to LeBron and this league as we approach the 2011 All-Star break. It seemed like the Cavs had nearly every game of theirs on primetime TV either on ESPN or TNT and for a good reason. The atmosphere at the Quicken Loans Arena (aka The Q) was priceless and I can't explain what it felt like to WATCH yes watch their games on television. (My favorite moment being last season when Sundiata Gaines hit a buzzer beating three pointer to beat Cleveland in Salt Lake City ... Go Jazz.) After his rookie contract he reconstructed it to stay in his hometown a few more seasons. The last two of that contract the Cavaliers had the best record in the NBA boasting a number one seed in the playoffs both years. 2007 was the furthest LeBron led his team in the playoffs getting swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals. Then, the most anticipated off-season of the NBA approaches. July 1st 2010 was the day everyone started cruising around ESPN.com and NBA.com to see what was going on in the LeBron sweepstakes. The New York Knicks had been a franchise who had publicly been trying to lure LeBron to the number one market in the United States and put Knicks basketball back on the map. They failed. (Although after seeing the mock up signs the fans had at their games with LeBron in a Knicks jersey I must say, he looked good in blue and orange.) Many other teams including Cleveland, met with him with sales pitches as to why he should stay/play with that team.

The Decision: This is where it gets ridiculous. Apparently James had made up his mind on which jersey he wanted to wear (and sell) for the next few seasons. He had made arrangements with ESPN to make the announcement. He chose the location (Boys and Girls Club? really?) and who from the media would do the interview. I race home from work and tell my wife what's going on. Being the sweetheart she is, she hands me the remote and says "I needed to take a shower anyways" while rolling her eyes. Love you babe. I pull up the menu and the name of the show is THE DECISION. I was surprised it was listed because it wasn't announced until that day. ESPN is on the ball. As a non Cavalier fan, I'm hoping James informs everyone he's staying until he wins his home town a Championship ... then I hear it "I'm going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat". I couldn't believe it. I just shook my head and kept saying "what an idiot". Not for leaving the Cleveland per say but how he did it and said it. LeBron met up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh (who'd just signed his own contract with Miami days earlier) and they held an introductory meeting (whatever you want to call it) days later. It was just the three of them already dressed in their uniforms in front of hundreds announcing the arrival of LBJ. To me, that disrespected the rest of the team (who had been yet to be signed). He guaranteed they would win multiple championships in Miami. Months later, I've been watching the NBA this season and I've noticed a drastic change in not just LeBron's games ... but the NBA as a whole.

In the first game between the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic this season, it didn't even feel like a basketball game. The introductions to the Heat's roster seemed like a weekend special at a casino in Las Vegas followed by a documentary on MTV. I felt the same way when LeBron returned to Cleveland and everyone was there to boo and heckle him. No one seemed to care about the outcome of the game. Everyone knew the Heat would blowout the Cavs. Now that LeBron is arguably not the best player on his team, I can't help but notice a change in the excitement of his game. He's not as explosive or dominant, nor is Dwyane Wade. And Chris Bosh has looked like the kid who sees two best friends walking together on the field at recess while he's on the monkey bars. He swiftly jumps down, runs over to them and follows them wherever they go. A friend of mine who is a Jazz fan but would wear James' jersey when he came to Utah has said he hates the NBA now. It's a much different atmosphere. James is still putting up the numbers and being all over the court ... but it just feels different with two other all stars on the team. What if Michael Jordan, Isiah Thomas and Magic Johnson decided to play for the same team? (I realize that would have been improbable as Magic and Isiah played the same position ... but lets continue for the sake of the argument.) Would their names all have the same value to them? All we hear about is Miami this and Miami that. There are 29 other franchises in this league who James disrespected by saying they'd win multiple titles in South Beach.

I'm sure the animosity in Cleveland will blow over ... okay maybe not. What I'm not sure about is if this Miami team can win the way that's been guaranteed by James. One thing I'm disappointed about is how Mr. James copped out and put the pressure on his superstar best friend Dwyane Wade (who's already been an NBA Finals MVP). Perhaps LeBron thought the "overwhelming" spotlight he had would diminish. Well now he's put it on Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Pat Riley, Erick Spoelstra and the other nine players who support "the big three". I'm scared for you LeBron. I cannot consider you iconic in what you do anymore. It's no longer just YOUR world. I realize it's a team sport, but you are responsible for the pressure and spotlight in Miami right now and for the foreseeable future. You couldn't hack it being the main man in Cleveland, got scared, went crying to your good buddy who has altered his own game to accommodate for you ... but you're still leaning on him to help you win an ...oh sorry ... many NBA titles. I've never really been a big fan of Kobe Bryant, but not even Kobe would do what LeBron has. Bryant thrives on pressure and loves the high risk high reward situations being an NBA superstar brings. Sure he and Shaq had their shortcomings after threepeating the NBA Finals, he even air balled a buzzer beating three pointer his rookie season in the playoffs, but never once did he go running to a highly trusted colleague to help him win. He's learned to deal with the pressure making others around you better brings. Something you never will do ... anymore. You have talent nobody else has. The NBA has embraced that talent and it STILL caters to you because of it. Five years from now, if you have no title, the basketball world may be completely different and the league may have just wasted it's time, talents and money catering to your every dribble of the ball. Enjoy your world of the NB-LBJ-A while it lasts ... It's future is in your hands ... and we are all witnesses.