We’ve all been there, combing through the impractically lit carbon-freezing chamber of a landing station on Planet Bespin when out of an ominous-looking cloud of fog comes the silhouette of destiny waiting to smack us in the face with the biggest choice of our lives. It’s terrifying, but more importantly it’s necessary.
Since last week much has been said and done regarding LeBron James’ decision to fly the coop and head to southern Florida in what will likely go down as the most polarizing transaction in NBA history. We’ve seen melodramatic Clevelanders set flame to authentic-grade jerseys, we’ve seen an owner lose composure under the stress of discovering that his franchise player just isn’t that into him, and we’ve seen every single sports analyst on Planet Earth weigh in on the moral fibre of a man they, at best, barely even know.
What we haven’t seen is sympathy, not for any one really, especially in light of Dan Gilbert’s dramatic break-up letter posted on Cavs.com after the decision was made public (and presumably one, two, or several gin martinis). We especially haven’t seen sympathy for James, who along with his band of uncertified public relations amateurs, hummed and hawed over the decision of where he would spend the next significant chunk of his legendary career before finally announcing it for the world to hear in a pretentious hour of prime-time television.
Now the league and the universe really are faced with something previously unseen. This isn’t like when the Boston Celtics sold the farm for two All-Stars approaching the twilight of their careers or when the 2003-04 Lakers signed Karl Malone and Gary Payton in the New Moon of their careers (hah!). These are two of the top 10 players in the NBA, both of whom can barely rent cars without having to pay an underage fee, joining another, perhaps even more accomplished (and certainly top 5) star. Regardless, this isn’t a last hurrah. This is life as we know it for the foreseeable future.
Speculation has arisen as to how the decision came about. Had it been decided since the Beijing Olympic Games like everybody who has access to the internet seems to think it was? Did James really make the biggest decision of his professional life the morning of The Decision? Were Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James all actually hatched together in an alien laboratory at the bottom of the ocean in 1982 and then raised separately as super babies poised to bring last-minute salvation to the galaxy prior to the end of the Mayan calendar?
We’ll never truly know, just as LeBosh Wade will never really know for sure why or when they decided to collude, it may have been different for all three of them. So we might as well pretend it went down like this…
Following a wrenching defeat at the hands of the Boston Celtics, LeBron James found himself wayward and lost. Not much had gone right for the back-to-back MVP other than the fact that his statistical value in basketball pools across the country was homing in on exorbitant and he won a few games in the regular season. He knew as well as you and I knew that executives across the NBA with whom he was unfamiliar would look to manipulate him, alleging better and more beneficial uses of his strength and skill. They would court him and trick him with promises of otherworldly stardom, championship rings and undivided commitment. He especially knew that one man – a figurehead of basketball supremacy – was one to regard with particular caution.
In May of 2010 he met that man, hair notoriously slicked and a grin that rose suspicion. After struggling in the NBA playoffs for the fifth consecutive year, LeBron knew that what he had promised the city of Cleveland was more easily said than done. He knew that now more than ever his heart was vulnerable. Fortunately he possessed the devotion and power to restore justice to the citizens of Cleveland. He would, as the prophecy told, be the one to lift the chronically-abysmal Cavaliers to the world’s greatest stage while simultaneously sealing his spot upon the list of most powerful athletes to ever live. Now, before him stood the one man with the potential to interfere, each knowing far too well exactly what was at stake, they drew their lightsabers and prepared to settle the matter once and for all.
In a seemingly-choreographed exchange of might and finesse, LeBron and the dark lord Pat Riley fought for what they believed in, refusing to submit. Electricity whirred and flew as the two swordsmen clashed and swung. The weight of power shifted from state to state and back again. Neither relented, knowing that their names and lives were on the line. As the battle continued Riley gained the upper-hand he so anxiously sought, backing young LeBron up to the foundation complex of a nearby basketball net.
“You are beaten. It is useless to resist. Don’t let yourself be destroyed as Obi-Wan did.”
LeBron lunged viciously, nicking the seven-time champion and three-time NBA Coach of the Year in the shoulder with his lightsaber. How dare he, with his lone ring as a player back in 1972, so assuredly dismiss the young hero’s authority as reigning King? It was a bold maneuver, one to which Riley responded with force, striking down the net under which they stood. Distracted by the falling debris, LeBron was caught off guard. During this carefully crafted moment of opportunity Riley moved in for his attack, severing the young mastermind’s shooting hand just above the forearm (seriously guys, why do you think LeBron’s elbow was sore?).
“There is no escape. Don’t make me destroy you. You do not yet realize your importance. You have only begun to discover your power. Join me and I will complete your training. With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict and bring order to the galaxy.”
What follows next is the depressing conclusion of a tale that reveals a fact not all of us care to admit: not everybody can be as brave or courageous in moments of weakness as Luke Skywalker and the Rebellion. Even Kobe Bryant found himself reaching out for help when the frustrations of leading an NBA franchise to the top proved to be too much.
Perhaps even more relevant than any overwhelming desire to give in to a greater force is that LeBron James is 25 years old. The number of 25-year-old men who would pass up an opportunity to work with some of their closest friends in Miami in order to stay home and hang out with Zydrunas Ilgauskas just because some people who watch them on TV ask them to could be counted on Darth Vader’s natural digits. James never chose to have the weight of an entire state on his shoulders, especially not one as pathetically unsuccessful as Ohio. So why, given all of that, would he even think of staying?
For the past year I was one of the many who figured that James ought to stay in Cleveland, it only seemed right, but after watching the ensuing backlash, it’s clear why he didn’t. Constructing a perfect career is one thing, but more importantly is getting the most out of one. If James knows that he will enjoy his time with the Miami Heat (given, not just the roster, but the city, the new-found independence and the friends), then he ought to have capitalized on it or find himself falling in and out of a depression over the next 10 years trying to live a dream that was always more ours than his.
Even if the decision was made long ago that he wanted to leave back in 2008, would you have rather had him come forth and bolt then? At least he made the effort to try and convince himself for two years before finally admitting that he’ll never share the dream we have for him. No matter how bad we want it for ourselves.
Criticize James and his handlers for dealing with the announcement inappropriately and use it as ammunition to question his character, but the so called “must-see train wreck television” that so many people have lambasted ever since it was announced generated more money for charity than anybody reading this article will ever donate in their life. The fact that it’s so frequently mentioned that it was James’ idea (and not ESPN’s) only adds to the fact that he took a decision he knew would crush millions and at least salvaged some good out of it.
Over the course of the next few years the NBA will undergo changes as other contending teams no doubt look to match Miami’s new core. Will LeBosh Wade stick together and win enough Larry O’Brien trophies to sink a yacht or will the experiment on South Beach fail miserably and tarnish the careers of everybody involved in the process?
Regardless, the decision is made and any bridge between James and the Cavaliers has been obliterated thanks to Gilbert (who has since decided to become Goth and never date again). So can we not at least try to see this for exactly what it is? A young man in his mid-20s deciding to leave home for the first time and live in a place famous for something other than being the hometown of Drew Carey.
Search your feelings. You know it to be true.