For those who have been living in a cave, LeBron James, perhaps the best-known (if not the best) player in the NBA, held a glorified one-hour press conference last night to announce that he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team the Akron, OH native has called home for the past 7 seasons, to sign with the Miami Heat, where he will join forces with fellow Olympic teammates Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.
Predictably, the Cavs organization was outraged. Owner Dan Gilbert went as far as to accuse James of betrayal, and I’m sure many fans are some combination of depressed and furious.
I actually don’t blame James for leaving. Yes, it’s agonizing to a fanbase when a marquee player leaves, but the Cavs weren’t winning titles no matter what they did. They made a concerted effort to surround James with quality teammates (Antawn Jamison, Shaq, Moe Williams), but none of the moves they made led to playoff success. From a basketball standpoint, it didn’t make sense for James to stay and carry the franchise on his back when he could win elsewhere. It also didn’t make sense for Cleveland to give him a max contract and remake the roster every year (like the 76ers did with Allen Iverson) only to keep coming up short. I feel bad for Cavs fans, but whether now or 5 years from now, this separation had to happen.
That doesn’t mean the way it went down was right. First of all, if James was really concerned about winning a title (a valid, albeit selfish motivation), he would have chosen the Chicago Bulls rather than the Heat. The Bulls already have one of the best young point guards in the league (Derrick Rose), a hard-nosed center (Joakim Noah) and some emerging talents in Taj Gibson and James Johnson. They also added James’ erstwhile Cleveland teammate, Carlos Boozer - an elite power forward when healthy. If that isn’t a winning foundation, I don’t know what is.
Instead, James chose Miami and a chance to play with his friends Wade and Bosh. That trio might be the most talented threesome in the league, but without a decent supporting cast, they won’t win many games. The Heat literally have no center and no bench at the moment. Will some players take salary cuts to join up with James and Co? Probably. But the Heat lacks the salary cap flexibility to build a contender.
Not only did James pick the wrong team, but his whole handling of the situation was shameful. Instead of giving Cleveland a heartfelt goodbye, he created a massive amount of hype for what amounts to a stab in the back.
At a critical junction in his career, James had the opportunity to step up and demonstrate his leadership. Instead, he blew everyone off to have fun with his friends in South Beach and join a team where he doesn’t have to be the best player on the court every night. In the course of a week, he’s gone from a beloved icon to the epitome of cowardice and immaturity. I, for one, can’t wait to see the Heat lose.
What say you all?