On Thursday night LeBron James will publicly declare his NBA future. While we don’t know where he’s heading, we know this: LeBron hasn’t earned anything yet.
Has there ever been a more ridiculous circus surrounding one player in the history of sports? Originally, I was entertained by the suspense of where LeBron James would end up. Now I’m appalled at how far these desperate franchises have taken their courting of LeBron. For starters, the guy hasn’t won anything. Not a darn thing. Two MVP awards certainly look nice on his fireplace mantel, but that doesn’t mean anything to the Cavaliers, or to the next generation of fans who may look back on LeBron as one of the most disappointing players in history. After all, MVP trophies aren’t hung from the rafters.
This situation exemplifies everything wrong with sports today. LeBron shouldn’t have ESPN at his disposal to schedule his own destination X press conference. While he’s a freakish athlete and a superior individual talent, LeBron hasn’t steamrolled through the NBA as expected. In fact, his only accomplishment as a member of an NBA team is an Eastern Conference title won when the conference was at its absolute weakest. On the court, he’s Donovan McNabb minus three conference titles. Off the court, he’s more obsessed with his brand and image than winning basketball games. Why couldn’t he approach this process the same way any other free agent would; fly to meet with potential suitors, make a decision, appear at a introductory press conference a day or two later? Is he above it all, or is standard operating procedure too mundane for “King James”?
What an unfitting name. I always laugh when I hear it. I laughed harder when LeBron’s first tweet from his new Twitter account referred to himself as “the King.” To this point of his career, he hasn’t performed like a king…or at least a very good one.
From a historical standpoint, great kings were courageous warriors who conquered adversaries. No-showing games 5 and 6 of the Boston series in the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals wasn’t exactly warrior-like. Staring blankly at teammates and moping around the court as a veteran team kicked his tail didn’t qualify as courageous either. The list of those he’s conquered? Um, it’s empty. No, LeBron is not a king.
In fact, “King James” reminds me more of Commadus from Gladiator. Like Commadus, LeBron is a little immature and needs attention. He needs to believe the whole world will be waiting on Thursday night as he proclaims where the next chapter of his career will begin. (His camp says the decision is being made live on ESPN because of “unprecedented attention.” Translation: “I’m a big deal. I want everyone to watch me decide.” Whatever.) Unfortunately, one team will hand over their franchise to him and he’ll undoubtedly hold the team, front office, and its fans hostage for the next decade. Has any player, in any sport ever been given so much after accomplishing so little? LeBron obviously didn’t attend college (where upper classman would have reigned in his ego), wasn’t disciplined by coaches in high school, and was never told, “This is the way things are going to be. Deal with it.” Winning happens between the lines, in sweaty gyms, and when the cameras aren’t rolling. Staging a spectacle to announce his destination only proves that LeBron is more in love with being a global icon than earning a legacy that comes with being an NBA champion.
If I’m a GM with money available, I’m throwing everything at Dwyane Wade, not LeBron. Wade has proven he has the competitive fire that Kobe has and Jordan patented. Wade single handedly brought his city a title by attacking the rim with reckless abandon for four straight games even as all five opponents geared to stop him. Sure, he may struggle with injuries over the course of his career, but you can’t teach what Wade has. He isn’t looking to become the next international idol or to be a billionaire businessman. Wade is sick of losing. He wants to win and he knows what it takes to do so. LeBron clearly doesn’t understand winning on that level, nor does he care as much. If he did, he would drop the global brand crap and concentrate on basketball.
Don’t get me wrong, LeBron is one of the best players in the league. Although, I hope for the sake of those young kids who will undoubtedly watch on Thursday night that LeBron never sniffs an NBA title. He’s been given too much by a league that he has yet to champion. He’s been handed endorsements about winning when he really can only endorse charisma and physical superiority. The man isn’t a winner, and yet NBA front offices are creating cartoon sitcoms and international branding campaigns for this guy? Somewhere along the way we as sports fans have lost our edge. Never before have we embraced someone with such unabashed adoration who hasn’t won.
My favorite part about this whole scenario is that 15 years from now history will show that LeBron never lived up to the hype. He never actually earned the adulation that was blindly given to him. LeBron only has 5-7 prime basketball years left. It doesn’t appear that he’ll team with Wade or Bosh, so there are no guarantees that he’ll win even one title. On top of that, there are veteran teams like the Lakers and Celtics still hanging around as well as young up-and-coming teams that will challenge for titles.
One of those up-and-coming teams is led by Kevin Durant, a pure scorer and more capable leader. While LeBron has been prancing around fancy hotels being courted by billionaires, Durant quietly signed a multi-year extension while sitting on the bench supporting the Thunder’s summer league team. Does Durant have to be at summer league? Not at all, but he’s there because he understands winning requires more than just his own efforts. Winning requires a team, a culture, an idea that revolves around a leader more similar to Maximus than Commadus. Maximus shied from glory and conquered with strength and will. Commadus always wanted more, wanted to be the center of everyone’s attention even though he’d never done a single thing to earn it. LeBron falls in line with one of these characters. Unfortunately for whoever signs LeBron, they’ll learn he’s more similar to the one that accomplished nothing, asked for more, and ultimately cared only about his status.
LeBron’s a public figure, a business mogul wannabe. He’s not an NBA legend. He’s not even an NBA champion.