Analyzing Reactions to “The Decision.”

I have been absolutely fascinated by the reaction to Lebron’s “Decision” … and how a month later people are still up in arms about it.  Every time I think the issue has been put to bed it comes back like a bill collector.  Last week, Charles Barkley noted that he wanted to make sure Lebron put him on the list of people taking shots at Lebron since “The Decision”, or the LeBacle or one of the other names the now infamous show goes by.

I’ve included the beginning of an article written by Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus the day after “The Decision”.  I think he makes some good points and shares a point of view similar to mine.

“LeBron James is currently the least popular-or at least most loathed-player in the NBA, and I suspect it would be difficult to explain this to someone like my grandmother who knows little about basketball.

A superstar player decided to take less money and sacrifice individual glory to try to win championships, but it’s not OK because he’s not having to work hard enough to win them, so they don’t count as much.

To announce his decision, he created a special TV program that wound up generating millions of dollars he donated to the Boys & Girls Club, but he’s a bad person because it was egotistical.

It’s funny that James has attracted more wrath than players who have committed crimes or hurt others in a way James’ emotional cut to the city of Cleveland never could. There are a lot of terrible things that happen in the world each day, and I’m not in the business of telling people which ones they should bother lamenting. At the same time, I think it’s interesting in that it seems to be a window into the minds of those criticizing James. While they could never imagine themselves being criminals, even in an alternate reality as a star athlete, they could see themselves as having to decide where to sign as a free agent, and they’re certain they would handle the whole thing differently than James.”

I was pretty much ambivalent about “The Decision”.  Which I think is why I’ve been fascinated by the reaction to it.  I continue to be amazed at how a guy who was one of the most beloved figures in the league went from beloved to pariah over the course of one hour without disrespecting his wife or breaking any laws.

The Friday night after LeDecision, my fascination caused me to read responses to the decision for the better part of 3 hours.  I continually read about his narcissism and that he has removed himself from the discussion of best player and/ or best ever.

I’ll address the narcissism first.  This guy has been asked what he was going to do this summer for the past 2 years.  It was virtually impossible for him to NOT know that people were interested in his decision.  Wouldn’t it be disingenuous at best for him to act like he didn’t know people were interested in his decision?  And if he really didn’t know, wouldn’t he be viewed as aloof or a blooming idiot?  Knowing that, why not raise some money for the place where you got your start?  I know, I know, “I don’t have a problem with him leaving; I had a problem with how he did it.”  I’m curious how LeDecision differs from National signing day and how nobody has a problem watching high school kids, half of whom aren’t old enough to legally sign a contract, declare where they will attend school next fall.  He was a free agent (emphasis on free) and was not obligated to call the Cavs to say he wasn’t coming back.  Personally, I probably don’t have a special unless I’m staying.  But I think he was in a no win situation.  If he tweeted his departure like Durant did his contract extension, then he’s a coward for not going on camera and saying it “to the people of Cleveland”.  Should he have just had a press conference at American Airlines Arena (where the Heat play) stating that’s where he was going?  Would he be viewed any differently today if he had?

If ESPN hadn’t drug all the talking head stuff out, showed some Lebron video and then more talking head stuff before they tossed it to Jim Gray, then the program would have been crisper.  I think some folks are as upset about how the program played out as they are about his departure.  Frankly, at this point, I’m convinced that the only decision people would have been satisfied with is if he said, “I’ve decided that I’d like to continually beat my head against the wall in Cleveland for the next 6 years.”  I don’t understand how folks can tolerate Paris Hilton and The Situation (talk about narcissism) and all these other “reality TV” stars who inject themselves into the media and be so turned off by someone acknowledging that people were interested in where he chose to continue his career.

I have trouble reconciling his “narcissism” with one of the other sentiments that I continually read.  “He gave up glory to go and be D-Wade’s Robin.”  Wouldn’t it be MORE narcissistic to stay in Cleveland or go somewhere where you are head and shoulders better than the next best guy on the team?  That way you are assured of ALL the adulation that comes the team’s way.  This couldn’t have possibly been an ego driven decision, otherwise he’s not playing with these two.  You can’t call someone a narcissist and simultaneously say that they don’t have it in them to carry a team, especially since he’s done it for 7 years already.  I’ll accept one or the other, but not both.

Also, how do you go from being inarguably one of the 2 best players in the league (the other being Kobe) to the “Robin” of another player not even in the discussion?  I also don’t see how this automatically removes him from the discussion of best player or potentially best ever.  It’s easy to be a big fish in a small pond, every pond has one.  If Lebron, wins more league MVPs and they win a title/s and he’s Finals MVP, isn’t it MORE impressive that he outshined D-Wade and Chris Bosh as opposed to Moe Williams?  Wouldn’t shining amongst the stars elevate him in the discussion versus removing him from it?  How can people say he’s not even the best player on his team now?  Were they lying before or are they lying now?  If the same thing transpires and these 3 guys go to Chicago, isn’t Lebron the best player on that more talented team?  I think the only way this harms his long term legacy is if he is NEVER in the running for another league MVP, they never make the NBA finals or they go multiple times but Wade or Bosh win each of the finals MVP.  I just don’t see that happening.  He’s the biggest star, he’ll be MVP again.

I am absolutely NOT a fan of the “toil in obscurity until you’re past your useful date, then you can go elsewhere and try to win” philosophy.  I think the whole star past his prime signing a series of one or two year deals trying to ride some young buck’s coattail to a championship is rather pathetic.  Does anybody besides Gary Payton and his family even know he won a title in Miami?  Does the title count towards your legacy if you were just along for the ride?  When you think GP, you think Seattle Supersonics, not LA, Miami or Boston.  He was a shell of himself at each of those stops.  I’m all for folks setting themselves up for success and being able to win while they still matter and can be an integral part of the winning.  We do it every day.  Nobody wants to go work for Sanford & Son, we dream about going where the most talented folks are.  When I was in school, many of the guys in the communications dept. wanted to go work for ESPN, the NFL, NBA, Spike Lee or Steven Spielberg.  The accounting majors wanted to work for Arthur Anderson, Deloitte Touche or one of the other “Big Five” accounting firms.  I had a friend who did industry training at Microsoft and said he felt smarter just being there in that environment.  Lawyers want to work for the prestigious law firm, not as the court appointed attorney for someone who can’t afford a lawyer.  My point is simply that nobody wants to be stuck working with hacks, but that’s what we seem to expect of our athletes.

I’m a Pistons fan and was never a big Lebron guy (maybe I never got over that whole 48 pt, 25 consecutive pts, insanity he dropped on my Pistons in the ’06 East Finals)

As a basketball fan, I’m intrigued to see three guys with that much talent, in their primes, who are unselfish players play together.  I would have loved the opportunity to watch Boston’s Big 3 play together 7 or 8 years ago.  That would have been really special.

I say the Heat end up one of 2 ways.

1.  Like the Celtics when they acquired KG and Ray Allen only the Heat have a much larger window of opportunity than the Celtics had.  Or

2.  like the Milwaukee Bucks when Ray Allen, Big Dog and Sam Cassell were there. (a playoff  team that couldn’t get past the first round except the time they lost in the Eastern Conference Finals and left a bitter Ray Allen saying that “The League” didn’t want them to play in the NBA Finals.)

I think (and hope) they end up like the Celtics.  Big Dog was of no use if he wasn’t scoring … And he and Ray Allen were still trying to find themselves as players.  I don’t think the Heat will have that problem.

“The Decision”, although it rubbed many folks the wrong way, is exactly what Curt Flood and others were fighting for.  Baseball had a “reserve clause” and since it was the first professional league, when other sports developed professional leagues they used a system that emulated the Reserve clause.  The reserve clause basically said that the team that originally signed a player held the players rights for life even after the player had satisfied the terms and conditions of the contract.  Players belonged to that team until they were traded or their rights were sold to another team.  Where have I heard that before?  Hmmm.  Players had little say in where they played or who they played for.  Flood didn’t think that was fair and refused to accept a trade from St. Louis to Philadelphia because the Phillies had a bad record and they played in dilapidated Connie Mack Stadium in front of what he believed were racist fans.  He was a 3 time all-star and 7 time Golden Glove winner and a 12 year veteran who felt he deserved better treatment.  His contesting of baseball’s reserve clause cost him the remainder of his career but it paved the way for people in other sports to change how players were dealt with contractually.  I have seen and heard stories of players seeing that they were traded on ESPN or finding out when a reporter asks them what they think of their new team.  Tim Legler, an NBA analyst, said he once found out he had been traded on a team cruise.  It’s funny to me that it’s always “business” when a team does something to a player, but when a player who has satisfied the terms and conditions of his contract decides to leave as a FREE agent, there is all sorts of backlash.  Are we regressing?  Do we want to go back to the days when players were merely property of the team they originally signed with?  Personally, I’m pleased that these young guys decided to take action and not stand idly by as their productive years in the league were wasted on teams going nowhere.  I’ll be rooting for them this season (except when they play my Pistons).

~ Yoda

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