Of LeBron James’ announcement early Tuesday that he’s opting out of his Miami contract to become an unrestricted free agent — and potentially leaving money on the table in the process —- Ball Don’t Lie’s Kelly Dwyer takes a tact slightly opposite that of Heat President Pat Riley, writing, “he’s not less of a man, or with less of a legacy, for wanting to go work with other All-Stars.”
He’s afforded the same rights we all are, to pick amongst employers that want to pay for our services. To turn up our nose at LeBron James choosing to wear yet another NBA uniform, and I apologize for being haughty, is borderline un-American. And you don’t want to be some kind of damned Bolshevik, do ya?
Bill Russell was traded to a team with Bob Cousy already on board, in the same draft that gifted his Celtics Tom Heinsohn and K.C. Jones. Jerry West joined a team with Elgin Baylor on it. Wilt Chamberlain was traded twice and even tried to switch leagues toward the end of his career. An obscenely lucky amount of cap maneuvering and outright theft helped place Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish on the same team. Magic Johnson was drafted to a team that already featured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and he retired from that team (the second time) just months before it acquired Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, players that were originally members of the Orlando Magic and Charlotte Hornets, respectively. Tim Duncan has always had a fabulous supporting cast.
The outlier here is Michael Jordan, who had to wait for years for the All-Stars (four in total, at various times either with or without MJ, in Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, B.J. Armstrong, and Dennis Rodman) to find their roles around him. And even before his father’s tragic murder in 1993, Jordan was outwardly talking about an early retirement while dragging his legs to three straight Finals appearances.
James has now done four in a row, and he’s tired. And he needs help. And it seems odd that some basketball fans would prefer him to play things out like Allen Iverson, who has but one NBA Finals game win to his credit, and an overtime squeaker at that.
“He understands that this is a team game, and that even the greatest need help,” Dwyer muses, “why this is an anathema to people is beyond me.” While I’d not question James’ work ethic or his devotion to the game, I can totally get why this is an anathema to people. Those who’ve grown up buying into the concept/cult/whatever of T-E-A-M struggle with James’ agenda continuing to be about, well, himself. As opposed to a jersey (he wasn’t born wearing) or a city (he’s lived in for all of 4 years). In prior generations, there’d be an expectation that a franchise’s millions + fan adoration would = some loyalty. But that’s a quaint notion in 2014. You’re invited to download LeBron’s smartphone app — as opposed to say, a Miami Heat app that prominently features LeBron James.
It’s not enough that LeBron James is the greatest active basketball player on the planet. Some would like to see him be a leader as well. After a discouraging defeat to San Antonio, said leadership might come in a number of ways ; LeBron guaranteeing the Heat will return to the finals in 2015. LeBron inviting teammates to a summer-long boot camp with hot tub/karaoke bonding at the end of the day! LeBron attending Heat Summer League games and taking rookies and scrubs under his wing!
I know, corny shit. James isn’t gonna turn into Tim Duncan simply because you wish the best player was also the classiest. And it’s equally hysterical to vilify a player who prioritizes winning above money. The rub is, it’s about his victories, not a team’s. And if you’re a bigger fan of a team than any single player, this takes some getting used to.