LeBron in Review

HOWARD MEGDAL: I will not join the hating of LeBron James. He made a decision to value winning over money, he made his announcement in keeping with the 2010 media culture, and I wish him well (though as a Knicks fan, I hope he loses to New York in the playoffs every single year).

But the LeBron announcement was a loser for three reasons, one as a journalist, two others as a Knicks fan.

To see Stephen A. Smith come out as the Bob Woodward of this LeBron saga is a terrible blow to basketball reporting. For those unfamiliar, Smith enjoys blanket assertions over hard facts, ascertaining things he knows nothing about, and the settings loud, louder and loudest.

A few years ago, ESPN elected to get rid of the fantastic basketball reporter David Aldridge, and keep Stephen A. Smith. It spoke volumes about how ESPN sought to cover sports.

But Smith, by making what appeared to be a guess about LeBron’s destination- one that hit- now has credibility as a go-to NBA reporter for years. He’s a made guy. Never mind his panicked tweet covering himself just prior to the announcement.

This is bad for basketball and journalism.

The other two concerns are more parochial. For me, a Knicks fan, seeing Pat Riley receive more adulation and glory, 15 years after bailing on the Knicks, is hard to stomach.

But it pales in comparison to the closer the Knicks sent in to try and snatch LeBron: Isiah Thomas.

That’s right: the guy who dug the Knicks into so deep of a hole that they could merely manage to get back to ground zero in time to try and woo LeBron, the guy who cost the Knicks $11.6 million due to sexual harassment- he was their ace in the hole.

Worse yet, it appears the Knicks still want to find a role for him. Donnie Walsh has even hinted that Thomas could be a candidate for General Manager.

Nothing says more about a bleak Knicks future than that. And you can’t blame that on LeBron James.

JASON CLINKSCALES: It’s over. Well, it is, right?

LeBronomania was Hulkamania on speed rather than steroids. It was a maglev train barreling into the sports world several times over thanks to the immediacy of social media, the desperation of ESPN to win a ratings war against no one and a few people just being dumb.

As said previously in this space, all that mattered was which team’s name he would utter when announcing his decision. Of course, anyone who expected that he would be “bringing his talents to South Beach” before the entire saga began is lying. The fact that the Miami Heat, a team many expected to lose Dwayne Wade to his hometown Chicago Bulls, were able to resign their franchise guard, add James AND former Toronto Raptors star Chris Bosh, is the most impressive coup the NBA and maybe all of American sports has ever seen.

Yet, as you’ve may have heard, the spectacle was indeed ridiculous.

The spectacle wasn’t just about James becoming an egomaniac. That’s become the de facto opinion of many and it may prove to be true. However, the man committed no crimes against humanity, basketball or Cleveland in deciding to bolt. He decided that he didn’t want to be part of the proverbial reclamation project that is the Los Angeles Clippers, declined to chase Michael Jordan’s shadow in Chicago, didn’t buy the frayed argument that he could become a global icon in New York and didn’t shack up with the nomadic Nets just because he’s got a friend as an elaborate season ticket holder. It’s called free agency, after all.

The spectacle was about an owner who acted crazier than Lynn Whitfield in “A Thin Line Between Love and Hate”, though not nearly as attractive.

In 2005, former Houston Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy was fined $100,000 for saying that officials were targeting Yao Ming in the playoffs and that Dallas Mavericks owners Mark Cuban was to blame. In 2006, both the New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets were levied fines of $500,000 as commissioner David Stern threw the gauntlet on players, coaches and owners alike for an incident that brought back memories of the infamous Malice at the Palace.

The fact that Dan Gilbert, the Cleveland Cavaliers owner, used NBA intellectual property to relay his open letter should have been even more of a reason to fine him more than the $100,000 his words cost him on Monday. In addition to the Cavs’ brand losing luster without James, he has yet to apologize for his response; one that may serve as a note to future free agents who may pass on Cleveland because they do not desire to play for an owner who was so callous in expressing his true feelings about player/owner relations.

The spectacle was about everyone who knows absolutely nothing about professional sports deciding to chime in. Whether people choose to agree with Jesse Jackson or not comes down to how relevant you believe he is. The mere mention of the word “slave” sets off firestorms among the media and those flames engulf themselves into the public conscious. Jackson, who could have chosen to respond to something far more important like the Johannes Mehserle verdict in relation to the BART shooting, found that chiming in on Gilbert’s letter was a good idea.

The spectacle was us; grasping for straws, practically begging for any indication that James was going to sign with our favorite teams and responding unkindly when he chose Miami. We’ve made him a hero or villain, depending on how vested we were in his future. Many made themselves haters, in all honesty, because it was the pop culture thing to do for the moment. This culture vulture mentality we took continues to keep this story front and center, even when we claim we want it to be dead and buried.

And despite news going on elsewhere in the sports world, it’s not over. Not by a long shot.

AKIE BERMISS: Well, listen, I’m no expert: I just love basketball.  I love basketball, I love the Knicks, and I used to love watching LeBron James.

In theory, I agree with both Howard and Jason regarding their opinions of LeBron and his theDecision.  Excepting I have one problem: I am not a reasonable man.  A reasonable man would say, “Oh look at LeBron choosing to take his career into his own hands and build a team around himself of all-star players. Good for him.”  A reasonable man would be able to come to grips with Pat Riley’s legacy now permanently being one-and-the-same with “championship.”  Now, instead of being known for abandoning the Knicks and kicking us while we were down to go to Miami and do, basically, nothing of any note (except be a jerk about it) — now he’ll be known for being a great coach of great players.  And his time with the Knicks will likely be seen as an aberration in his gleaming record of greatness.  A reasonable man wouldn’t bemoan King James’ fame and fortune and his unwillingness to challenge himself by playing against stacked odds.

I am not a reasonable man.  LeBron James lost a fan last week. Maybe there are hundreds of us — maybe its just me.  But I don’t really care to root for a player who chooses the path of least resistance.  Its no fun.  There’s no suspense.  No drama.  The team that Miami is forming is like something I would have created in my Bulls vs Blazers video game back in the day.  I stacked my team with all the superstars in the league and I crushed every other team in blowout games.  I was ruthless, relentless, and unbeatable.  And I won the championship.

And its was dull.

I will still be in awe of the athleticism and skill of LeBron James.  He remains something between a mortal man and super-hero on the court.   I will still tune in to watch him play.  To see what he does.  But I have to say, I’m really hoping that the Heat get beaten every year by one plucky cinderella team or another.  That the great giants who should win everything meet constant frustration in their inability to snuff out the candle of hope in every other team’s eyes.  That all they’ve done down in South Beach is turn a contending team into the hare in a dog race.  The team to beat.  I pray that it is so.

And finally, this: I think its somewhat indisputable that even if the Heat win back-to-back-to-back-to-back championships (and so on) and do dominate the league in every category that is tracked — that we all know that this is basically the end result of free-agency gone amok.  That the balance has, perhaps, gone too far.  That the cult of personality in the sport has at last outstripped the ideals of fair play and friendly competition between franchises. This is last scene in Animal Farm, when the once revolutionary instigators can be seen fraternizing with the former overlords (and leaving all us poor barnyard animals out in the cold).

And that this team, built from nothing but sprung whole and full-fledged from the now sundered crown of King James, will forever be known as the machine made winning the only thing that matters in professional basketball.

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