I was out to dinner last night and I could barely hear anyone speak. There was some annoying game of musical trivia on the loudspeakers, blasting old-school tunes. There were people screaming everywhere around me, trying to let their voices be heard over all the goddamn music. And then, quite suddenly, there was pretty much complete silence. The music was turned off, everyone stopped speaking, and the restaurant had turned the TV station to “The Decision.”
It couldn’t have been more clear than it was in that restaurant last night: Whether you’re Lebron’s biggest fan or you think he’s the biggest douchebag in the universe, you watched last night as he made his choice. You can say whatever you want about the way Maverick Carter and the rest of LeTeam handled Lebron’s free agency, but there was a buzz about it unlike any I’ve ever seen. I’m not even kidding when I say the whole restaurant went quiet and simply listened to Lebron. Everything stopped and Lebron was the only one who mattered.
Which, you get the feeling, is exactly how Lebron always feels. He could have called a simple press conference with Wade and Bosh to announce their decision. He could have apologized to Cleveland, telling the world he loves his hometown but couldn’t envision himself winning titles there. And nobody would have blamed him; we all know Cleveland wasn’t his best opportunity to win championships. He’d already tried there and failed, and the Cavs didn’t have much roster flexibility to make positive changes. We all understand Chicago or Miami were both far better places for Lebron to win rings. Cleveland was his hometown, sure, but if Lebron had show humility and a sense of compassion when making his decision we all would have forgiven him.
Instead, he turned his decision into one of the greatest spectacles of douchebaggery ever seen in modern sports. Not only did he hold the entire world — as well as every team that recruited him — hostage, but Lebron did it in such a way that you almost wondered if he was intentionally sabotaging his public image. “The Decision”? Really? Lebron could have been caught with drugs and wouldn’t have done as much damage to his image. At least people would have seen him as human, rather than an attention whore seeking only to increase his marketability in any ill-advised way possible, even if it meant tearing Cleveland’s heart out on national television, even if it meant turning the whole world, save one city, against him.
But my guess is that Lebron doesn’t want us to see him as human. He wants to be seen as a basketball god, an immortal legend bigger than the sport and everyone else who plays it. At least, that’s how he makes it seem. How else can you explain Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh revealing their decisions quietly while Lebron created an hour-long television show to tell the world his own?
Lebron and Wade were free agents 1A and 1B, but Lebron didn’t feel that way. In his mind, this summer was the summer of his own free agency, not anyone else’s. Sure Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were highly sought-after, but nobody captivates the public’s interest, and now its disdain, like Lebron. Lebron knew that and he tried to use it to his advantage. He tried to play this free agency spectacle to a crescendo, but ended up crashing and burning inside the Greenwich Boys and Girls Club while millions of people looked on.
It’s weird, too, because while Lebron cemented his ego-hounding image worldwide, he somehow managed to maintain his on-court reputation as a selfless teammate. We criticize stars every day for chasing money, chasing glory, but Lebron James only wants to win titles. He made a decision to sacrifice his own personal star in order to win championships and play with his friends. In a world in which players consistently want to pad their stats, make as much money as possible and establish themselves as superior to anyone else, Lebron’s decision to share the spotlight should have been refreshing. It should have been about a player trying to do the right thing.
Instead, because of the embarrassing fashion with which he executed his decision, Lebron’s selfless decision to share the wealth, fame, spotlight and rings was all about ego, all about a man who thinks he’s above society. Lebron and LeCrew tried to raise Lebron’s star by making a spectacle unlike any other, but in the process took an axe to Lebron’s bond with his home state and tore down any good-standing Lebron had with NBA fans. They tried to raise Lebron’s star by raising the hoopla to an hour-long, self-indulged frenzy, but Lebron, Maverick Carter and everybody else who decided to put together “The Decision” forgot one thing:
Lebron’s world-encompassing star can only be increased by one thing, and it certainly isn’t millions of viewers watching a free agency decision. It’s a fulfillment of the one accomplishment Lebron has yet to achieve during his NBA career: Winning an NBA title.
Now, you have to wonder if even that will be enough.