Hate Lebron for the way he Decided where he would “take his talents” next season. Hate him for being an egotistical prick. Hate him for being disloyal to Cleveland. Hate him for no-showing against the Celtics in Game 5. Hell, I don’t care, hate him for picking his nails or because you get annoyed by his goddamn puppet.
But should you really hate him for choosing to play with two of the NBA’s top ten players?
Of all the things Lebron is getting backlash for, choosing to play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh is far and away the most unreasonable. The most pressing argument against it is usually, “Michael Jordan never would have done that!” But the argument isn’t that Lebron has to win on his own. It can’t be, can it? Because Jordan happened to have Pippen. And Bird had McHale and Parish. And Johnson had Kareem, Worthy and a host of other stars. So it isn’t just that people don’t want Lebron to play with another star. It’s that people fault Lebron for playing with another star on that other star’s turf.
But it’s not Lebron’s fault the Cavaliers couldn’t add another star in Cleveland. It isn’t his fault he HAD to leave in order to play with a quality sidekick. He saw what many others saw; the Cavaliers weren’t built for playoff prosperity, and they didn’t have much flexibility. Say what you want about Lebron failing to deliver a championship after the Cavs tore through the regular season, but when you look at his supporting cast you can see it would have been a miracle if Lebron HAD won a ring in Cleveland. They won a ton of regular season games, sure, but when it came down to it they weren’t built to win in the playoffs. Antawn Jamison would have been the worst second-fiddle in history to ever win a title, am I wrong? He was murdered by the half-KG we saw this season. And Mo Williams was always hit-or-miss. Neither were the reliable options Lebron needed to be flanked by if he wanted to win a championship, and Lebron knew that as well as anybody else.
People hate Lebron for his oversized ego, but then think that same ego should have been bigger. By that, I mean that people believe Lebron should have stayed in Cleveland. He should have felt he could win a championship on his own, supporting cast be damned. Even if said cast was flawed. Even if the Cavs had little flexibility for the future and might have already peaked in early defeat. But with the knowledge of all the Cavs’ shortcomings (and there certainly were shortcomings, despite leading the league in regular season wins), should we really blame Lebron for leaving? I don’t think so. Could he have gotten things done in Cleveland? Yeah, it was a possibility. But it wasn’t his best opportunity to win championships. It wasn’t his best chance for immortality.
But Michael Jordan wouldn’t have done that. With superstars, especially those who play on the wing, it always seems to come back to Jordan. And His Airness never would have gone to Miami, common knowledge says, because he was too competitive. He wanted to tear the hearts out of his closest competitors, not win championships with them. Hell, Jordan even said it himself.
“There’s no way, with hindsight, I would’ve ever called up Larry, called up Magic and said, ‘Hey, look, let’s get together and play on one team,’” Jordan said after finishing tied for 22nd in the American Century Championship golf tournament in Stateline, Nev. “But that’s … things are different. I can’t say that’s a bad thing. It’s an opportunity these kids have today. In all honesty, I was trying to beat those guys.”
There’s one aspect of the above quote that hasn’t been talked about much: Jordan qualified it with the phrase “with hindsight.” Obviously, Jordan can say that with hindsight. Six championships in Chicago later, Jordan can obviously look back and say he never would have played with those guys. He did it on his own terms, in Chicago. He didn’t need to go anywhere else, he didn’t need to join forces with another super-duper-star. But what if Pippen had never developed into one of the game’s best players? What if Jordan had hit what he thought was a dead end? Wouldn’t the fiercest competitor ever, a man who wanted to do nothing but win, have wanted to go somewhere else so he could earn a ring? Wouldn’t he have wanted to do that? We don’t know and his quote can’t tell us, because he chose to qualify it by saying “with hindsight.”
But let’s just pretend Jordan never said “with hindsight.” Let’s say he wouldn’t have wanted to go anywhere, no matter what. Let’s say Jordan wanted to win a title in Chicago or die trying. If so, is it really wrong of Lebron to choose another route? Is it wrong that he doesn’t follow the path Jordan laid out? Is it wrong he wants to establish greatness in another fashion?
I’m sorry (actually, no I’m not), but you shouldn’t blame Lebron for taking an alternate route to greatness. You shouldn’t fault him for joining a team that, in time, could stake its claim as one of the greatest ever to grace the hardwood. Because, really, the same reason Lebron chose to travel to Miami is the same reason we were drawn to his game in the first place: He’s unselfish. He gets that basketball is a team game. Even during his time in Cleveland, Lebron always tried to foster his teammates along the way. He passed to open teammates with games on the line. He took pictures with them before games. He celebrated with them after wins and after big plays. What Michael Jordan took several years to realize, that he would need teammates to help him along the way, Lebron instinctively knew.
He just didn’t think his old teammates were good enough. Or he didn’t think he could pass up an opportunity to play for a team that could prove to be one of the best ever assembled. Or maybe there was some other reason we don’t know about. Whatever it was, Lebron chose the place where he felt he would have the best chance at multiple championships.
And he sucked up his elephant-sized ego to do it. By leaving Cleveland, Lebron admitted he wasn’t good enough to make a dynasty there. He wasn’t good enough to do it by himself. He wasn’t good enough to carry Antawn Jamison and Mo Williams on his back, even though that very back is emblazened with the tattoo, “The Chosen One.” Lebron’s decision was at once the most egotistical thing to happen to the NBA in years and an admission: I can’t do it alone.
So take Lebron’s decision (not the production of it, but the actual choice) whatever way you want. Call him a coward for seeking out help or intelligent for joining the team with the best chance of multiple championships. Or cowardly intelligent, if you wish.
But just realize what Lebron knows: If this SuperFriends experiment goes to plan, if Lebron James wins as many championships in South Beach as he envisions, he’ll put this all beyond him on his way to immortality. Just ask Kobe: Winning has a curious way of curing public perception.
In the end, isn’t a winning-driven immortal all we ever expected Lebron to be? Or did we somehow expect more of him than even that?