Why did I have trouble getting to sleep, was this really worth of all the fuss and attention, did I just get caught up in all of the hype created by ESPN? Whatever it was, it had the whole world captivated during a horribly produced, lacklustre and at times boring/awkward one hour special called simply “The Decision”.
As a fairly serious and relatively experienced poker player I wanted to try and read Lebron James body language. Upon hearing the mumbled words “Miami Heat” I looked at James reaction, his facial expression and overall demeanour. My first thought was it appeared that he regretted his decision almost immediately, his eyes instantly peered downward and he looked deflated and maybe even slightly defeated, he certainly didn’t come across as a man fully confident with his choice.
Lebron James choosing the Miami Heat, with superstars Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh firmly in-toe was James admitting that he was not capable of being “the guy”, that he needed help in his quest for greatness, for a championship. I often get annoyed when all great young ballplayers have the inevitable comparison to the greatest champion and player of all time – Michael Jordan. But as “The Decision” was being rammed down the collective throats of sports fans worldwide I could not help but think “what was Mike thinking”.
Michael Jordan is the biggest icon and marketing machine nearly of all time, his brand and his name has never ‘lost it’, his style and swagger have persevered through a few rough patches – an awful minor league baseball career, stories of gambling and adultery, “Floor Jordan” in Washington and the controversial Hall of Fame acceptance speech that left more than a few people empty and a bit sour. However, in his prime playing days, would Michael Jordan have put the city of Chicago through what Lebron put Cleveland fans through?
Imagine for a minute that back in the 1980s Michael Jordan after being defeated in a playoff series after clearly not playing his best basketball hold a news conference and state to the world, “I cannot beat them, so I am going to be joining the Pistons.” Michael Jordan at one point was defeated while playing some of the best basketball in his illustrious career. He was defeated for the first seven years of his career, just like Lebron James. Admitting he wasn’t capable or talented enough to lead a team on his own was not part of Jordan’s DNA code and Jordan’s response to his adversity was simply to work harder, practise longer, sacrifice, battle and endure.
Lebron James for all the talk of winning championships (multiple according to him) took the easy way out as he is about to join a super-team, a team that will be soundly booed league wide, and a team that will have three superstars used to the bright lights and spotlight shining firmly on them, and only them. James was on a path to immense greatness and the personal stats (nearly an average of a triple-double) he put up in his first seven years are on par with legends past. Simply put, he was starting to be in the conversation of the greatest ballplayer of all time, I feel that conversation is over.
One championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers would have been worth three or four titles in Miami, the city of Cleveland is starving for a champion, for a glimmer of a champion, for a glimmer of hope. Lebron James built that organization into something of a marvel, Cleveland basketball was relevant and even influential. James isn’t leaving some sad-sack team that just couldn’t compete with the big boys, they were the big boys – the Cleveland Cavaliers had the top record in the NBA in 2009/2010!
The Miami Heat will be a force to be reckoned with, this point I cannot dispute without being a fraud. They might not win in their first season together, but if/when the pieces start to fit together and if the ego’s can be firmly checked at the beach the Heat could be something extraordinary. But the plain truth is that the individual legacy for Lebron James will be forever tarnished.
After he made his choice to go to South Beach I had to turn on NBA TV to see what the pundits and experts were saying. “The heir to Michael Jordan now dies with Kobe Bryant” Chris Webber stated. “I think we can safely take Lebron James out of that equation.” Most of the reaction was similar, that he was admitting defeat, that he was a front-runner, he couldn’t be the man the way Michael Jordan was the man.
James numbers are going to surely decline as there is no way around sharing the ball and touches with Dwayne Wade (who absolutely dominates the ball when he is on his game). James has been a scoring champion, and MVP twice and basically the league’s pre-eminent player since his rookie season. The NBA is a numbers oriented game and its players are judged by their stats accordingly. If his numbers slip from 29/8/7 to 20/6/5 in my mind unless they reel off five or six championships in six or seven seasons his legacy will be forever lessened.
MJ not only led the league in scoring and took his game to heights not yet seen, he also led his team to the Promised Land on six occasions, sure he had Scottie Pippen to ride shotgun, but mostly the teams assembled in Chicago were built entirely around Michael’s skills and talents, almost perfectly I might add.
The Heat undoubtedly owns the best 2-3-4 combo in the league, but they are not without some lingering doubts:
*Are Wade and James going to be in sync, able to defer and play off each other as opposed to dominating the ball for long stretches of games?
*Who takes the final shot? What animosity or jealousy will build due to this?
*Will Chris Bosh (oh yeah, he is on the team too?) live with being the forgotten man? When we talk drop in numbers, could Bosh’s PPG be cut in half – Bosh averaged 24 per game last season?
*Injuries – Have you seen the size of Bosh’s knee brace, is a Jermaine O’Neal style decline not out of the question for the slightly built Bosh?
Dwayne Wade has not exactly been the model of perfect health himself and the reckless abandon his style of play produces isn’t exactly a pre-cursor for future health – think Allen Iverson.
*Salary cap – The Heat still need to fill out a roster and will have 70-80% of their payroll tied up in three players, albeit three great players, this is still a legitimate concern.
*Chemistry – Some say this is overrated, but it can be a tricky thing for a basketball team, especially one under the microscope this one will be under. Reporters will be searching for angles, stories, dissension in the ranks and any chinks in the armour. How long until the first story breaks that one of Wade or James are unhappy with the current situation – even if it is not founded?
So how does the story end? Well, the players are signed for five or six seasons – depending on player options. There will be a honeymoon phase, a transition period, a championship season and a moment of clarity. We are clearly in the honeymoon phase, where nothing can possibly go wrong, and it’s all smiles, hugs, twitters and parties (in Miami).
The transition period will start after training camp this October when it becomes real, when reality hits that suddenly they are the only player on the team that matters, that the ball does not necessarily run solely through James/Wade/Bosh. This is clearly the most important period, when the ego’s must be checked, when the players must look in the mirror and backup their rhetoric about winning being the only thing that matters.
I would have to think the Heat will win at least one NBA Championship, they will straighten out any roster or salary cap issues for at least one season and get the ring that James and Bosh both covet. But the NBA will adjust, teams will find a way and other big moves will be made – there is already talk of a New York trio of Chris Paul, Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, could this be the new trend for team building?
The moment of clarity could come at any point, and it could come to one of the “Big three” at any moment in time. The realization will come that their talents are rare, and they are being stifled and wasted, that they should be leading a team and taking their games to new heights as opposed to passively deferring. Therein lies the danger of such an unprecedented move for an NBA franchise, never before has this been done so we do not have a barometer for success or failure or a model to judge it against. With all due respect to the Celtics trio of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce I do not think anybody would argue that all three were in the early stages of their prime years.
All I know is as much as I try to pretend not to care about the NBA anymore; the truth is I couldn’t be more intrigued to see what the future holds. I lost about half a night worth of sleep, I wonder if Lebron James will lose more when he suddenly realizes that “The decision” was the wrong one if he wanted to ever truly be considered the greatest basketball player to ever live.
This loyal Raptor fan says “GO Lakers!”