Eight Days Of LeBronnukah And The Festival Of Historic Narcissism

LeBron James (courtesy Getty Images)

LeBron James has been at the center of the sports world for more than a week now. Eight days, to be exact. Now? We rejoice! The eight days of LeBronnukah are finally over. Thankfully. We celebrate with a look back at "The Decision" and look ahead at what it might mean.

When it becomes cliche to say that a moment's surreal, you know you're in some pretty historic territory. And that's how it felt Thursday night.

The spectacle of it all was so obviously outsized and out of control, you didn't even need to say anything. Everyone knew it was historically bizarre. Whether you were captivated by it all or completely disgusted, as LeBron's final charade took shape over the past few days, it became clear this would be historic.

And to his credit, LeBron sure can keep a secret. The buildup to "The Decision" felt like the first Thursday of the NCAA Tournament. Everyone was talking about it, including people that had no idea what they're talking about. And just like the NCAA Tournament, we could all take our best, educated guess from a pool of three or four favorites, but really, nobody knew what the hell was going to happen.

Right up until LeBron said, "I'm going to take my talent to South Beach," nobody knew how this was going to play out. That part was impressive.

But there were so many different aspects of this whole charade that it's impossible to draw any coherent thoughts on how it's all connected. One part's impressive, another revolting, another hilarious, and others harrowing. The implications from Thursday night stretch in a million different directions. So with that in mind, let's go back to the old Talking Points model for this one. And because this could go on forever without some limit, let's set a cap.

LeBron's time on the NBA open market lasted eight days, so let's roll with that as our template. One story for each, magical day of what we've come to call "LeBronnukah." Perfect.

1. LeBron James, Exposed For What He's Always Been
2. So You're Saying Miami Is Perfect!
3. What Would Have Been Cooler? Smarter?
4. Thank God This Is Over
5. On ESPN And Tempting Fate
6. The Platinum-And-Diamond Encrusted Silver Lining
7. "Sometimes When You Tie, You Really Win"
8. "There’s Games Beyond The F—ing Game"

Without further ado... Let's check these stats.

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1. LeBron James, Exposed For What He's Always Been

I first realized LeBron James had the potential to be insufferable back in 2002. At this point, I was just a dorky high school kid with an even dorkier obsession over high school basketball recruiting. The groundswell of hype surrounding LeBron James had been taking shape for a few years by then, and after appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated during his junior year in high school, it hit another level.

That summer, he had a broken wrist and couldn't compete in all the summer basketball tournaments and camps that he'd thoroughly dominated the previous few summers. He still attended, of course, as Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis wrote back then:

Anyone who argues that LeBron James should not be allowed to enter the NBA Draft as a high school junior obviously didn't see him in action (or, rather, inaction) this week. The Chosen One might not be able to play in any games because of a broken wrist, but he and his entourage still made ego-grabbing appearances at both [Nike and Adidas camps] thanks to the sneaker companies' largesse, an unappealing precursor ... Let's face it: James already is a professional in every sense of the word.

At Adidas' ABCD Camp, he conducted the interviews wearing a jersey that said "King James" on the front. The jersey was a gift from Adidas, apparently, but as LeBron told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, "It was in my room when I got here. God gave it to me." That comes from this section of a 2005 book, LeBron James: King of the Court. Click there to relive the 2002 display in all its glory.

But anyway, at that point, I knew LeBron sort of sucked as a person. To review:

  1. He was injured, and not playing basketball.
  2. He still traveled all over the country to ensure that he'd be in the spotlight.
  3. He sat courtside at the games, distracting media and coaches from his peers.
  4. He was given a jersey with "King James" on the front, and actually wore it.
  5. He claimed, "God gave it to me." Okay, LeBron. Easy there, fella.

And that was in 2002. Since then, there have been 100 different incidents of similar self-indulgence, and it all contributes to a portrait of an athlete that's worse than every egotistical extreme we ever throw around hypothetically. The guy just held a nationally-televised special to announce that he was breaking the heart of an entire city and state.

And that crystallized it for a lot of people, I think. There had been warning signs for years that LeBron was not someone worth worshipping, but "The Decision" sealed his fate as far as public opinion's concerned. For all the people that didn't follow high school recruiting back in 2002. For the people that didn't hear the whispers about his ridiculous arrogance. For the ones that didn't see the writing on the wall during his press conferences. For the people that didn't read this Esquire profile, where LeBron and his friends talk about branding for 5,500 words. By and large, people gave LeBron the benefit of the doubt.

It wasn't until this whole process—and the extremely high-profile ESPN special that encapsulated its absurdity—did everyone know for sure that we were dealing with exactly the sort of person we're all conditioned to hate in life.

And if you want to play devil's advocate and defend LeBron somehow, that's fine. But even if he's NOT serenely indifferent to anyone beyond his circle of sycophants, his supreme lack of self-awareness renders it moot. Either way, we're talking about someone with the means to make himself the center of attention, and at every turn, that's exactly what he wants to do.

...Even if means destroying his reputation and trampling on the hearts of a million fans.

Because we can't really curse at SBNation.com, and because even if we could, nobody curses better than Deadspin's Drew Magary, I'll simply direct you over there for a thorough, profane explanation of why, exactly, this process reflects so poorly on LeBron James. An excerpt:

LeBron is now the guy you openly root against. If he leaves Cleveland tomorrow night, he'll have needlessly strung along an entire fanbase and given them the middle finger by making their breakup spectacularly public. If he stays, he'll have spent two years c—kteasing the rest of the world about going somewhere else when he probably never wanted to leave Ohio to begin with. There's no end result tomorrow that makes LeBron a sympathetic figure. He's already gone past the point of no return.

There's a normal way of doing things, and there's the d—k way of doing things...

Drew's the best. And since a thousand different writers are going to paraphrase his rant in a more boring, moralistic way, let's move on. Hopefully it's clear, though: LeBron James is not that awesome, and after the last week, now we know for sure.

2. So You're Saying Miami Is Perfect!

Americans tend to love winners regardless of their character. For one of the most moralistic places in the world, we're pretty lenient about who we worship. If you win, we'll find a way to rationalize loving you. I mean, somewhere out there, some poor souls still look to Michael Jordan as a paragon of excellence and success in society. That's just who we are.

But Miami? Miami?!

Even New Orleans and Las Vegas have a backbone. But Miami... God. That might just be the most morally indifferent city on the face of the earth. It's a city that was literally built by turning a blind eye to the source of all the drug money that infused the city during the 70s and 80s.

And that's okay. We're not trashing Miami here. The place is unique and fun and sort of a fascinating experiment—the entire city is like that super trendy nightclub that you visit once a year, just to peer in at what all these beautiful people consider life. Miami's like the VIP section of American cities.

...Which would be cooler if we didn't all know from experience that the VIP section sort of sucks. It's full of hangers-on, bland celebrities, beautiful women that aren't interested in sleeping with you, and a bunch of people that are way too impressed by how impressive they are.

But as a place to visit and people-watch, or a place for LeBron James to spend the rest of his career? Perfect. In Miami, nobody will care that there's not much beyond the veneer of hype with LeBron.

Because Miami only cares about the exterior, and that's LeBron's specialty.

Just by showing up and being internationally famous and throwing lavish parties at The W, LeBron James will be a huge success on South Beach. It's his destiny, really.

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3. What Would Have Been Cooler? Smarter?

Yes, LeBron's perfect destiny has been manifested now that he's migrating to Miami. But wouldn't it have been completely awesome for him to go to New York?

That would have been the only way for him to really save grace after all this.

As great as he is, he's not a good enough player to have attracted all this attention, but at least if he went to New York, he'd have been acting like a player that's good enough to warrant all the hype. A guy that can just say, "Screw it, I'm going to a mediocre team in the biggest city in the world, and I'm making them champions." That would have been awesome.

A LeBron-and-Amare union in New York would have made the Knicks the most exciting team in the NBA, and we'd all have to hand it to LeBron, "Even if the means were insufferable... This is pretty cool."

Had he gone back to Cleveland, LeBron would have still looked bad for having put his city through all this stress. Had he gone to Chicago, he would have looked like a calculating superstar, callously disregarding his hometown's longstanding devotion and support. Now that he's gone to Miami, he just looks like he's following Dwyane Wade, trying to craft some sort of supreme alliance that will probably fail in spectacular fashion (more on that later).

But in New York... Okay, that would have been really really great.

But of course LeBron didn't do that. That's not who he is. That's what this entire process has taught us, I think. Everything that everyone wants LeBron to be, he's just not.

And while we're on the subject of who he should have chosen, it's absurd to think the Heat give him a better opportunity to win a championship than Chicago. Would you rather play with Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers, and spare parts or Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, and spare parts?

Without going into X's and O's and making this about basketball—it's never really been about basketball, has it?—Chicago's just a much better fit. Rose is 85% the player of Wade, which makes him incredibly good, but a natural subordinate to James. Boozer is 95% of Chris Bosh. Joakim Noah is... Well, 1000 times better than Joel Anthony, Miami's likely starting center. Luol Deng was better than Michael Beasley, meaning he's good enough to actually fetch some value in a trade.

Chicago's got better fans, a better coach, more young talent, and on and on and on.

Instead of joining a team where he'd fit perfectly and likely conquer the Eastern Conference for the next decade, LeBron chose to bring a hypothetical superteam to its inevitably flawed reality. (Again, we'll get to this point at the end.)

4. Thank God This Is Over

This is based on ZERO facts, mind you, and about 75% of the people that read this article will probably have found it via Twitter, but on the whole, Twitter's probably not as important as it feels to people in the media.

When that changes, though, and the mainstream inevitably catches on, how will we record history? Like, as great as Twitter is, you can't go back and read someone's tweets from last summer. That's fine for now, since most of Twitter is just various media fellating each other, or breaking news like, "Steve Blake 2 Lakers. 4 yr/15 mil. Link coming shortly."

But at some point, the information will get more meaningful, the audience more broad, and we're going to want to store this stuff somehow. And I'm not sure how it'll happen. That's by no means an original observation, but it comes to mind because...

Uh Oh......hearing some last minute things are unfolding. Holy #@$*. Stay Tuned!!!less than a minute ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®

...If you ever want to tell your grandchildren about the Eight Days of LeBronukkah, you'd really only need that one tweet. No explanation necessary. Not even a description of Stephen A. Smith, because somehow, Stephen A. managed to encapsulate his entire persona with that tweet. So, I guess, bookmark it now. For posterity's sake.

5. On ESPN And Tempting Fate

It's not particularly important what happened with ESPN's very special broadcast of "The Decision" Thursday night. Its mere existence was meaningful and revealing as to LeBron's character, our current media structure, and the way fans understand it. From the moment it was announced, "The Decision" became an integral part of how we'll remember this summer.

So it doesn't really matter how the actual broadcast flowed, but since we're mentioning the Worldwide Leader, we should probably acknowledge that it was a trainwreck. For instance, Norby Williamson, ESPN puppeteer, promised the world that LeBron would announce his destination within the first ten minutes of the show.

And that just... Did not happen. At all. (But Norby! You promised!)

Instead we got 15 minutes of babbling from ESPN's cadre of mediocre talking heads (Jon Barry! His brother won a dunk contest!), and then 15 minutes of some painful interview questions from Jim Gray, the washed-up reporter handpicked by the masterminds behind Brand LeBron. If I sound cynical with all this, sorry. But how could you NOT be cynical toward ESPN after they engineered this whole fiasco?

This isn't some sports blogger with an axe to grind, either. I grew up on ESPN, generally like their stuff and genuinely care about their network, and what it means for the rest of us as sports fans.

And what ESPN did with this special was entangle themselves with the newly-minted Biggest Villain in Sports, enable said villain to take over their network for a night, and then refuse to criticize him when he made a decision that pretty much everyone agreed, at least under the circumstances, was incredibly hard to defend. How are we supposed to react? And what happened to the ESPN that cares about the fans?

The network made $3 million Thursday night, but what they've done is continue to inch closer and closer to a reality where the skepticism they face is completely deserved, the subtext of their stories often centers on the network itself, and they continue to piss away eons of equity they've built with sports fans like me, who grew up watching and reading ESPN religiously.

It's not a big deal and there's no need for sanctimony here, but at some point, that equity's going to run out. You know the expression "Don't argue with fools, people from a distance can't tell who is who"? ESPN's consciously and consistently focuses on self-aggrandizing fools like LeBron and Brett Favre.

Or not even fools, always. Just the handful of athletes that make sports fans hate sports.

And like clockwork these days, ESPN's always right there with 'em, whether that means Rachel Nichols following around Brett Favre for three months, or ESPN interrupting coverage to "break" news of LeBron's announcement on ESPN. Ugh.

Like with any field, sports has its fair share of assholes. And whether it's fair or not to call ESPN complicit—we'll leave the treatise on agenda-setting media to someone else—you can't deny the tendency for the network to fixate on said characters to the point where ESPN's incessant coverage becomes part of the story itself.

Not saying ESPN's evil or corrupt or beyond salvation or inevitably conflicted, or... Anything, really. But for people from a distance, it can sometimes be difficult to tell who the assholes are.

And one of these days, ESPN's equity with sports fans is going to run out. Something's going to happen that crystallizes exactly what's wrong with ESPN—the same way "The Decision" removed all doubt with LeBron—and the network will have a full-fledged PR crisis on its hands. Not just murmurs from the blogosphere, but something that really crosses the line and tarnishes the brand forever in the minds of the mainstream.

In the meantime, programs like "The Decision" are speeding up the process.

(Thus concludes the brief interlude on social media and the future of ESPN. Sorry.)

6. The Platinum-And-Diamond Encrusted Silver Lining

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That's right, say goodbye to Jack Nicholson and his creepy sidekick who looks like Donald Sutherland but is actually record producer Lou Adler. Make way for...

Weezyrick_ross_medium

BOOM! Whatchu know 'bout ballin? The Miami Heat just became the hottest ticket in Miami, and that means that Ricky RAWSE and Weezy F are about to become a fixture courtside. Ross tweeted as much last night:

Courtside seats went up 30 stacks in 30mins!!!!! Got 5 anyway!!!!

For what it's worth, Rick Ross' confirmed account on Twitter lists his name as "Teflon Don," not Rick Ross. Why? Because you don't know s—t about bein' a BOSS. No more questions.

Sure, you say Lil Wayne's currently incarcerated. And despite all his inherent BOSS-ISH-NESS, I really don't think Rick Ross can afford courtside season tickets to the Miami Heat—especially if they went up 30 stacks. But Lil Wayne sure can, and he'll be out of jail soon. He went to Heat games when James Jones and Udonis Haslem were the stars next to D-Wade. Think Wayne and Ross will miss this?

When I was in college pretty much all I did was party too much, sleep to anti-social extent, and obsessively follow Lil Wayne's career. This is sad; but I can tell you a couple of things about Lil Wayne.

  1. He's probably the biggest sports fan on the planet.
  2. His "jobs" are recording, performing, and doing drugs. Sports appear to be the only thing he truly enjoys as a hobby.
  3. He's richer than anyone realizes.
  4. He lives in South Beach, not New Orleans.
  5. The above picture was taken at Lil Wayne's 25th birthday party, which took place on a yacht in Miami, and included a separate level where guests could smoke blunts that were pre-rolled and provided as part of the catering.

It is about to get SO REAL in the NBA Playoffs.

Even if the seats at the NBA Finals cost $100,000... That's like an afternoon for Wayne. He'll be out of jail by the time the regular season starts. And because there's really nobody that embodies present-day Miami more than Ricky RAWSE, you have to think he'll come along for the ride.

It remains to be seen whether this team in Miami can really "work" the way LeBron and co. imagine, but there's no question that Lil Wayne and Rick Ross becoming the new Jack Nicholson is a massive victory for America, NBA fans, the players, and pretty much everyone except David Stern.

And just because we all need an antidote to the avalanche of mind-numbing LeBron coverage we've endured for the past week, here's one of my favorite Weezy quotes:

"This rock sh** just comes from what my life is now. I’ve grown into this person. I woke up one morning and had three or four women in my bed where I not only didn’t know their last names, I didn’t know the beginning letter of their first names. All I know is they're the most beautiful women in the world, and I was in my own place, in whatever city I was in. And I could have thrown a dart at the map, and I’d probably have a place there, too."

"I knew my driver was waiting downstairs for me. When my nose finally cleared from all the weed I had smoked, I smelled food in the kitchen and knew it was my chef. Then I look on my phone and see a message and know it’s from a popular woman everyone knows. And when I went into the studio that night, I couldn’t just rap."

"Yeah… Now, this is who I am."

BOSS. ISH. NESS.

7. "Sometimes When You Tie, You Really Win"

The above quote comes from Rosie Perez in White Men Can't Jump. But you knew that already. Whatever her convoluted monologue means at the end of that movie, I'm convinced it holds the key to not just understanding the female brain, but understanding life itself.

And speaking of basketball-related lessons that are impossible to interpret... Why does someone like Mario Chalmers luck into the biggest break of his life, where someone like Jonny Flynn is sentenced to play in Minnesota and probably fade it into NBA obscurity after the next few years, forgotten as just another lottery bust? Life is all about luck, and doubly so in the NBA. We hear it all the time, but Mario Chalmers is proof.

He was a borderline NBA player that hit a huge, HUGE shot in the NCAA Tournament. And he used that lucky ass shot to get himself drafted in the second round, and now... The sky is limit for him. He won't be an All-Star, but next to Dwyane Wade's Superfriends, Mario Chalmers is suddenly one of the most relevant players in the NBA. If he can hit open shots for Miami, he becomes the linchpin for one of the best teams in the league.

Why is he the linchpin on a potential title-winner, and Jonny Flynn's left out in the cold in Minnesota? And why are we singling out Jonny Flynn when there are a hundred different examples of players that got screwed over by a crappy situation and their career never recovered?

We don't know the answers to these questions right now. But if we don't ask them, we never will.

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8. "There’s Games Beyond The F—ing Game"

The one thing about LeBron that you have to admire is that he's ambitious. It's often misplaced, it manifests itself in unfortunate ways, and he's not necessarily ambitious the way we want him to be, or for the right reasons. But he's ambitious nonetheless.

Firing his agent, starting a marketing company comprised of some of his closest childhood friends, networking with Wade and Bosh to engineer this deal in Miami... It's all the work of someone who wants to redefine the parameters for the modern day athlete. Or at least, redefine them for himself and his friends. The LeBron Brand may be on life support right now, but at least it was his idea in the first place.

All of which brings me to something True Hoop's Henry Abbot said yesterday. Just one simple sentence in a meaningless little tweet:

How you feel about LeBron James today is a test of how you feel about fully-empowered athletes.

That struck a chord with me. Not because I agree, but because it gets at what may resonate from all this when the dust settles and the Miami Heat have either won the next four championships, or completely self-destructed. In theory, I'm fully supportive of empowered athletes, but this whole Miami thing could prove to be something of a referendum on the model that LeBron's tried so desperately to establish.

LeBron's hero is Jay-Z, not Michael Jordan. For 'Bron, being the most successful is only half the battle in living up to the legacy there. He needs to be a one-man empire, just like his hero.

Jordan became a one-man empire by working within the system. Jay became a one-man empire by transcending the system. Which one of those does it seem like LeBron's been trying to emulate over the course of his career?

The problem is that LeBron's not Jay-Z.

Doesn't have his charm, doesn't have his wit, and most importantly, he's never achieved any meaningful success in his field. Jay-Z had gone multi-plantium and made millions of dollars before he even released his clothing line, let alone turned the system on its head. In Hip-Hop, platinum records and millions of dollars equate to credibility, so it gave Jay the leeway to operate with impunity and take chances. By the time he became the first artist to run a record label, Jay-Z was beyond reproach.

But LeBron's yet to realize that basketball isn't Hip-Hop. Millions of dollars and MVP awards and fame doesn't give him credibility. That only comes with championships. And when he says that's why he's going to Miami, it's either a lie, or an example of his naivete. Chicago gave him the best shot at championships.

With the move to Miami, LeBron's chasing titles, but he's doing it his way. By trying to build a team of icons that'll make everyone say, "Wow, those guys brokered their own future, and took over the league." Again, the ambition is impressive.

But it's not going to work. LeBron's not Jay-Z. He's Stringer Bell from The Wire.

Stringerbell_medium

The same way Stringer barks at Avon, "There's games beyond the f—ing game," can't you picture LeBron sitting around with his team of marketers/friends, saying the same thing? "It's about MORE than just basketball." And without entering the minds of the three superstars, doesn't that seem like what happened with the Miami Heat this offseason?

Brand LeBron wanted to pair with Brand Wade, and Chris Bosh just wanted to be a brand. So they got together, and started scheming to make a bigger play.

In The Wire, Stringer's talk of waterfront condominiums—transcending his drug dealing past, building a real estate empire, and going legit—ultimately comes off as kind of tragic. But LeBron's failure, if it happens, won't engender even an ounce of that sympathy. The self-indulgence and self-promotion is one thing, but he just went on national television to stab his hometown in the chest. That means all this talk about building a dynasty with Wade, and having to leave Cleveland to pursue this opportunity, making history... It will all be used against him in the coming years.

(For perspective, Stringer was pretentious, arrogant, callous, power-hungry, and eventually, he snitched on his oldest friend in the world. And right now, he looks GREAT next to LeBron.)

Because, well, explain to me how this is going to work. First of all, the Heat are going to face elaborate zone defenses every single night. That's the only way to possibly stop them, but it's definitely a way. And as of now, unless Mario Chalmers asserts himself or they miraculously find a dead-eye shooter willing to play for the veteran's minimum, Miami's going to struggle there. That's just the most obvious, tangible challenge.

Then there's the notion that these all three guys will stay healthy. Look at Dwyane Wade. We haven't quite gotten to the point where he's playing with six different injuries every night, but given his history and his playing style, his trajectory in that department looks positively Iversonian. And I've joked that Chris Bosh's hubris all summer will end with him missing half the 2010 season, but seriously: what if Bosh gets hurt? Say hello to starting power forward, Jarvis Varnado!

People will write thousands of words on Friday about whether the Wade-James-Bosh trio can coexist, but that's beside the point. Even if those guys work brilliantly, the situation is untenable in the long run. Every year they're going to have to fill out the roster with different spare parts, because whoever plays well for them will go and get overpaid by someone else as a result. The trio of stars, if they can stay healthy, will be good enough to take the team deep in the playoffs, but it's not like we're talking about a juggernaut here.

The Heat would have been better off using LeBron's money to fill out the roster, getting a solid center like Brendan Haywood, and building a real team around Bosh and Wade. LeBron would have been better off with the Bulls. As it stands, Miami's not a dynasty, but an experiment, and every season will be a whole new test—can they win with this supporting cast?

Does that sound like a fun way to spend your prime as an NBA superstar?

No? Well, you get what you deserve. Stringer did. LeBron probably will. Maybe it'll be successful for a year or two, the same way Shaq won a title in South Beach. But unless the salary cap ceases to exist or veterans suddenly stop liking money, it won't be a dynasty. Ultimately, there's a decent chance it'll be remembered as a cautionary tale.

On paper, it looks like a truly historic moment for NBA players, spearheaded by LeBron's undying quest to transcend the game. But that's not how it works. Too much ambition can get you in trouble.

Remember: Stringer's waterfront condos. And remember: the Heat still need a center, a point guard, a sixth man, and a lot of luck with the injury Gods.

So, to respond to Abbot's point about athletes. How do I feel about fully-empowered athletes? I watched The Wire. Stringer should have run those contracts by his lawyer, and LeBron needed an agent to convince him to go to Chicago.

Star-divide

Oh, and if you ever forget what Empowerment's really all about, remember... Vitamin Water, y'all.

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(Images courtesy of Getty Images ... South Beach via .... Lil Wayne Rick Ross via Miami New Times ... Stringer Bell courtesy HBO ... Check My $tats via Bauergriffinonline.com)

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