Soon after LeBron James made his disastrous decision to publicly humiliate the entire state of Ohio while announcing that he'd be taking his "talents to South Beach", it seemed NBA basketball fans were in agreement: His legacy would forever be tarnished and that Miami wasn't even the best destination basketball-wise for the self-anointed "King" James.
After the "Decision," most famously it was Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert who laid into James first with a passionate open letter to Cavs fans (rightfully) referring to James as a "former hero", a "self-titled former King", called out his decision as a "heartless and callous action" and vowed to bring Cleveland an NBA title before Miami gets their second. And in an interview the next day, Gilbert (rightfully) proclaimed that James had quit on the Cavaliers in the 2010 playoffs second round.
Others soon followed suit.
Orlando Magic GM Otis Smith openly (and rightfully) stated that he thought James was "more of a competitor." And Smith's head coach Stan Van Gundy added his two-cents on James' and Dwyane Wade's new teammate, Chris Bosh, (rightfully) commenting that "[Bosh's] been following [Wade] around for two weeks like his lapdog. So that doesn't really surprise me. I think he's willing to be a very, very good second fiddle."
Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski (rightfully) wrote of James's decision as "an exercise in self-aggrandizement and self-loathing that will have far-reaching implications for the NBA and James. What a spectacle, what a train wreck." Further adding: "He's ruined everything."
ESPN.com's J.A. Adande (rightfully) opined that "[James] lost even more people by choosing to announce his decision on ESPN in an elaborate show. How could any non-Heat fan watch this thing play out and think, 'I wanna root for this guy?'"
Adande's ESPN colleague Bill Simmons summed it up best by (rightfully) writing: "LeBron was facing one of the greatest sports decisions ever: 'winning (Chicago), loyalty (Cleveland) or a chance at immortality (New York).' I never thought he would pick 'HELP!'"
Charles Barkley kicked off the chorus of NBA Legends ragging on LeBron (and his complicit cohorts Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh) by (rightfully) saying: "This clearly takes him out of the conversation. He can win as much as he wants to. There would have been something honorable about staying in Cleveland and trying to win it as the man."
Michael Jordan was next when he (rightfully) said: "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.' In all honesty, I was trying to beat those guys."
When Magic Johnson was asked if he would have teamed up with Larry Bird if given the opportunity, he (rightfully) offered: "We didn’t think about it because that’s not what we were about. From college, I was trying to figure out how to beat Larry Bird."
Bird himself offered his own sentiments, (rightfully) stating: "I remember back in my days, I'd rather play against Earvin Johnson than play with him. He's a guy I always compared myself to. I'd rather stay in Boston and let him stay in L.A. and just compete every year in the Finals. That's what made me a better player. It would have been too easy if we had played together."
Most recently, Toronto Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo felt the need to call out James's new teammate Bosh by (rightfully) proclaiming: "Whether [Bosh] was mentally checked out or just wasn't quite into it down the stretch, he wasn't the same guy. I think everybody saw that, but no one wanted to acknowledge it."
And lest we forget that even before James made his "Decision," Deadspin's Drew Magary captured the average fan's point-of-view better than anyone by (rightfully) calling LeBron a "cocksucker." (And just for the record, I added to the anti-LeBron contingency and vowed never to root for him again.)
Virtually everything and anything negative that can be said about James, Bosh and the Heat organization has probably been warranted in one way or another. As if you needed further proof, the Heat just fired 30 ticket sales staffers because they did their job, selling out every seat for every game this season. And here I thought the Heat were "all about family" as James said soon after his signing.
But maybe it's time to lay off trash talking about the Heat.
Because while James might be the most arrogant and least self-aware person on the planet, and Wade and Bosh may be fast approaching LeBron levels, I guarantee you that they've been reading and listening to all the (rightfully) negative commentary being aimed at them.
They know they'll be the most hated team in basketball. They know the basketball world will question whether or not they can play together. They know that their legacies are already presumed to be tarnished for good regardless of how many rings they accumulate. They know it and it will fuel them to play harder, better and more selflessly together.
And while the basketball world has been collectively (and rightfully) piling on the mockery that has taken place in Miami, Heat team president Pat Riley has quietly assembled a supporting cast that all-but-ensures a 60-plus win season and an NBA Finals appearance for Miami. By surrounding James, Wade and Bosh with the likes of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, Carlos Arroyo, Eddie House, Juwan Howard, Jamaal Magloire, Joel Anthony and Mario Chalmers, the "going-to-Miami-is-a-bad-basketball-decision-for-LeBron" argument no longer holds water.
No one will root against James and the Heat more than me. I hate how James made his decision, and I hate the competitive imbalance that his decision creates, adding more worthless games to the schedule for season ticket holders like me. But every piece of negativity thrown James' and his teammates way will only make them stronger and more fearsome.
If we truly want the Heat to fail, we should be talking about how easy it will be for James to average a triple-double in a Magic Johnson 2.0-type role. Or how easy it will be for this team to march through an Eastern Conference against an aging Celtics team, a suspect Magic team and a not-quite-ready-for-prime-time Bulls team. Or how Kobe Bryant can't possibly win a sixth ring with the Miami Superfriends. Maybe - just maybe - if we assume greatness for this team, rather than hating on them, they'll never achieve it.
James and his new crew in South Beach don't deserve the adoration or the dollars of a single fan outside the Miami metro area. But as painful as it is to admit this, a summer's worth of hating might turn into a season with a South Beach championship parade at the end of it.