June-July: The Summer Of LeBron James, And The Decision That Changed Everything

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FEATURING (in order): Bethlehem Shoals, ESPN News Services, Drew Magary, Will Leitch, Dan Gilbert, Scott Raab, Buzz Bissinger, Trey Kerby, Tommy Craggs, Katie Baker, Matt Taibbi, and Brian Windhorst.

6/4/2010: Over the last few months, I have gone out of my way to justify Bron's playoff performance, continued to say Kobe Bryant must surpass him (not vice-versa), and tried to put a good socialist spin on him and his other very expensive friends in basketball labor.

Today, with the news of LeBron's world tour close at hand, I want to take it all back. It doesn't bother me that LeBron James wields an undue amount of power over the NBA's future. But with Kobe Bryant playing like he is, on the verge of a fifth championship, James needs to sit down and shut up until the Finals are over. I know athletes are competitive. But by not showing respect when Kobe (and the Celtics, for that matter) are on a tear, and he's at home ... James looks either like a first-rate jerk or someone who (cliche alert) JUST DOESN'T GET IT.

I never thought I would say that about an athlete. Do you "get it"? Do I? Do either of us have the slightest idea what it means to "get it" with LeBron's brain and body, in his particular life-situation? No, of course not. But there is such a thing as common decency and honor. I don't have kids who learn from sports, and basketball players aren't role models. Regardless, though, this is just so ... gross.

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7/7/2010: LeBron James is planning to announce the team with which he will sign during a one-hour special on ESPN Thursday night, ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard has learned...

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7/7/2010: 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 cockteasing 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. He's a cocksucker. Fitting that his most memorable career moment will come when he doesn't even take a fucking shot. He's a guy that cares more about the end result of playing basketball – massive, unending adulation – than he does actual basketball.

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7/8/10: We trust that they will recognize the ultimate ludicrousness of this whole enterprise, that these are grown men wearing tank tops, throwing a ball up and around, running on wood, that this all exists because we allow it to exist, that the illusion must be maintained. We trust that they understand how good they have it, how much we give them, against our own self-interest. We trust that they are not laughing at us.

That trust felt broken tonight. ... it felt like everyone involved — LeBron, ESPN, Bing, the University of Phoenix, Stuart Scott, the man who once chastised fans for having the audacity to boo, Jim freaking Gray — treated the millions of people watching like stupid, mindless consumers, empty lemmings ready to follow Sport into the abyss. Here, here are the Boys & Girls Club props. Here, here is your search engine. Here, here is your online college, Here, here is your Athletic Hero. Eat. Eat. Consume. You like it. You love it. You'll always come back for more.

They're surely right, of course. But never has it been laid more bare, and never did it feel so empty. It felt like a break, the moment when the tide crested, when we looked at the games, and their players, and ourselves, and wondered: Why in the world are we watching these awful people? It was a question impossible to answer.

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7/8/10:  If you thought we were motivated before tonight to bring the hardware to Cleveland, I can tell you that this shameful display of selfishness and betrayal by one of our very own has shifted our "motivation" to previously unknown and previously never experienced levels.Some people think they should go to heaven but NOT have to die to get there.

Sorry, but that's simply not how it works.This shocking act of disloyalty from our homegrown "chosen one" sends the exact opposite lesson of what we would want our children to learn. And "who" we would want them to grow up to become.

The self-declared former "King" will be taking the "curse" with him down south. And until he does "right" by Cleveland and Ohio, James (and the town where he plays) will unfortunately own this dreaded spell and bad karma.

Just watch.

Sleep well, Cleveland. Tomorrow is a new and much brighter day...

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7/9/10: This is what passes now for honor among thieves: One bland and gutless fraud is not going to ask anything that might make another bland and gutless fraud uncomfortable. Boo-ya! LeBron James was the native son who understood that pain and promised to redeem it. That he tried and failed may be sad, but it's no tragedy. And that he left the way he left makes it easier to say it: Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Which brings us to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, whose response to LeDecision — a bellicose "open letter" to Cavs fans, and a bracing set of quotes about how LeBron quit in the playoffs — brought tears of gratitude to my eyes. A bum is a bum is a bum. LeBron's a bum, and Dan Gilbert says so. And promises that the Cavs will win a title before the Heat do.

He'll be subject to derision aplenty for it — and no doubt a talking-to from NBA Commissar David Stern — but Gilbert's yowl is exactly what Cleveland fans want and need to hear today. A calling-out. A yowl of rage. A blood oath. It's great stuff, and I'm grateful to him for it.

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7/9/10: I knew something was seriously out of kilter to begin with when LeBron’s handlers, who certainly won’t be arranging my funeral, decided in their arrogant wisdom to hold The Decision (their phraseology) in Greenwich, Connecticut, one of the richest towns in the United States. The presence of African-American kids was a nice touch. It was probably the biggest aggregation of blacks in Greenwich in history, and I was impressed by how quickly they had been shipped in. If LeBron had wanted to make an altruistic gesture, why not do it in one of a thousand places where kids really do need dreams? Bridgeport. New Haven. New York. Philadelphia. All worthy candidates. Greenwich? The only place possibly worse would have been the lawn of Don Imus’s house in Westport.

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7/9/10: James said some pretty strange things during his television special. Here are the standouts...

  • "This whole free-agent experience, I'm looking forward to it."

This was pretty much the first thing out of LeBron's mouth, which was strange because I was under the impression that "this whole free-agent experience" was ending.

  • "I never wanted to leave Cleveland."

Obviously none of us were privy to the negotiations between LeBron and the Cavs, but it seems like the easiest way to not leave Cleveland is to not leave Cleveland.

  • "Put the shoe on the other foot. If the Cavs would have got rid of me at one point, would my family burn down the organization? Of course not."

This was the biggest laugh of the night for me. I am still very happy to know that LeBron's family would have never burned down the entire Cleveland Cavaliers organization. You have no idea how many nights I've stayed up worrying about that.

  • "One thing you can't control is you never know."

This could be a Ringo Starr lyric.

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7/9/10: Nearly a day later, I still don't get it. In almost every way, LeBron did what fans always demand of their stars: that they elevate winning above all else, that they privilege the team above personal gain, that they be Not Just About The Money. Miami was a cold-eyed basketball decision, made strictly on those terms. (You could argue that Chicago would've been the better pick, as Jon Barry was made to do roughly 7,842 times last night, and you might even be right, but that's beside the point.) This was the best player in the world knocking a few large off the price tag because he wanted to win. The tight-ass moralists on press row usually love this sort of thing; Mike Lupica's socks should be rolling up and down right now. But the national freakout is upon us anyway, and the only reason for that, so far as I can tell, is that LeBron put on a bad show last night. He fumbled the script. He is the most hated man in basketball right now because he went on live television and blew his lines.

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7/9/10: There was the lame ad for "DecisionWater" and the beefcake one for some insurance company that was clearly meant to pander to the ladies in the crowd, the ones who tuned in to see what all the fuss was and were probably left wondering, "is this what sports is like?" And Dan Gilbert’s angry missive, reading like the lovechild of Buzz Bissinger and Mark Cuban and, in another case of life imitating middling Twitter jokes, actually rendered in comic sans.

Oh god, everything. So awkward! It was a game of Mad Libs brought to life by David Lynch, or a wall in an asylum upon which a game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey has just transpired.

My friend Joe used to, at like 3 in the morning during the last gasps of a house party, put all the remaining alcohol in a blender with ice and serve the resulting concoction to unsuspecting late night guests. "What…is this?" they would ask, having bravely sipped the foul brew. "It’s a Jersey Turnpike!" he’d respond, delighted, waving his hands as if to illustrate a web of tangled roads. "Everything just mixed up all crazy. Is it good?"

It was never, ever good.

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7/10/10: Its entertainment value rested almost entirely in its scope — the same way a person goes to the Niagara Falls or to the Grand Canyon for that take-your-breath-away moment when the heretofore unimaginable vastness of the vista is first perceived, I watched "The Decision" in breathless awe of the sheer scale of the narcissism involved. By any measure it was a landmark moment in the history of human self-involvement, eclipsing previous peaks in the narcissism Himalayas (Nero's impromptu fiddle concert as Rome burned, the career of the prophet Mohammed, Kim Jong Il publishing "The Popularity of Kim Jong Il") mainly because it was a collective effort.

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7/10/10: During a rally for Miami Heat fans Friday night, Chris Bosh said he had been talking with new teammates LeBron James and Dwyane Wade about the moment for months.

It was a slip, which some, including Bosh himself, caught. ... Bosh quickly revised the statement and said they had been talking about it for "days." But it appears James, Bosh and Wade had been discussing this for years.

In the ensuing years, four important events happened that were major contributors to their teaming in 2010.

First, the three had a positive and emotional summer in 2008 in China, winning the gold medal.

Second, Los Angeles-based management company Creative Artists Agency decided to get into the basketball agent business.

Third, the recession hit, and NBA owners started tightening their spending, a trend that would last for two years.

Fourth, the struggling New York Knicks launched a plan in the fall of 2008 to clear off enough cap space to sign two maximum level free agents in an effort to recruit James to New York by promising to sign another star as well. Though he never said so directly, James began openly flirting with the thought. Other teams saw the opening and hatched the same plan.

That included the Heat...

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