By Aaron Collier
One of the most talented basketball players to ever put on an NBA jersey is surrounded by the primetime lights of ESPN while NBC’s Jim Grey sits across from him. Grey is one of many waiting for this superstar to give him an answer of where he is going to be playing next year. He has been courted for weeks by all the major market teams.
New York. Los Angelos. Miami. Chicago.
All of them wanting The King to play on their court. To be the cornerstone of their basketball kingdom.
Then this coveted unrestricted free agent finally spoke: “I’m taking my talents…to South Beach.” In one moment, in one sentence, spirits were lifted and hearts were broken. Some loved him, while most hated him. Jersey’s were burned by his former city, Cleveland, and bought in droves in his new one. It was one of the most surreal and polarizing moments in sports history. It even had a title: The Decision.
If you are a sports fan, an NBA fan in particular, you know I’m talking about Lebron James. Even if you aren’t an NBA fan, or sports fan in general, you probably still know about the event above due to the media coverage it garnered. The sports media’s coverage is to be expected, but other non-sports centric mass media had the story running along with opinions from both sport and news pundits. Even Dan Gilbert, new owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers and James’ former team at the time, wrote a scathing letter, one just as unprofessional as The Decision, about James questioning his heart and desire.
James chose to leave his home state of Ohio for the sunny beaches of Miami and to play with his best buds, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. Some called it a conspiracy, while some (like myself) thought it was pretty cool to see three superstars playing on the same team, and taking a pay cut to do it. Sure they were still making millions of dollars, but they could have made millions more and didn’t. I will never know what it’s like to accept a pay cut in the millions of dollars, but I would believe it would still be a bit tough even if you have millions already. He wanted to win championships that critics say he had “choked” away. Championships that took a “clutch” factor he apparently didn’t possess.
So he decided to go play somewhere he had help. And if you watched Game 6 against the Boston Celtics during the ’09-’10 NBA Playoffs, you would understand why. Teammates are supposed to help, not stand and watch. Even greatness needs help. Even though he still would have received criticism from basketball “purists” about leaving to play with two superstars instead of trying to beat them like Jordan, Magic, and Bird, it was the way he went about it that rubbed people the wrong way. That made people want to see him fail.
I have to admit, I took up for James. I’m a big Lebron fan for more reasons than just what he does on the court. I don’t know him personally, but he seems to carry himself well and, unlike a lot of professional athletes these days, is a great role model on and off the court. Again, I don’t know the man, but I am impressed with the way he conducts himself.
But my hindsight tells me I was wrong and so was he. It was a terrible decision and there is no
positive light you can shine on it. There was the charity portion of it, but he could have done that without the show like he has done numerous times. Was it solely his idea? Probably not. We have all been an impressionable 20-something that took advice from someone we shouldn’t have. But most of those bad decisions we made on someone else’s opinion wasn’t viewed by 13.1 million people. I’m not saying he couldn’t have said no, but he trusted the people around him a little too much. The man even said as much to the New York Times saying, “If I had to go back on it, I probably would do it a little bit different.”
The Decision isn’t the reason for this piece, but to understand the reason I wanted to make sure you knew the past to appreciate what happen on June 11th, 2014.
Faced with the same decision he had in 2010, with the same suitors wanting him, James showed how much he learned from his past mistake. In a letter posted by Sports Illustrated (which you can read by clicking here), James announced he was going back to Cleveland. No party. No lights. No Jim Grey. Just a well written letter telling the world he was “going home” and the reasons why he came to his decision.
In a day and age where most athletes shift the blame for their mistakes on others, James owned his. He didn’t apologize for leaving for Miami, he won two championships with two of his close friend, but he expressed his remorse for how he left Cleveland. He didn’t blame his advisors, his friends, or the media. He made The Decision his mistake. He made himself accountable.
Accountability is something of a lost art not only in sports, but the world in general. We tend to pass the blame at times. I’m guilty of doing it myself. It takes maturity to learn that confessing your mistakes helps you avoid them in the future. Mistakes are bad, but they can cause good if you handle them correctly. James did that in spades. He showed his maturity has grown by leaps and bounds since 2010. Even his detractors have to respect the way he announced his return to Cleveland and how he learned from The Decision. He even looked past the harsh words of Gilbert and made amends with him, even though Gilbert never publicly apologized for his remarks, which he should have done. Even so, James decided it wasn’t a wall, but a hurdle he could easily jump over to return home.
James did what he had to do to become an NBA Champion. It wasn’t easy for him considering he was vilified for the majority of it and some of that, as we discussed before, was warranted. James used that as motivation and proved he had the mentality and skill to take his team to the top. And let’s not kid out ourselves, James carried his team to be put in a position to win. Even with Wade and Bosh by his side, their was times when he had to carry even them to the finish line. The hatred being spewed at him over one mistake was a bit over-the-top most of the time, but he took it and learned from it. He not only was able to see him morph into a basketball force-of-nature, but we saw him mature on every level. With the media, his teammates, and even the fans. He started having fun playing the game again like Magic, but developed a dominating presence on the court like Bird or Jordan. It was a true basketball treat. Bill Simmons coined it best in his recent piece on James’ return by calling what we witnessed with between 2010 and now as him ascending to a basketball genius both on and off the court. And I couldn’t agree more.
Now we see him go full circle. From an impressionable kid to a man that is controlling his own career, and more importantly, his life.
The Decision may never go away, but the The Letter and his return to Cleveland, along with his continued domination on the court, is what James will be remembered for now. Him returning to his Kingdom to help it repair and bring it back to glory. A feat truly fit for a King.