Monday, July 14, 2014

The Two LeBrons

On Friday, LeBron James announced he’s ditching South Beach for Cleveland, back to the fans that burned his jersey in the streets. Again, he’ll play for an owner who bashed him in writing for the public. Forgiveness may be divine, and you can always go home, but LeBron James is the most dominating force I’ve ever seen play pro ball, with the mindset of a melting ice cream cone. This was about reversing the number-one blunder on his record AKA the decision, not about winning rings. He wants people to like him. Jordan didn’t give a damn about his public record. It was about basketball first and PR second. And you can guarantee MJ would never fly back to an owner who trashed him on ESPN. LeBron’s softer than Jordan and Kobe, but he’s a better player than both. He’s a Yankees fan AND a Cowboys fan but isn’t from New York or Dallas. See what I mean?

James stumbled publically when announcing on ESPN he was “taking his talents” to South Beach in 2010. He’s not a bad guy. He’s just has the wrong people around him, and he's easy to manipulate, I guarantee it. For the record, “I’m taking my talents . . .” was originally done by Kobe when he was in high school. So LeBron filtered his most famous line from circa-17 Kobe. But he’d crush Kobe in one-on-one. The duplicity is utterly frustrating.

So who's LeBron James? Let me put it this way: James is best friends with Johnny Manziel, the NFL’s answer to Mike ‘the Situation’ Sorrentino. And I get the impression 5’10” Johnny’s the alpha. When leaving Cleveland, LeBron followed Wade to Miami. While playing with the Heat he conducted postgame interviews alongside Dwayne Wade, like they were equals. Wade missed half the season in 2013-14 and was a non-factor in every playoff game. They’re not equals. When Michael addressed the media, nobody in the Bulls organization was allowed to breathe loudly. But LeBron and Wade are best friends, so they share the spotlight, and no one needs to be the star. Kobe needed to be the star so bad he had Shaq run out on rails. Kobe addresses the media in six-foot mink coats; LeBron wears fake glasses and Justin Beiber t-shirts. That’s the difference. ESPN’s treating LeBron’s homecoming like Flight 370. He’s the biggest star on the planet. But you’d never know it and I don't mean that in a good way. There's such a lightweight energy about him off the court.

At seventeen, LeBron was already the world’s best player, not even close. But instead of filling the role of the “Chosen One” and blazing an original trail, he decides to keep Jordan’s #23 into the pros. Then a few years later, announces no NBA player should ever wear #23 again. Why even raise that issue when you’re the most visible culprit? Classic LeBron. This past season in Miami he started publically working in references about “his guys” and “leading the team” and “It’s up to me” to reverse the PR perception that he can't lead. Sorry, not buying that from a guy who went back to Cleveland so people up there would stop booing him. What does LeBron James owe Dan Gilbert or that city? He was holding all the cards here but decided to people-please. There are a handful of NBA ballers all time who are defined by rings won, and LeBron's one of them. This was a demotion. This was a backwards move. This was weak.

Bird’s Boston, Kobe’s LA, Jordan’s Chicago. How are we supposed to archive James’ successes on South Beach? LeBron choosing to reassume his relationship with Northern Ohio is the same as Timberlake getting back into NSYNC. Why did LeBron even leave in 2010? What was the point? A week ago, Pat Riley--in his role as Heat Prez--met the media and talked “staying the course” and mental toughness in hard times. “Trend this,” he said, “I’m pissed.” He was calling LeBron out, just like Dan Gilbert did. Only difference is Riley treated LeBron like a son; Miami treated him like royalty, but he had to "Go Home," and ESPN's acting like he's Martin Luther King Jr. for doing it.

Going to Miami in the first place was a mistake. LeBron’s South Beach dynasty didn’t inspire anyone except fourteen-year-old boys. People grew tired of the Heat. Miami’s a fine town. I’ve been. We ate Cuban food. But actually live in Miami when I’m globally the best in my profession? Miami isn’t even the most relevant city in its own state. It’s second, to Disney World, a place of make believe. If he ends up winning in Cleveland, that will be wonderfully regional, but we’re talking about a once-in-history skill set with James.

Truth is he never needed Miami or Dwayne Wade or Pat Riley. Anywhere LeBron went in 2010 would’ve immediately been the best team because they had LeBron. The Carmelos and Durants and Garnetts would’ve come. FIELD OF DREAMS inspires us because Costner builds it, not the other way around. What has LeBron built? New York was always the answer. There’s nothing better or more important than winning in NYC, and LeBron dodged it . . . twice. He chose Hidden Pond, when he could’ve had the East River, Hudson River, and Atlantic Ocean. Jordan’s six in Chicago and Kobe’s five in Hollywood are historical, but being the first to hang dynasty banners in MSG, that would’ve been something. Instead he’s moving back into his mother’s house to do selfies with Johnny Football.

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Brian Huba

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