Monday, October 25, 2010

The Decision Three Months Later

As the NBA season approaches, the biggest story is still the Miami Heat. It has been three months since the Decision, and while it has dropped from the news cycle, the echoes are still ringing. Everyone has an opinion. Everything is studied within the context of his move. Every loss will be amplified as evidence of his foolishness, and every win as vindication. Neither conclusion is correct, but of course, that does not particularly matter.

To the average fan, James is a dick. I am inclined to agree. It was not the fact that he departed his hometown, although that did not help. It was not the prolonged courtship and recruitment process he orchestrated, although that did not help either. It was the intersection of these circumstances, on national television, hosted by Jim Gray, as a phony charity fundraiser. In that moment, the numerous questions about his character crystallized and spread. There is no going back.

The fan has a distance from the issue that enables and disables them. It allows you to take things at face value. You can ignore his undeniable physical and commercial power. An NBA GM does not have that luxury. For a personnel director, whether or not he is a creep matters little. He is one of the best players in the NBA. He has untapped physical potential. He is already an offensive machine, and he improves as a defender constantly. Whenever he plays, the stands are packed and the media froths. David Stern is an economic realist. He believes the NBA must slash salaries to adjust to the status quo. But no matter what happens, the market for all things LeBron remains healthy. Any GM who did not at least examine the chance to have him was not doing their job. Pat Riley loves both risk and attention, and he signed on plenty of both.

But, personality still matters. LeBron, for all he has gained, has lost a great deal through this process. It is no longer possible to sell him as fun loving and easy going. The vitrol produced by is behavior has disassembled the wacky jokester, the prankster. The hometown kid who made good story has been burned and buried. Ohio will never forgive him, nor should they. The business of being LeBron James has become deadly serious. Until he wins a championship, this summer will be his obituary. The stakes of being a Global Icon are appropriately high. Now the Heat must win, or pay LeBron’s debts.

It was particularly poignant to see James so scathingly criticized by Michael Jordan. Jordan was a very different player, but his career is the standard LeBron is attempting to expand upon. His obsession with success above all, combined with his trailblazing marketing has given a generation of players something to aspire to. Michael’s criticism likely chafes at James, but he has remained silent on the subject. This is the wisest choice LeBron has made in some time. This is not because Jordan’s opinion is ill-informed, although it most likely is. Michael has yet to prove to be anything other than terrible at personnel. It is not because Michael is jealous and aches to play again, although he is and does. It is because the content of what Michael Jordan said about the Decision reveals more about himself than LeBron. He did not worry about Cleveland, LeBron’s image, or whether Miami made basketball sense. He merely thought LeBron was a coward for wanting to play with the best. Michael Jordan stands as a pillar of an asshole, and his punditry on James is another moment among many. It is not as galling as telling your children you pity them for living in your shadow, but it is in the ballpark.

Ultimately, LeBron’s fate is in his hands. If Miami wins, that will be the story. Eyes will shift away from the long list of distractions. His enemies list. His choice to deploy the race card. The spiked story on his trip to Vegas. His bizarre, wounded, ad campaign. These things will not disappear. He will still be booed and loathed. But, it will be impossible to ignore his accomplishment. The sooner LeBron is fitted for a ring, the sooner the Decision can begin to fade.