Having gone to all sorts of trouble to resurrect this website from the watery grave poured by Blogger and my own recent lack of blogtastic inspiration, I’ve been keeping my eyes open for the right topic for a first “real” post-resurrection post. The Oil Spill seems like a layup (“It’s bad.”), politics always make me a little preachy, and the economy often tempts me to talk about economics, which no one enjoys. Then along comes Lebron James and his adolescent narcissistic freakshow of an announcement regarding his Decision to join the Miami Heat with also-superstars Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. It’s been all over the news, and yet I suspect that folks who aren’t so sports- or NBA- savvy might be wondering what all the hubbub is about. Here’s what it’s about.
I want to be clear, so Clevelanders don’t assassinate me or burn my cargo shorts in effigy: I thought Mr. James’ handling of his free agency season and his announcement was asinine and unnecessary. I like Cleveland. I liked Lebron as a Cleveland Cavalier. As long as the Cavs weren’t playing the Celtics, I rooted for them, and him. I will still root for the Cavs, but I don’t think I’ll root for Lebron again any time soon. I didn’t like the Heat to begin with, and now I triple don’t like them. I can’t deny a certain perverse gratitude, though, for taking what could have been merely disappointing and maybe a little wistful, and turning it into a maelstrom of bad behavior on the part of just about everyone involved.
If you’re not a sports fan, here’s the summary: Cleveland has a rich history of pro sports disappointment, including having their NFL franchise sneak away in the middle of the night and then win a Super Bowl for another town shortly thereafter. They’ve been close to championships a few times, only to see their hopes crumble in improbable ways that they then give ominous capitalized names like “The Pooch Screw” or “The Clusterfuck.” In 1997, the Cleveland Indians became the first team in Major League history to lose a World Series after starting the bottom of the ninth inning of the seventh game with a lead. No Cleveland pro team has won a championship since 1964. The town also seems to have a habit of developing young talent who leave and go on to be successful elsewhere. So you might understand if Cleveland sports fans are described as “long suffering,” and if they invest a lot emotionally in their teams and players.
Lebron James is a very famous basketball player, originally from Akron, Ohio. Probably among the top ten most-personally-skilled ever, although some might debate that. He went pro straight out of high school, drafted #1 by his home town team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. He played for the Cavs for seven seasons. They’ve contended, but haven’t won a championship. They are generally very successful in the regular season, but then run into teams in the playoffs who have more than one star. I don’t think many people outside Cleveland expected Lebron to stay with the Cavaliers once he became a free agent. I didn’t, anyway.
What seems to have happened is that at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, James, Wade, and Bosh cooked up the idea of joining the same team when their contracts were up, thereby making a Superteam that would kick everyone else’s asses to death with lasers. Think Damn Yankees or The Super Friends1. Rather than being cool about it, Lebron strung everyone along for months, and finally made his announcement in a completely ridiculous and unprecedented one hour ESPN special where he basically acted like a jerk. He didn’t call the Cavs, he wouldn’t even talk to them in the final weeks. And it looked like he kind of quit in the playoffs. He didn’t thank the Cavs organization or the fans.
Perhaps the weirdest thing is that it would have been easy to do it right. Do the deal with Miami, and make a graceful, generous exit from Cleveland, with all the right “thank yous” and “it’s been an honors.” I’m pretty sure that there are hordes of PR consultants out there who could help anyone do this. My buddy G Liddy, not even a PR consultant, has excellent instructions here. Cleveland would still be bummed, but they wouldn’t be irate. Well, most of them.
But thank gawd Lebron didn’t do it right. Because it set in motion a series of ridiculous events that is keeping me entertained at a time when the World Cup is over, there’s no basketball, no football, and the Red Sox have all colluded to join each other on the DL. It reminds me of a Rube Goldberg machine where there’s all this potential douchebag energy waiting to be unleashed if someone just gives that marble at the top a little push.
Here’s the goofiness:
- “The Decision” itself. Bad enough to string everyone along. Bad enough to block off a whole hour in prime time for the announcement. Bad enough to shovel on more obvious horseshit about how you just made the decision. Bad enough to act like a petulant adolescent and basically say that your mommy told you to do what makes you happy. But, as has been pointed out all over the place elsewhere, to give the event a name which seems cruelly engineered to fit into the quiver of Cleveland sports misery with The Drive and The Fumble seems much more capricious and nasty and, frankly, evil, than anyone thought Lebron was.
- Then Cavs owner Dan Gilbert went berserk, posting a public letter to Cavs fans guaranteeing them a championship before Lebron gets one. Set in Comic Sans font, no less. It’s hard to take anything seriously when it’s in Comic Sans. Read the letter for yourself, but it doesn’t sound grown up or thought out, or any of those other things that one tries to project when one is a serious adult person, let alone the owner of a high-profile business venture.
- Gilbert also owns Fathead, who make big vinyl wall posters of sports stars. Fathead reduced the price of the Lebron James models from $100 to $17.41, the year Benedict Arnold was born. As of this writing, three of the Lebron models have sold out at that price. You’ve got to admit there’s some poetry there.
- Then Jesse Jackson went berserk, saying that Gilbert’s letter showed a “slave master mentality.” He said a bunch of other choice stuff, but suffice it to say that we can all breathe a deep sigh of relief that we never elected this guy president.
- Did I mention that Obama was lobbying for the Bulls? Criminies.
- And then NBA commissioner David Stern fined Gilbert $100,000 for his letter, saying it was “a little bit to the extreme.” Glad Stern’s not my boss, or I’d be typing this from the library.
I don’t know if more fallout is on the way, but given that essentially all that happened was that a basketball player switched teams after his contract expired, I feel safe saying that we got way more entertainment out of this than we should have.
1 From now on, I’m calling the Miami Heat “The South Beach Super Friends.”
2 I’m never going to the fricking University of Phoenix, either.