LeBron’s Abandoned Legacy

A legacy in flames.

By now it’s had time to sink in – as much as it’ll ever sink in, anyway. He made his decision, and though it still burns like hell, at least the initial shock’s warn off. Three days later, in the year 1 AC, we finally have our wits about us. We can look at it rationally, if ever such a thing this messy – this slimy – can be looked at with rationality.

I’m not going to write what Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert wrote in his open letter to Cleveland. I’m not going make guarantees I can’t make good on and I’m not going to “put everything in quotes” to make it “more dramatic.” There will be no talk here of meat cleavers to the back or “heartless and callous actions.” There will be no name-calling, though make no mistake – I, too, think LeBron James is a narcissist. As Dan Le Batard told Bill Simmons, having an absolute lack of self-awareness is the very definition of narcissism (And “The Decision” is the very definition of lack of self-awareness). But now the body’s cold, the rosin’s settled, “smoldering jersey” is just metaphor.

It’s time to look at The Decision logically.

What most disappoints me is not that he left his hometown – this is an era of freewheeling and free agency, there are no more Cal Ripkens. What most disappoints me is that he forever foreclosed on his greatest potential. He can no longer be what he could’ve been in Cleveland (or New York, for that matter). Not with Dwyane Wade by his side. His ceiling has been irrevocably lowered by his decision to take the easy way out. He doesn’t have to carry the load – be the guy – every single night, and unlike Jordan and Bird and Russell, that’s exactly what he was looking for.

LeBron, with Batman and Robin

Seems to me that there’s a difference between knowing that you need help and actively wanting help. Eighties MJ staved off teammates like the Plague. He did everything himself because deep down he knew that none of the guys around him on their best days could match the competitive fire in his own gut. Phil Jackson had to coax him into sharing, into the triangle, into trusting his teammates. It was an exercise in teeth pulling. Even after he begrudgingly mastered the concept of team, Jordan constantly struggled with deference – not out of selfish ambition, but out of a maniacal self-confidence that he was always the best guy for the job. Don’t take it from me. Ask Steve Kerr’s black eye.

LeBron’s not wired that way. And I was evidently the last one to see it. I wrote raving 1,000-word posts about him right up until the Boston Massacre. I harped on the perennial shortcomings of his supporting cast. I knocked Cavs’ management for Larry Hughes and Donyell Marshall. I blamed Delonte/Gloria for the game 5 home meltdown. I chastised those with the gall to compare Mo Williams or Antawn Jamison to Scottie Pippen. And even as I sit here looking back on the past seven years, I find myself genuinely irritated by Mike Brown’s ineptitude and floating any number of trade deadline “what ifs?”

Maybe his last-second heroics against Orlando, his 48 Special at Detroit, his goofball pre-game routines, and his awe-inspiring athleticism blinded me to what I now recognize as his only true flaw – a soft will. Or rather, maybe I knew all along that he didn’t have the killer inside him like Jordan or Isiah, but teased myself into thinking that he’d compensate with superior size, talent, jumping ability and charm. He just looked the part. Had it all. Came into the league as the most hyped player in history and all but shattered our wildest expectations. I pulled for LeBron because 1) I liked him and 2) because I ultimately thought he’d be the one. The Greatest.

Nope.

As of Thursday, “greatest” is no longer in play, and to me – a guy without any serious rooting interests – this is by far the biggest disappointment of it all. If you’re a fan of basketball, of history, or of greatness in general, LeBron’s outright forfeiture of destiny totally sucks. You invested in these Cleveland years because you thought they’d pave the way for something bigger… only the payoff never came.

Which brings us to the question of legacy. LeBron said he didn’t want to end up a 31-year-old with bad knees and no ring. I understand the argument. I think it’s 100 percent valid. He spent his entire career in Cleveland, where Delonte West and Anderson Varejao were the best crunch-time players they could match him with. This in itself is inexcusable. If Gilbert wants to slam his one-time meal ticket, he must first acknowledge the blood on his own hands. He never gave LeBron the best chance to win, and LeBron’s told us over and over that it’s all about winning.

Here’s my question: Winning to what end, LeBron? To leave your indomitable imprint on the game? To be talked about 50 years from now in the same breath as the Birds and Magics? To be a global brand? To be cherished? To be legend? Just to be liked?

Well you chucked all those cards out the window when you signed on for South Beach – a place without any tradition, sorry sports fans, and most irreparably undermining to your legacy, a guy in Dwyane Wade who wants all the same things you’ve alleged to have wanted. Only he really wants them. And he wants them more.

LeBron will win. LeBron will fit his fingers and toes with championship rings. He will do things with a basketball that you have never seen before and may never see again. But try as he might, LeBron James will never scale the same heights he left behind in Cleveland. Because, in Miami, all the peaks are just that much lower. Climbing Everest isn’t quite the same when, to borrow a dig from Charles Barkley, you get there on “piggyback.”

Deal with the devil.

Imagine 2003 Phil Mickelson packing up his clubs, partnering up with the best swing coach in the game, and “taking his talents” to the Nationwide Tour. He’d dominate, but would we look at him the same way?

LeBron bolted under the guise of winning, but I don’t think his decision was about winning at all, not in the Jordan/Kobe sense, anyway. Their type of winning was tied to something larger – something that could be immortalized, enshrined by the embellishment of collective memory, mythologized by fathers and their sons. James cannot achieve that anymore. We’ll instead remember him for his spectacular athletic prowess, his affable demeanor, the “old days” back home and his X-number of asterisk-riddled titles.

He must’ve been aware of the tradeoffs. He is, after all, a student of the game, regardless of whether he’s surrounded himself with idiot high school buddies. So why not tell it straight? Tell us he wanted to come to South Beach to play with his friends. To soak up the glitz in a city that does glitz better than any. Why not tell us, “Hey, I gave it my best shot. I tried to be The Man every night. I’m tired of pulling the slack. I’m tired of filling the holes.”

“I’m tired of being The Man.”

It’s easier after this entire debacle to pick on him for his inconsistent jump shot or criticize his post game. To call him a choker… These things are beside the point.

LeBron James is a great basketball player – there is no disputing that – but LeBron James will never be Great. He left Greatness in Cleveland. And so Michael Jordan sleeps easier these day. Bill Russell shakes his head. Kobe lifts weights. They heard what I heard when LeBron said “South Beach” –  a gasping hush. The sound of a dying legacy.

– Robbie

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31 Comments

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31 responses to “LeBron’s Abandoned Legacy

  1. ERIC HARRIS

    I WAS REALLY FEELING YOUR ARTICLE UNTIL YOU SAID LEBRON DIDNT HAVE ENOUGH HELP!!! THATS WHEN I DECIDED AND FIGURED OUT YOUR NOT FROM CLEVELAND, YOU DIDNT FOLLOW THE CAVS YOU FOLLOWED LE*****. IN ALL HONESTY YOU HAV ENO CLUE ON WHAT THE H*** YOU TALKING ABOUT. YOU KEEP MAKING STATEMENTS LIKE THAT AND THIS IS WITH ALL DUE RESPECT, BUT LIKE I SAID YOU KEEP MAKING STATEMENTS LIKE THAT AND YOU WRITING CAREER WILL BE OVER WITH IN A HEART BEAT!!!!!!

    P.S. LIKE I SAID NO DISRESPECT, BUT YOU HAVE TO BE FROM CLEVELAND TO UNDERSTAND!!! GOD BLESS!!!!

    • Eric, in 7 years in the league, LeBron played with guys who made a combined 2 all-star appearances – the immortal Zydrunas Ilgauskas in ’05 and Mo Williams in ’09. His teammates this year and last failed him miserably in crunch-time, particularly Williams, Delonte West and Antawn Jamison who, for his part, notched 11 pts/per in the Boston series. LeBron’s never been on a team with a legitimate second scoring option, let alone an honest to goodness wingman, and his coach never figured out that he could run other teams out of the building with a small lineup and LeBron at the 4.

      I feel like I could write an entire post on this, but let’s just look at the Lakers. Kobe goes 6-24 in game 7 of the Finals and they STILL win. LeBron’s never had this luxury. He can’t have a bad game because his teammates feed off him. If he’s on, they’re on. When he’s not, they suck. LBJ’s made a career out of doing more with less. And I suspect your 20 win ’10-’11 will back me up on this.

      P.S. I realize that you’re a 12-year-old with broken caps lock, but – and I mean no disrespect – you’re also a f*cking idiot. Don’t take up our space unless you have something constructive to say.

      – Robbie

  2. siejecy

    Hey I was on the Fear The Sword website and saw that advertised your blog. I don’t agree with what Eric said as he lashed out in a Dan Gilbert way. I also don’t agree in everything you said. Being a die hard Cleveland fan for so many years has taught me a lot. LeBron James had plenty of pieces in my opinion and I still believe he could have won his championship this upcoming season had he stayed. It was clearly the lack of a good head coach and I will stand by that. It was the fact that LeBron had too many role-players but a coach that didn’t know how to use these players. While everyone in Cleveland was yelling the Cavs are going to the finals this past year, I sat back and said no they won’t. LeBron is a wasted talent and could have done great things with the players he had. Gilbert did everything he could to provide players for him, but when free agents are saying “I’m not sure I want to sign in Cleveland because I don’t know if LeBron is staying or not” then that in itself should say that its LeBron’s own damn fault we could get nobody to play that Pippen role. Not only should people look at Gilbert for bringing in players but they need to look at LeBron and really ask why he himself couldn’t recruit players the way Kobe did with Artest or the way Pierce did Ray Allen. If all it took was a Cleveland commitment and he wanted that ring so bad then he should have made that commitment.

    • Siejecy, I agree with you to a point. I think having a coach that didn’t know how to use his players qualifies as “lack of help.” And I think you’re on the money with Brown – there are fewer things in sports more infuriating than his crunch-time offense aka “The Clear Out for LeBron.”

      However, I take issue with the notion that free agents didn’t want to come to Cleveland because they weren’t sure if LeBron would stay. That might’ve been the case this year… What about the first six years? I maintain that Ferry and the boys were just a little bit overrated, but I’d also buy that they didn’t want to come to Cleveland because it’s Cleveland (no offense).

      And finally, I also agree that LeBron would have won a title with the current group – not because JJ Hickson and Anthony Parker are such great players, but because LeBron was the Ultimate Compensator. Too bad he didn’t have the stomach to stick around.

    • ERIC HARRIS

      PLAIN AND SIMPLE LEBUM HAD ALL THE HELP HE NEEDED AND WITH THE TALENT THAT WAS ON THE TEAM THEY SHOULD HAVE WON DESPITE THE COACHING SO I DONT WANT TO HEAR IT BECAUSE ALL YEAR NO ONE COMPLAINED ABOUT THE CAST OF CHARACTERS THAT WERE AROUND LEBUM DAMN NEAR EVERYONE PICKED THE CAVS TO WIN IT ALL SO I DONT WANT TO HEAR IT HE QUIT NE NEVER WANTED TO BE HERE

      AND IF YOU DONT AGREE WITH ME OR DAN GILBERTS LETTER MOVE YA A** TO SOUTH FLORIDA BECAUSE I SERIOUSLY DOUBT YOU ARE FROM CLEVELAND

      • Already in South Florida, Eric. Born and raised in The 305. You should come down here some time. The weather doesn’t suck, the women aren’t ugly and they don’t call us “The Mistake by the Lake.”

        • ERIC HARRIS

          DUDE YOUR NOT WORTH MY TIME YOUR NOT FROM CLEVELAND AND IF YOU WERE UP HERE YOU WOULDNT LAST 10 SECONDS SOFT BATCH BOY OKAY SO GO PLUG IN YOUR XBOX AND MAKE SURE YOU HOOK UP THE MIAMI HEAT BECAUSE THAT THE ONLY WAY YOU GET A TITLE WITH THEM AND REMEMBER TO PUT IN THE CHEAT CODE SO YOU (deleted)

          AND AS FAR AS OUR WOMEN (deleted for offensive content)

        • Curly Nikki

          Soooo I’m from Cleveland I was agreeing with you until you went just as far as Eric Harris with the rude remarks. Yes, Cleveland has had a tough time since the steel mills closed but you’re speaking as tho its some third world country with no hope of recovery. Also have you ever been to Cleveland to speak on the weather and women? Or are these just things that you’ve heard? I’m a Cleveland woman and by no stretch of the imagination has anyone ever thought I was ugly. We’ve never met and thats fine but you shouldn’t make generalized statements regarding certain people. I’ve been to SF a number of times and have seen quite a few busted broads down there, its super humid, you guys have a hurricane season (who does that?), palmettos aka flying roaches and those lizzard or whatever they are everywhere….not cool!! But its not about the people, the weather or any of that because thats not the issue. Lebron’s legacy is tarnished if not gone all together. Did he have to work hard every night? Yes. Did he make the best decision for his career? Maybe, if all he cares about is winning rings. Did Lebron prove that he doesnt like to work hard? Heck yes. Was Dan Gilbert acting like a jilted lover? Absolutely. I dont live in Cleveland any more but I still support Clevland and Ohio sports.

          *And a side note even tho my beloved Buckeyes were defeated in football and basketball by the Gators, I’m still nice to Gator fans.*

      • Jonathan

        Well, this is just peachy! I can’t help but to chime in here Eric.

        First, I was born in Cleveland and arrived there by way of Fairview General Hospital long before Lebron ever became a glint in his dear mother’s eye! I can remember the RC cola campaign in 1977 for the team and how they came up short in the playoffs. I saw the Ehlo’s missed block, and recall more than my fair share of Cleveland frustration – classic example for me was Game 7 of the World Series here in Miami, where I stood, upper deck, with my Tribe jersey believing Cleveland had finally won going into the 9th – Jose Mesa took the mound, it was a sure thing, right? Talk about choking… Even Omar Vizquel saw it that way!

        So before you flame on, I, respectfully, submit I have every right to comment as a Cleveland native. And let’s stop being naïve.

        Ultimately, if you can objectively look back at this year, and CANDIDLY assess it, I think you will agree that the coach was lacking. Despite his record, Mike Brown is no Lenny Wilkens or Bill Fitch, nor is he the equivalent of Pat Riley, KC Jones, Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach, Chuck Daly, etc. As such, it is more than reasonable to conclude that Lebron made up for his shortcomings.

        As for the players, come on, their team this past year did NOT provide all of the help needed. And it certainly paled in comparison to Jordon’s first championship team, or any team fielded by the Pistons early 90’s, or the Celtics, Lakers, 76’s in the 1980’s. So as much as one might recall the glory days of Shaq, he’s a shell of the player he was just 4 or 5 years ago. This is not to suggest that Cleveland could have been smarter about future acquisitions. Supposedly, they were in the running for Bosh. A move like that could very well have made the difference between a playoff team and a championship team in Cleveland!

        Now to your point about why people didn’t complain this past year. It certainly was not because these issues were not obvious. No, it’s because no one saw the problem manifesting the way it did. Everyone just figured a motivated Lebron could overcome any obstacle – coaching, players, fatigue, anything. He didn’t. Why else was Brown fired? Why did Cleveland go after Bosh? Surely they felt the need to upgrade the talent on the team to compliment Lebron.

        Finally, Gilbert will one day regret writing what he did and the way he did. Imagine for a moment if people paused to think more about how Gilbert made his fortune… Surely the good people of Northern Ohio can find issue with that, particularly in todays’ economic climate.

        In any event, Lebron did what he did. He chose to abandon everything fans tend to hold sacred all for the chance to ensure a championship. Perhaps instead of comparison to Jordan, we can now compare him to Dennis Rodman. Oh wait, Rodman won a championship before marketing his services.

        Just my 2 cents – flame away!

        • ERIC HARRIS

          JONATHAN- before you decide to give someone a history lesson make sure you know who you are talking to because like yourself i am from cleveland born and raised i remember the death of don rogers, i saw red right 88, the drive, the fumble, the shot, the pitch, the selling of the browns, eric metcalf’s 2 punt returns against pittsburgh, the audible by bernie, and what ever other cleveland moment you can think of since 82 so with that said i dont need a history lesson on sports in my city (you remember all the cleveland indians pitchers that died in that boat accident back in the nineties) anyway there is nothing you or anyone else can say lebum had enough help plain and simple hes a benedict a band wagon rider all the way so please go give one of these other bums a history lesson

          and by the way you can now flame on!!!!!

          • Jonathan

            Eric,

            Wow – sort of forgot about the pitchers… Rough time then, indeed. Doesn’t that put this all into perspective?

        • ERIC HARRIS

          oh yeah and one more thing i have to say just like anyone else if you dont like gilberts letter than move to south florida we only want true clevelanders up this way and as a clevelander how could you not like gilberts letter but like i said only true clevelanders would appreciate a great letter like that

          once again jonathan you can flame on all the way to south florida

          • You’re pushing it, Eric. I’d go back and edit all your comments, but I don’t think I could make you look like more of a D-bag if I tried. The more I hear from people like you, the more I side with LeBron. You’re an absolute disgrace to your city.

            • SFGator

              Kobe would have won the championship with King James’ team last year.

              “You like it?” Noah said. “You think Cleveland is cool? I’ve never heard anyone say, ‘I’m going to Cleveland on vacation.'”

  3. Jonathan

    Master Afro,

    Overall, I think you are spot on. My only quibble is the slight reference to Kobe and Jordan, and that they may be of the same ilk. As LeBatard noted yesterday, Kobe got tired of losing (post Shaq) and “begged for a trade and made a public mess trying to get out of his situation to, um, be with better teammates.” Kobe, too, also spurned the Charlotte Hornets to go to LA. I don’t recall Jordan doing either. But, given your great insight and investigative powers, I trust that if I am at all wrong about any of this, you’ll ever so lovingly point it out.

    Take care Afro. Sorry we missed you yesterday – Mi spousa y Yo were doing reconnaissance!

    • Yes, Kobe wanted out of L.A., but only to be The Man on another team. Can you imagine if in 2005, he said, “Hey, I think I’ll go play with Tim Duncan!” No chance. If you recall, the whole falling out in L.A. started because he couldn’t get along with Shaq – both guys wanted to be the alpha dog. I think you saw the same attitude spring up again even this year. Gasol thought the team would be better if he and Kobe split the load. Kobe was having none of it – 6 for 24 in game 7 suggests as much.

      Piggybacking on that point, I wouldn’t have blamed LeBron for leaving Cleveland to go to Chicago or New York. He could’ve said, “Hey, I gave you 7 years. I gave it my best. You surrounded me with hacks.” You can’t win by yourself. On the other hand, there’s a difference between going to a team who’s got a Pippen in place (say, Derrick Rose) and going to a team with another Jordan (Wade). LeBron apparently subscribes to the “if you can’t beat em, join em” mentality. Kobe’s of the “if you can’t beat em, add new post move” sort.

      And “spurned the Charlotte Hornets” is a stretch. He was 17 on draft night and Charlotte already had a deal worked out with LA should Kobe fall to no. 13. He was swapped for Vlade Divacs if I recall correctly. This stuff happens a lot with the super young guys (See Rubio).

      Sorry we missed you, too. My dad and I were talking the other night about how we could use some Franklin bbq. Hope to see you soon.

  4. Dunkirk

    They may not have had another All Star, but they had enough role players to compete. LeBron by himself did not generate the best record in the league, and beat all the playoff teams by himself.

    In fact, I think they would have won last year if LeBron wanted to win. I honestly think he threw the games because he wanted to be able to use the Championship excuse to leave. Yes, I know he supposedly had a bum elbow, but he played well in some games, and in others it didn’t seem to bother him. He was too quick to run back to the bench, and too eager to take off his Cavs jersey when it was all over.

    I still think the Cavs will do alright this year — I’d even expect them to make the playoffs as the 7 or 8 seed. I’m just hoping they can find a piece to be able to knock the Heat out of the playoffs. 🙂

    • Dunkirk, I stopped reading at “I honestly think he threw the games.”

      The Cavs will be the 10th best team in the East next season. Tops. Hope I’m wrong, though. I’m pulling for you guys.

  5. ZappakeR

    lol If your teamate bangs your mom and you didnt wanna commit manslaughter, would you still have wanted to stay anywhere remotely close to where he’s at? Especially since you fought tooth and nail to make sure the guy remained on the team and “stayed with him” through his “depression”.

    ‘Bron bailed on Cleveland when it became apparent that everybody would rather forget about the whole damn thing than whack Delonte for being such a douchbag. The whole damn organization knew what was going on from Gilbert all the way down to the guy who sweeps the freaking floor and nobody thought to do anything BEFORE Lebron found out? I’ve heard that ignorance is bliss but this is effing stretching it!

    Gilbert shoulda punted Delonte outta there the moment he learned about it, but nooo…

    So now Lebron catches them wet-wicked, can you blame Lebron for being disheartened and discouraged to play for an organization (and the city for that matter) that couldnt find the stones to smack the living crap out of Delonte?

    • I honestly can’t tell if this is spam… If it’s not, and you are correct, “My teammate is sleeping with my mom” is the ultimate excuse for sucking in a big game.

  6. Matt

    Can we all stop using the kobe vs lebron comparison. I dont see how people can seriously look at the lakers and say that kobe won it by himself. I believe with the team that kobe had and the coach, lebron could have won it. I get what you’re saying that kobe is more competetive and he wouldnt have teamed up like lebron did, but i dont think thats quite accurate. I mean Gasol Bynum and odam beats any of the talent that Lebron was surrounded with. I guess what im trying to say is that when Kobe has won his championship, he hasn’t done it on his own. He has always had help.

    While i don’t condone what Lebron did to clevland, i dont blame him and i dont think any less of him. In this day and age, you cant win a championship solely on your own simply because there is so much talent. 10 years from now, if Lebron keeps playing and improving at the level he’s at now, i think he’ll be still in the talks of the greatest player ever. People just need to calm down a bit. Except if you’re from Cleveland.

    • I think that’s pretty levelheaded. Actually, I would venture that no player in league history has done it totally on his own. AI and LeBron came pretty close in their respective trips to the Finals… The second Duncan team was pretty bare bones as well. Going back a little, Walton’s Blazers didn’t have many name guys either.

  7. Kyle

    This comment section is pure gold. CAPS LOCK FTW!

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