Loyalty- schmoyalty! This is the NBA. Players are forever pawns. Expendable. Superstar or not. That is fact. Ok, so LeBron James isn’t just your typical one either. However, if the King wanted to stay in Cleveland, wouldn’t you think he would’ve already re-signed the moment the option came up? What is the point of stringing a hometown along to entertain outside offers, if you don’t harbor thoughts on leaving? LeBron’s gone and should go.
People always rave on about how MJ was a one club man, Magic, Larry, Russell, even Kobe (despite previous flirtations to the contrary) remains at one club and so forth. Why should LeBron’s legacy be compared to these HOF’s? Why should he care? The beauty of LeBron is he dares to be different. What is the point of marketing yourself to greatness when you try and emulate what yesterday’s stars have already achieved? Superstars beg to differ, and that’s why we fans generally love sportsmen who challenge the moralities of society. It’s what makes them legends. Sure we despise them at first, but we forgive later. That is human nature. That is sports culture.
‘LeBron should stay cos’ Akron is his home’, so Ohio locals say, as do the sports gurus. Reality check people. Does a man stay at home with Mum and Dad when he wants to build an empire, when he wants to raise a family? Hell no, he moves out. He leaves the comforts of home and challenges himself to grow as an individual and achieve more in foreign environment. James’ current teammate Shaquille O’Neal could’ve stayed at Orlando and won titles there, but he wanted a bigger market, thus bolting to LA. Four titles and a treasure chest of cash later he is laughing.
In a basketball sense, there’s no reason for LeBron to stay. He’s given Cleveland seven memorable seasons, garnered two MVP’s and taken them to heights uncharted. He’s earned the right to jump ship. The Cavs current ship though is a botched one. O’Neal is a year away from retirement. Zydrunas Illgauskas should be retired already. Antawn Jamison and Mo Williams are regular season performers who fizzle in the postseason crunch. Delonte West and Anderson Varejao are warriors, but not winners and JJ Hickson is not about to step into an all-star jacket.
In a money sense, James can make more by staying in Cleveland and for longer. Which again, brings us back to case in point. LeBron is smart enough to know this already, and if that was the sole issue holding him back, he would’ve re-upped but chose otherwise. If pro sport is a business, then James is simply adhering to the current climate. No one player is bigger than a franchise, and he should not be accountable for the city’s failings should he play elsewhere. In another town, yes, LeBron would sign for less, but the endorsement possibilities would be endless.
LeBron wants to be more than just a basketball player, but a businessman illustrated by his burgeoning marketing company. LeBron doesn’t want to be known as just a rich, basketball jock. He is a visionary. You can’t fault him for that. Careers at pro level don’t last long. So what if Cleveland hasn’t had a legit winner in any sport. Cry us a river…
Folks, let me take you back to May 1990. The Chicago Bulls, led by the game’s best player and MVP in Michael Jordan, had just lost a bitter seven-game series to the reigning champion Pistons. For seven years since the 1984 draft MJ had revolutionized the game and wowed crowds all across the country. He had become bigger than the game itself, and was already anointed one of the all-time greats without having won a championship. He had put Chicago at the center of the NBA map – every kid was wearing Bulls jerseys, everyone wanted to be like Mike.
Now imagine that after losing to Detroit in that Conference Finals, Michael Jordan left Chicago (never mind this wasn’t technically possible due to his contract at the time). Imagine that instead of going back to the drawing board with his coach and teammates to focus on the 1990-1991 season, Mike instead left town to seek more fortune and fame, to seek a better chance of winning. You would have hardly blamed him – it was the third straight year the Bulls had lost to the Pistons in the playoffs. The third straight year Jordan had put in a phenomenal individual regular season, and then failed to reach the Finals.
What happens in this hypothetical future? I’ll tell you what happens. All those magical moments in a Bulls uniform, all those 50 point games, those game-winning shots, those gravity-defying dunks… they’re all relegated to a meaningless and ultimately forgettable period of MJ’s career where he did a lot of amazing stuff, but couldn’t win. “Come Fly With Me” and “Michael Jordan’s Playground” are left on the shelf of Bulls fans’ video collections as gut-wrenching reminders that they once possessed the greatest individual talent in the NBA, before he fled town. Chicago fans can never wear their Jordan jerseys or caps or t-shirts proudly knowing they are wearing the colors of a champion. Oh sure, he would go on to become a champion, but he would never be their champion.
Lebron James is often touted as the ‘next Michael Jordan’, but despite what some would have you believe, it is not their on-court dominance that should warrant the comparison. It is not their freakish physical gifts, their magnetic personalities, or their novelty as individual athletes. No. What they really share is the same story, at least for the chapters that have been written so far for Lebron. The story of basketball messiahs bringing hope to franchises that have never won NBA titles, and never had a superstar worth cheering for. The story of a struggle to gain respect, to be seen as anything more than a human highlight film, to be seen as winners.
Michael Jordan stuck it out with that franchise, that city, those fans, and he was rewarded. The tears streaming down his face when he cradled his first championship trophy were symbolic of that – winning it for Chicago, after all those years of fighting, meant just as much as winning it for himself.
He had revolutionized the game, wowed crowds across the country, become bigger than the game itself. And now he had a championship to share with the city and fans that traveled that journey with him.
Loyalty is somewhat of a lost trait in today’s NBA world, of that there can be no doubt. But Lebron, if you do leave Cleveland, you’ll leave behind more than just questions of loyalty and commitment. What you’ll really leave behind is a lost legacy, a ghost town full of heartbroken fans.
And when you finally do raise that championship trophy somewhere else and sip that locker room champagne, you might just find it doesn’t taste as sweet as it would have in Cleveland.