It is an indication of just how bad, both in conception and execution, the LeBron James’ ESPN special was that a day later the only person who seems to be defending The Decision (and it should be noted defending The Decision is distinctly different than defending the decision) is Stuart Scott. A man so nihilistically, cynically dedicated to aggrandizing the celebrities he covers for the sake of his own self-aggrandizement that he makes Billy Bush blush. Multiple people, admittedly me included, are seemingly fine with the decision, understand the logic of a lifetime of harsh knees and harsher winters, know there is in Miami, in a backcourt of Wade and James, the potential for something transcendent, even if said transcendence is manufactured. LeBron out big timed the Big Apple. New York and its history and geography and basketball legacy were going to bring LeBron to the world. Instead LeBron, and Bosh, and Wade, brought the world to them. At, what most contend, is the expense of not just Cleveland but the global casual fan base that empathize with their loss. That is the supposed schadenfreude of last night’s announcement, the irony that LeBron James, in an attempt to solidify his brand-name, instead did his Christian name irreparable harm. He won’t be forgiven for what he did to Cleveland the thinking goes. He’ll never be able to go back to being LeBron. The reality, of course, is that this is wrong. He will and he can. Unless you’re from Cleveland.
The second most consistent, and easily most interesting, counterpoint comparison that has been made between LeBron and another NBA player in the last 22 or so hours is to Kobe Bryant. Kobe, they say, would never agree to play with a guy most see as a reputational rival. While LeBron is conducting fake interviews with a reporter with whom Kobe famously conducted fake interviews (good news for Cousins assuming Gray doesn’t use last night’s performance as a stepping stone to vacate Team Maloof for Team James) Kobe, they say, is probably in the gym, focusing on another title. Kobe, they say, successfully escaped Shaq’s shadow, while LeBron flees Cleveland to hide in Wade’s. And yet seven years ago, right around 4th of July weekend, it was Kobe Bryant, the newly christened moral protagonist to LeBron Inc.’s crass commercialism antagonist, who was out committing irreparable harm to his own career. It wasn’t necessarily the insinuated action itself that hurt Kobe, though that certainly didn’t help, it was the massively immature way he behaved subsequently; the expectation that his celebrity would be his acquittal; his overt willingness to throw Shaq under the bus; the gaudy gift for his wife. All of those actions shone a tone deaf, entitled brat suffering from a sort of eternal arrested development. Kobe’s could never redeem himself, they said. He could never escape the melodrama of his megalomania. He lost endorsers from Nutella to Sprite to Adidas. He caused a coach synonymous with Zen to so lose it he not only quit the following season but wrote a gossipy, name-calling, tell-all. He tasted Shaq’s ass. And yet seven years later he’s being presented as LeBron’s hard working, grounded inverse and LeBron is the new poster child for the permantely childish. Why? Because Kobe won.
We talk a lot about fans caring about athletes more than they care about us. That we’re forever left to be victims to their self-indulgence and self-entitlements. But the truth is athletes and fans both only care about one thing, winning. That’s why Cleveland is despondent today. Not because of what LeBron meant, but because of what LeBron’s leaving means. Irrelevance. Why are our favorite Kings Webber and Divac and Christie and not Salmons and Ellison and Moore? Because those guys won. Sure we have sentimental favorites. And sure we have sentimental memories about the All Stars. But most of those memories are tied to play-off games and moments that matter. A team that can transcend allows a fan base that cares for that team to feel the same way. It’s why so many look now at the “pact” as so callous. Suddenly basketball has its Yankees. And maybe there is some truth to that. But frankly as an objective fan of basketball I’m objectively excited for the Heat. And if they win the way they could win; if they put up 200 against the Wolves in January; if the no-look LeBron of lore and yore re-manifests with finishers like Wade and Bosh, our hostilities from a Thursday in July will diminish. What’s the old Angels in America quote “Nothing's lost forever. In this world there’s a kind of painful progress, longing for what we’ve left behind and dreaming ahead. At least that’s what I think."
And at least that's what I think. Unless you’re from Cleveland.