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July 8, 2010

You Are Not LeBron James

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 11:34 pm

LeBron James is currently the least popular–or at least most loathed–player in the NBA, and I suspect it would be difficult to explain this to someone like my grandmother who knows little about basketball.

A superstar player decided to take less money and sacrifice individual glory to try to win championships, but it’s not OK because he’s not having to work hard enough to win them, so they don’t count as much.

To announce his decision, he created a special TV program that wound up generating millions of dollars he donated to the Boys & Girls Club, but he’s a bad person because it was egotistical.

It’s funny that James has attracted more wrath than players who have committed crimes or hurt others in a way James’ emotional cut to the city of Cleveland never could. There are a lot of terrible things that happen in the world each day, and I’m not in the business of telling people which ones they should bother lamenting. At the same time, I think it’s interesting in that it seems to be a window into the minds of those criticizing James. While they could never imagine themselves being criminals, even in an alternate reality as a star athlete, they could see themselves as having to decide where to sign as a free agent, and they’re certain they would handle the whole thing differently than James.

To some extent, James was doomed all along. If he stayed with the Cavaliers, he would have been criticized for letting the process drag out this long. If he went to New York, it meant he cared more about money than winning. Signing with the Bulls would have meant being criticized as a lesser Michael Jordan, and as we’ve seen joining a super-team in Miami means James is bowling with the assistance of bumpers.

If you want to question the way James handled the process, and how it treated Cleveland fans, I certainly think that’s your right, even if I don’t completely agree. I can’t imagine in a scenario where James came out and said at the beginning of the process that he was ruling out the Cavaliers that someone would have written, ‘Yeah, that sucks for Cleveland, but at least the process wasn’t dragged out.’ There is no right way to leave your hometown team as a superstar athlete. At the same time, there’s no defending The Decision special, which had to be a nightmare for Cavaliers fans, some of whom were callously shown on national television right after a shot of joyous Heat fans.

Call “The Decision” overwrought, self-indulgent or not compelling as television, but don’t criticize the actual decision itself. I don’t think that’s our place. This is probably the most important decision of LeBron James’ life, and he gets the chance to make it based on whatever set of criteria he so chooses. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that’s the right pioneers like Oscar Robertson and Curt Flood sacrificed a great deal to earn. It’s also the same opportunity to choose the right situation for us that you and I, as at-will employees, have all the time.

As much as I feel for the people of Cleveland, they don’t automatically get to be part of the choice. It came off poorly, but I agreed with James when he said he had to make the best decision for himself. This is another example of athletes being held to wildly different standards than we would hold ourselves. Would you stay at a job you hated for years just because you felt it wasn’t right to leave your co-workers?

Would I have made the same decision as James? Probably not. Would you? It doesn’t matter, because you are not LeBron James.

Coming tomorrow morning: Thoughts on the basketball ramifications of James going to Miami.

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