09 July 2010

LeBron-O-Mania: The Backlash

After watching LeBron announce he would be signing with Miami last night, I figured Cavs fans would be pretty upset with this decision. Because, you know, it's Cleveland. And their economy is (was) based on LeBron James.

What I did not expect:

1. Cavs fans absolutely frothing at the mouth over LeBron's leaving and

2. Fans from other teams getting very, very upset.

I've read rant after rant about why people are mad, and I think I can organize these rants into five categories.

1. People who feel LeBron betrayed the Cavs.

2. Those who feel LeBron exhibited extreme narcissism in the way he made the announcement.

3. Kobe/Laker fans who fear the Heat now and try to mask their fear by tearing LeBron down and claiming Kobe is clearly the best player in the NBA today.

4. The Heat Triumvirate will never work because look at the Lakers in 2004!

5. LeBron chokes in the playoffs and needs Wade to carry him to a ring. LeBron will clearly be Wade's lackey now.

Obviously there is overlap among the categories, but these are the main elements I see.

And I simply do not agree with any of them.

For starters: loyalty. This is a big one. From the latest Bill Simmons mailbag:
This is a drunk email but I've never felt this betrayed. The deepest circle of hell is reserved for those who betray and LeBron earned his spot.
There are many, many other e-mails that express the idea of betrayal, but this one does it best, I think. To these people I ask, "What did LeBron owe you, exactly?" He single-handedly resurrected your franchise when you drafted him back in 2003. He brought the Cavs out of 17-win seasons into the playoffs, then the Finals, with multiple 50- and 60-win seasons in the books. He averaged 27 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists over those seven seasons, while shooting good percentages that improved every year. He carried teams that would have won 30 games without him.

And he did all this without a single All-Star as a teammate. Every year, Cleveland management were completely unable to find him his Pippen, his Gasol, his Ray Allen. No one in the history of the NBA has won a championship on their own, and LeBron saw the writing on the wall. How patient did you expect him to be? Did you want him to stay with the Cavs for 10, 11, 12 years? At what point would you condone him leaving to chase a ring, like the Karl Malones and Gary Paytons of the league? Is that the legacy you expected him to want? A decade or more of playing with terrible teammates in Cleveland and then grasping onto a Kevin Durant-led franchise when he's 35 for the chance at a title?

For whatever reason, whether it be bad teammates, poor management or sheer failure seeping from the pores of Cleveland, LeBron was not going to get a good shot at winning a championship in Cleveland, and he knew that.

A Simmons reader made this good point:
Think about it, [LeBron] never went to college and has been looked upon as a franchise savior since before he was drafted; now he can live in one of most fun cities in America and play ball with two of his best buddies in the league, and he doesn't have to carry the franchise every night.
I think this has a lot of truth in it. Can you imagine being tasked with saving basketball in your hometown at the age of 18? And then spending the next 7 years giving everything you had to make that happen, only to fail again and again and again? I don't think LeBron has the temperament of a Jordan or Bird; he wants to win, but he doesn't want the weight of an entire franchise on his shoulders forever.

And even in the above cases, do you think Bird stays in Boston forever if his best teammates are Mo Williams and Anderson Varejao? Does Jordan stick around in Chicago if, after seven years, he is playing alongside Delonte West and Anthony Parker? Somehow I doubt it. At some point, loyalty must take a backseat to winning.

Let's not forget that Shaq left Orlando to go to L.A. for his titles. Or that Kobe was very vocal in demanding a trade when his best teammates were Smush Parker and Kwame Brown. These guys want to win, every single one of them, and to single out LeBron as somehow being this immoral individual because he left Cleveland is illogical and inconsistent.

Now let's tackle the next argument: LeBron is cruel and narcissistic in the way he announced he was leaving.

Cavs fans, let's pretend LeBron announced he was leaving in a regular press conference, as is typical in the NBA. ESPN still sends a camera crew. They still have an hour-long special where their analysts debate the topic. Not much is different at all, and would you really hate him less?

It's surprising how many people outright despise the LeBronapalooza Hour, yet the ratings for that thing were through the roof. Blame the millions of Americans for being so predictable that ESPN knew they would watch.

Continuing on, if I have to read another Laker fan rejoicing because now Kobe is beloved and the ultimate champion while LeBron will be a loser forever I will throw up. Here's an example:
Just watched the LeBron train wreck. Just thought what Kobe is doing right now. Bet you he is in the gym right now. That's why LeBron will never win a title. LeBron does crap like this and Kobe gets better.
Really? You'd think after Kobe generally stunk it up in the Finals and has his bacon saved by Gasol and Artest that Black Mamba fans would be a little more discreet. But if you'd like me to keep bringing up Bryant's terrible performances in NBA Finals games, I will, while addressing point number four.

The Lakers in 2004 were a pretty amazing team on paper. Gary Payton, Kobe, Karl Malone, Shaq... these guys were supposed to steamroll the Pistons in the NBA Finals. Instead, they lost, four games to one. And apparently this is incontrovertible proof that teams with more than two superstars cannot win it all.

Not exactly.

For one, Gary Payton scored 4 points per game on 32% shooting.

For two, Karl Malone was greatly hampered by a knee injury, and scored only 5 points per game on 33% shooting.

And finally, The Black Mamba himself scored 22 points per game on 38% shooting, including 17% shooting from downtown.

Thankfully, Shaq showed up, recording 27 points and 11 rebounds a game on 63% shooting, or the series would have been a sweep.

In short, the 2004 Laker Team of All-Stars really only had one guy playing at an elite level. Are you telling me LeBron, Wade and Bosh will fail that spectacularly? It's possible, but I don't see it happening outside of freak injuries.

The last point I feel compelled to address is the argument that LeBron choked in the playoffs and needs to ride Wade's abilities to win a championship.

That is utterly ridiculous. Look at Game 5 of the Cavs' series against Boston this year. This is a game Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert specifically mentioned as one that LeBron quit in. James' line for that game: 15 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds on 3-of-14 shooting. Sure, that's one heck of a bad shooting night, but he was still rebounding and passing well. How great are you when this stat line is what you end up with when you aren't even trying?

In Game 6 of that series, when all hope for Cleveland was essentially gone, LeBron poured in 27 points, 19 rebounds and 10 assists. He gave everything he had to the franchise, and it's not his fault Antawn Jamison, Mo Williams and the rest were casting up brick after brick and failing to contribute in other ways. The supporting cast was just not good enough.

Now, Wade is an elite player, there's no arguing with that. But since Shaq got old and mostly ineffective, how many rings does he have? He needs LeBron as much as LeBron needs him. Could they each win titles with lesser teammates? Absolutely. But if they're friends, why not play together? Their styles complement each other well enough, and I think they'll succeed in Miami.

It all hinges on the fact that neither of them have issues sharing the ball. The Shaq/Kobe teams had problems because neither one of those guys liked making assists (yet notice how they won three championships together anyway). With Wade and LeBron each constantly looking out for wide-open teammates, I believe this team will be very, very fun to watch. Just imagine a two-on-one fastbreak where Wade and James are flying down the court.

And on ESPN last night Michael Wilbon (I think) commented that we've seen these two play together before... in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Wade was finding LeBron under the hoop for an alley-oop dunk, LeBron was driving and kicking to wide-open Wade on the perimeter. It can work, especially when you've got a talented low-post guy ready to make teams pay for overplaying either one of these guys.

The Heat just need to find players who are willing to play in a system where all they're asked to do is make wide-open jumpers and they have an excellent chance to win a ring. Rumor has it they'll be signing Mike Miller, which is a good choice, considering he shot 50% from the field and 48% from deep last season. Another good addition could be Kyle Korver or maybe a Roger Mason.

It'll be interesting to watch, that's for sure. I'll definitely rooting for them to win, but that's mainly due to my irrational Laker hatred.

Feel free to argue any of the points I've made... I recognize I am definitely in the minority on this thing, and I'm open to having my mind changed.


The Village of Randomity said...

I think I will be a fan of Wade and Lebron. I haven't watched bball in 2 years but before, I did enjoy watching them play, so it should be fun to watch them play together :)

Seth said...

Man, everyone I've talked to has been rippin' on LeBron. If you read Scott Pierce's post in the paper, he was ripping on him for his LeBronathon and huge ego. Well, he's the BEST player in the world!! He's a freak of nature! It just goes to show that basketball still is a team game.

Nick said...

I agree with your post. Good idea to leave Cleveland, but bad idea to take forever to announce it. Miami will be dang good though, all the veteran free agents are trying to get on the team, too.

Matty Gibb said...

So, as a point of clarification: in your mind, there is no difference between holding a plain ol' press conference where newspaper, online, and TV media would be assembled; and actually dictating to ESPN that your announcement will be a produced 1-hour (!) primetime television show on ESPN, will be at X:00 time, will only be allowing questions from people chosen by you, and will be sponsored by entities of your choosing? Clearly that means that you see your decision as the most important thing in the world. That kind of thing is usually reserved for the president ordering killings, or at least explaining expenditures of trillions of dollars.

I don't claim that this magically makes him a worse player than anybody else, including Kobe. Obviously he's the best all-around player in the league. But in my mind it is just another manifestation of the self-conceit that we've already seen from LeBron, even in situations where winning should have been the main goal. That includes this year's playoffs. So I'm not sold on this idea that "winning is the most important thing."

Brandon said...

G: Here's the only thing... I heard ESPN came to LeBron and made the offer, not the other way around. If that's the case, does it change your mind?

"But in my mind it is just another manifestation of the self-conceit that we've already seen from LeBron, even in situations where winning should have been the main goal. That includes this year's playoffs."

Can you name anything other than Game 5 vs. Boston?

Matty Gibb said...

It doesn't change my mind but it lightens the stain a little bit, if it's true. It's not the most-reported version of the story, but who knows.

Here's my second example: game 6 of the same series. Had a triple double, blah blah blah. This is yet another instance where just looking at the stat line doesn't tell the story. Nobody on his team was going to save the day, so there was no reason to be floating off-target passes to people in the corner. The fact that he only scored 27 shows that he wasn't trying. He needed 45-50 in that game, everybody knew it, and lots of us even said it before the game. And he could have gotten it if he would have tried, because he's that good. We saw him do it to the Pistons a few years ago.

In both decisive games of the series he actively sought to pass the responsibility to go get the win on to other people. With Wade on the same team that's not really a problem, but it means that he's not a "winning isn't everything, it's the only thing" type of guy. That's the situation where it's time to be the King, and he wasn't.

Then in his press conferences he doesn't even admit that the games were bad, he just says that people have too high of expectations. Again I give a partial pass if the Delonte stuff is true, but other than that I can't think of a reason why he would just check out like that. Especially after everybody talked about it after G5. I simply couldn't fathom why he didn't come out with guns blazing in G6.

Collin said...

Thought you'd be interested in this comic:


Brandon said...

@Collin: I want to see that movie.

@Gibb: I must admit I find it funny that the only one interested in arguing with me on this is a Laker fan. Saw that one coming. :)

On to the actual discussion.

LeBron shot 8-21 in that Game 6. Unlike Kobe, who finds sub-40% shooting to be acceptable, LeBron understood he was having a poor shooting night and held off to a certain degree. You'd rather he chuck it at the hoop with abandon? I don't believe him scoring 47 points on 16-50 shooting would have meant a guaranteed win. Would he have earned a pass from you?

Some players can only contribute to wins through shooting. Others can pass and rebound to help their teammates, like LeBron. I can't believe you're nitpicking a 27 point, 19 rebound and 10 assist performance.

Matty Gibb said...

I'm waiting to hear which one of his teammates was going to make those shots if not him. If you accept the premise that somebody can have a bad shooting night where their previous missed shots affects the future probability of other shots going in, then passing to other guys who also aren't shooting well instead of shooting it yourself isn't an excuse. LeBron had the same shooting percentage as the Cavs as a whole that night. And you correct a bad shooting night by driving the ball and getting FTs. Nobody in the league drives the ball better than LeBron. The point is that if you're going to have a gargantuan mural of yourself hanging on buildings and a tattoo "The Chosen One," then in that situation you have to pull a Kobe/Paul Pierce/Dwyane Wade and score the ball. 35 shot attempts minimum.

Also finding it odd that people again are picking on his teammates even after LeBron himself said they had "the look of a champion" (I guess he knows what that is by observing it in other teams) and you and others picked them to win it all this year. So clearly people feel less like the teammates are bad when they're winning 60+ games, doing ridiculous pre-game and in-game dances, and fooling everybody into picking them to win the championship than after they flame out while LeBron sits idly by.

Matty Gibb said...

Oh, and it's not Laker fanhood that you should be referencing, it's Wiz fanhood. The Cavs and Wiz have (or had) a legit rivalry, but the Cavs and Lakers haven't ever gone at it. And again I don't claim that any of these arguments proves anything about Kobe for better or worse.

Brandon said...

You're right... LeBron's teammates were at best shooting as poorly as he was, so a valid strategy would have been to freight train to the hoop every time he had the ball and hope good things happen.

I do find it interesting you suggested that Kobe/Pierce/Wade are role models for this kind of situation, yet Kobe drove to the hoop twice in the fourth quarter Game 7 of the Finals, Pierce wasn't exactly the key to victory for Boston for most of that series and Wade's team got beat in the first round of the playoffs.

It all boils down to the idea that you cannot do it alone, and I don't know why people keep insisting LeBron should be able to.

Of course LeBron said his team looked good... what is he supposed to say? "We won 60+ games, but I don't think my teammates have what it takes to perform in the clutch"?

And I don't recall ever picking Cleveland to win it all. On April 16th I wrote "The Cavs are a mediocre team without LeBron James." Doesn't seem like I was putting all my money on them to take home a championship.

If your continuing definition of "LeBron sits idly by" is 27 points, 19 rebounds and 10 assists, I don't know what else to say on that topic.

I'm not stating the Cavs and Lakers are rivals, I'm just pointing out that the most vocal critics of LeBron in this have been 1.) Cavs fans and 1a.) Laker fans. I'm not exactly sure why this is.

I'm also glad you realize LeBron's actions over the last couple months in no way mean he is somehow less of a player than Kobe. Those who make that argument are completely off base. If you want to diminish any rings LeBron may win in Miami because he's playing with a superstar in Wade, remember that Kobe's first three rings came while playing next to one of the most dominant big men of all time in Shaq, who arguably did most of the heavy lifting for those titles.

Matty Gibb said...

You can be sure I checked to make sure you actually said that:

"If I had to pick a team to win it all this season, I'd have to give a tiny, tiny, tiny edge to the Cavs, depending on how well Shaq can deal with Bynum and company." (4/16/10)

The implication, as I read that, is that they were quite likely to make the Finals and your uncertainty was whether or not they would be good enough to down LA. I didn't say you wanted to bet your life on it, but it was your pick.

Brandon said...


Dag, what was I thinking? Well, in my defense, the Celtics were the walking dead at that point, and I did not expect them to even make it out of the first round. That gives Cleveland a clear path to the Finals, where they'd definitely face the Lakers, a team they match up with better than the Celtics, I think.

But in all truthiness, you are correct, I picked the Cavs to win it all, and now I'm ragging on the team as not being good enough. Call me inconsistent.

Is it fair to say that my current opinion is shaped by how the Cavs played in the playoffs, which is information I didn't have in April?

Matty Gibb said...

Doesn't matter. The NBA is still fun to watch, and I'm glad they're giving us stuff to talk/argue about. Keeps life interesting.