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.
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.