Here is a letter I wrote to myself and family after the debacle that was “The Decision #1”. I revisit it today because LeBron has come full circle. There are probably some things in this long (my apologies) dissertation that I regret as well. But I think my readers might want to see a before and after view of this from a long suffering and never dying Cleveland fan. Again, I am sorry for the length. I did not want to shorten it for this post. This was written very soon after “Decision 1”. ………..
It has been a few days now. I wouldn’t let myself believe it, but I saw it coming. But he was The King… The Chosen One… I thought he was… I believed he was! As the stats kept building up, I became more and more certain that he would surpass them all. Best of all, he was our King. A King in the city where so much sports heartache exists since 1964. He had to stay with us. This was his home for God’s sake! Never would he desert us in such a heartless and cold-hearted way. He decided to tell us on a live prime time sports soap opera on national TV. How could he stick the dagger in there? Now I know that was the false hope of a Cleveland sports fan who wanted to believe again. I’m not alone am I?
I saw this coming. Why didn’t I think clearly? LeBron was given his crown at a very early age. As often happens for people with such talent, he will spend his entire life trying to live up to the expectations of others. What if he finds out that he is not The King or The Chosen One? This is a very heavy burden for a man not even 20 starting out on this journey. The beauty and danger of all this is that he could come to believe it himself. The beauty of this belief is that when faced with success he would be able to produce wonders that even exceed his talents. Remember 2007? An Eastern Conference Championship for The King with a team barely dotted with talent. Sure there was Z but little else. That LeBron would never leave for Miami. He didn’t need to in order to fulfill his self-prophesized destiny.
Then came the Finals. A superior team playing well crushed the lesser team without breaking a sweat. The King couldn’t stop it or even make it close. His suit of armor was dented for all to see. Saddest of all he could see it. At that time, I’ll bet there was a flicker of doubt that entered the young man. Maybe he couldn’t smite the dragon for the area where he was born?
He is a smart young man and planned for this with his other super friends. If he really wasn’t The Chosen One, maybe he would be a masterful musketeer! So he had already planned to stack the deck if his original plan failed. There was nothing that could stop him from his destiny of multiple championships. He knew that his destiny would only be fulfilled by those championships. Without them his wondrous statistics would be overshadowed by one and he could not sit at the table with Jordan and Bird and Magic and Russell and Kareem and Shaq and even Kobe. He would be placed with the Big O and others whose skills could reach the stars but not a title.
So the seeds of his departure were planted by his short contract and the dent in his armor. As the fog of my emotion clears, I can see the drama unfold. Why didn’t I believe what I saw?
The next year a solid if not spectacular Cavaliers team was beaten barely by a Boston team that had the luxury of home court in game 7. LeBron was excellent throughout and only a brilliant performance by Pierce stopped the Cavs. LeBron knew that he played well and the team with “3 stars” beat him and the Cavs. Boston went on to win the championship with those stars in a year when the Cavs would have had an excellent chance had the Boston series been reversed. I think LeBron had only a small dent in his armor from that series but had seen the power of multiple superstars on one team. Little did we know that “3 stars” had become the new NBA. Would that LeBron have stayed home? I think so.
Finally by fall 2008 the Cavs had added enough pieces to dominate with LeBron. In a magical regular season, we finished with the best record and a legitimate chance to win it all. Some would argue that we didn’t have the best team and they might be right. But we had LeBron! The King… The Chosen One… Certainly a championship was in our midst!
That is when I saw it all come unraveled with my own eyes. Why I chose not to accept what I saw I will never know? As the Orlando series unfolded I saw multiple instances of LeBron looking beat with negative body language and far less joy than his usual playful demeanor. He almost looked sullen. I naively passed it off as his playoff face. Near the end of the series, especially game 6, he looked dejected and disgusted. Another coach might have stopped this from happening, but Mike Brown had no such skills. Although a solid coach, he could not motivate the team or LeBron to believe and overcome. The result was an overall pathetic series where LeBron at times didn’t even play well and could not carry the incredible weight he and others had placed on his shoulders. Another championship opportunity slipped away and one less trophy to sit on his mantle. He was so shaken by it all that he could not even shake hands with Orlando. That LeBron was as good as gone. Why didn’t I believe what I could clearly see?
The Cavs kept trying to add pieces to win it all. Adding Shaq, Anthony and, eventually, Antwan to an already excellent team should have been more than enough. LeBron had the complementary pieces to beat Orlando and legitimately challenge the Lakers. Then came the “big 3” again who had now become the “big 4”. They were aging but all healthy and playing at the top of their game.
When the tide decisively turned in game 5, LeBron checked himself out and never returned. I actually saw fear in his eyes as he struggled to keep focused. He showed flashes of brilliance but only small spurts. We were passing it off as his mystery elbow injury or something else. What really happened was that he had decided like at a pickup game in the neighborhood the other team was better with their 4 stars. When you are outgunned you often play hard in spurts but ultimately save your energy to wait for teams to change. He did. The King and The Chosen One was no more. What was left was a spectacular basketball player with a gut wrenching fear that his destiny was gone if he stayed in Cleveland.
Professionals should never think that way and especially not a King. The lack of fouling at the end of game 6 was the most embarrassing moment I have ever seen in Cleveland sports. I screamed at the TV to foul. We were only down 9 with over a minute. I had seen numerous meaningless regular season games where the team behind fouled over and over until the final horn in these circumstances. Why with the whole season on the line did we not foul! At least lose with honor and effort to the end.
Now we know. Why did I not believe it? LeBron was already gone.
Although I am certain that his emotions kept tugging at him, he couldn’t escape the sad truth that he was not The King. He was not The Chosen One. He had believed it. We had believed it. Most of the country had believed it. The previous three seasons had shattered the legend and shown him the light. Three superstars in the prime of their careers will surely bring him the championships he is preordained to have. The legend can not die! Those championships will sanctify his place in NBA history.
His front runner mentality was developed over many years. How else could you explain his passion for the Yankees and the Cowboys while growing up in Akron? How could I not see this coming? Maybe I was blinded by the hope of the championship I thought he would bring? The signs were there but my eyes were covered.
You see I believe this is the sad, pathetic truth in all of this. If we could ignore the embarrassing, hurtful, and shameful way he treated us in the end, we should all feel sorry for LeBron. It must be very painful for a 25 year old to leave home knowing that his promises were broken. To accept that you are not as great as you thought you were. And to be forced to do everything in his power to avoid being stuck in Cleveland without his preordained championships.
Remember on the playground where the best players always want to play together and beat the pants off of anyone who dares to compete? That is the decision LeBron made last week.
As much as I was lifted by Mr. Gilbert’s letter to us, I think he missed the point somewhat. LeBron was not betraying us. He was simply acknowledging the fact that he needed a super team to accomplish his legacy of multiple championships.
The interesting thing is that this is not the playground and the championships are not guaranteed. Certainly one, maybe more, looks likely in the next 6 years. But if there are no championships ahead, how pathetic and sad will that be. Leave your home. Embarrass your home. Break your promises to your home. And gain nothing in the process! Oh maybe one thing, a big “L” tattooed on his forehead for all to see. We can only hope.