The Summer of Lebron
By Bart D.
On Twitter @Bart_CFN and College Football News during the season
It was supposed to be the Summer of George. Costanza got a massive severance package from the Yankees, surely enough for a lazy fat guy with nothing to do to keep doing nothing through the summer. So George declared it the Summer of himself in that Seinfeld episode.
Turns out, George spent a few days enjoying it before ironically slipping on invitations that were too glossy from the same place that killed his fiance and had to spend the rest of the Summer of George learning how to walk again.
Four years ago, it was the Summer of Lebron, and it didn’t end nearly as humorous or catastrophic, and so maybe that’s why we’re back here again. Lebron gets another summer of himself.
Sports’ current biggest name and probably it’s most divided name once again finds himself at his self-created crossroads, capable of moving on and finding another team or staying where he is even though signs are there of cracks in the mast.
James is the most publicly scrutinized yet media adored athlete of our time. There’s no in between, and everyone from sports tone deaf house wife to lifelong hoops fan knows who he is and has an opinion in some way about him.
He has been the focus of everyone’s everything since he was 17-years-old, an odd mix of sensitive guy who doesn’t care what you think. If he did care, he’d still be in Cleveland. If he didn’t care all together, he wouldn’t have told us to go back to our miserable lives after losing to the Dallas Mavericks his first year in Miami.
We’ve probably never seen an athlete so marketed by the media and so divided between fans who excuse his every move and detractors who take solace even in his greatest moments of knowing that he can’t be “insert legend here,” lest they fall off the mental sports fan cliff.
But wherever he goes … and we’ll get into the Lebron Rainbow of Choices … a few tidbits of advice …
1. Wherever you land, Lebron, ease up on stupid statements, because people remember them. Part of the vitriol in leaving Cleveland was his promise from years earlier that he wouldn’t quit until he brought a championship to Cleveland. Until he quit on them. Not surprisingly, people in Cleveland didn’t care for the cut of his jib. Then, in Miami, the infamous ” not one, not two, not three … not seven” clip with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have come back to bite him in the britches. Brazen, confident comments are great, but they’re also guarantees and last I checked, people don’t like when they’re made and not carried through.
2. Don’t play the “I just want to go to the best place to win” card, because it’s not true. Guys always say “winning is my first priority” or “all I want to do is win. That’s it.” If “that’s it,” then everyone would be lining up to play for the Spurs. Lebron on the Spurs? Probably winning. If not them, the next closest team to the Spurs … Oklahoma City. Does Lebron want to win? Sure. That’s part of it. But so is market size, who he’s playing with buddy-buddy wise, and what’s most cosmopolitan that offers some decent chance to win.
3. Stop referring to your handlers as “my team.” It makes you sound self-centered. He did it after Cleveland lost to Boston in his last year there and did it just two days ago. “I’ll sit down with my team.” Your TEAM should be your guys you went to battle with, guys like Wade, Bosh, Chris Andersen, Ray Allen, and so forth.
Team above self, or at least feign that reality to people.
So, where to go from here … ?
Stay in Miami?
There’s an old theory in sports that it’s better to be a year early on something than a year late. If you see someone nearing the end, you’re better off cutting ties early rather than watch it deteriorate and cling to something that is long gone in hopes that all that nostalgia counts for wins. On the upside, Miami is vastly better than anyone else in their conference. No one was saying Dwyane Wade was old when he was eviscerating the Indiana Pacers two weeks ago. Bottom line is, San Antonio was just that good. You stay in Miami, even with a few tweaks around the Big 3, you’re still looking at being vastly better than everyone else. The downside? If the Heat really are on the way down, it crashes fast, and a few “minor tweaks” around the Big 3 still might not beat most of the Western Conference.
Go Elsewhere … okay … but where?
This is a lose-lose situation. Go to the LA Clippers, Houston Rockets, or any number of other teams that are playoff-ready and just need to take that next step, it’s pretty much going to crucify the majority of the good will the media has helped him build up. Don’t get me wrong, he could say he’s opening up an Animal Control Center specifically aimed at getting euthanasia numbers increased and the media would be behind him clapping, but for a guy always acutely aware of his legacy, star hopping like a guy in his late 30s to get those last few rings doesn’t look good on him. Also, Miami would be pissed, even though they have no right to be. How many fan bases does one guy want to irritate in a career?
Can you always go home again?
That’s the theory, that you can. Like sitting with your parents in the car as they drive down memory lane lamenting that all the mom and pop stores are either boarded up or turned into chain outfits but loving that ole place all the same, home is always there for you.
And ironically, for Lebron, it might offer the best chance to repair what shrapnel of his career exists.
Lebron will never be able to completely cure himself of The Decision … unless he re-does it back to Cleveland. There will always be a sect who view him as a sell out, a turn coat, a guy that wanted the easy way out, and a guy who turned his back on his home state … unless he makes those amends.
The shot in the arm to his legacy would be immense. Win in Cleveland, a tortured sports city as exists in the nation, all is probably forgiven. The Prodigal Lebron, who left to fritter away a lavish lifestyle in a plastic city coming back and winning would not only gain him a lot of fan forgiveness, but also bring a franchise a title that would be honestly, a little more impressive than simply forking one over to another large market NBA team.
And the kicker? Cleveland might be the best place to win … now and in the future as Lebron ages.
If you ever want to feel old, understand this: Lebron is almost 30. He’s looking realistically at one more max contract before the retirement talk starts to come into play on a yearly basis. He has a ton of miles, both emotional and physical, on his body from the league, and eventually Father Time starts making sure you can’t just jump over 4 people to put back rebound dunks.
Cleveland is a team that’s on the cusp of the playoffs with a legit young star in Kyrie Irving who’s floor at this point is pretty high and is going into a draft with legitimate franchise player type options at best and high floor guys at worst.
Andrew Wiggins is the most heralded high school player probably since Lebron, and he’s there for the pickings. Even if Cleveland goes all Cleveland and butchers the decision to draft him, Jabari Parker could be picked, and even though he plays turn style defense, is another high floor pro ready guy.
Between the two, Cleveland has a decade-long bright future, almost one more secure than most teams in the league going forward. Lebron leaving his inexplicably and at times luckily netted the Cavs three first overall draft picks, which is staggering.
In an odd twist of fate, Cleveland suddenly is arguably the best option not only now, but for the next decade as James eventually eases away from being able to do all that he can do now.
So what will he do? Who knows. Unlike Costanza, he won’t be helping Dwyane Wade deal with his dating life. Nor will he be playing Frolf. He’ll be deciding what’s best for Team Lebron, which has only one employee … him.
Lebron doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks, but he does. But Lebron will do what’s best for him. Hanging out with his buddies because his buddies were in their prime on South Beach was what’s best for him four years ago. Is that still the case? Sure hasn’t sounded like it, between Wade’s disclosure a month ago that he can’t be blamed if James doesn’t resign to James’ own detachment from using future terms with the Heat at his final press conference.
Usually, a guy claiming to bring 8 titles to a franchise four years ago, two deep in, doesn’t need to dance around words when asked if he’ll be back. The goal hasn’t been met as promised.
But with Lebron, that doesn’t matter.
The smart play is to kick the tires on Miami one more time probably, understanding that there’s a reasonable theory that the best may be gone and the mast unable to be sealed up.
The same people who won’t blame Lebron if he leaves are the same people that didn’t last time. The same people that will blame him will continue to, other than the fan base he goes to.
Four years later, he’s at the same crossroads again in a different uniform … on a team in decline but still title-contending worthy. The names across the shirts have switched. Will the decision? For one team, the fall down the flight of stairs will be hard. Bring on the Summer of Lebron.