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LeBron James: The Golden Boy No More

Jul 9, 2010, 12:16 AM EDT

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LeBron James came into this league as the most hyped prospect in the history of the NBA. The first three years of his career were little more than a prolonged honeymoon, an open celebration of how good LeBron already was and how good he would someday become. 
The next two years of LeBron’s career were nearly as joyous; by his early 20s, LeBron had already inserted himself into the “best player alive” discussion, and his teams had a puncher’s chance at the NBA Championship. LeBron’s game was still raw in some areas, and Cleveland came up short in the playoffs, but LeBron was still so young.
It was supposed to be just a matter of time until he got the supporting cast that he needed, that he evolved his game to the point where LeBron and his team would become unstoppable. His dominance was always just around the corner, and it was hard not to get excited about it. 
In the 2008-09 season, it looked like LeBron had arrived in all his glory. His supporting cast was upgraded and he evolved his game to the highest possible level. His team had the best record in the NBA, and LeBron strolled to his first MVP award. His coronation seemed moments away, but Dwight Howard and some huge threes from Rashard Lewis kept the Cavs out of the finals, despite an incredible individual series from LeBron. 
It was disappointing, but it was supposed to be a temporary setback. The Cavs added a veteran frontline built to handle Howard and Lewis, James somehow turned in a better regular-season campaign than he had in 08-09, and it was finally time for LeBron James to win his first year in the last year of his contract. 
Obviously, that wasn’t what happened, and all of a sudden there was no getting around the truth: LeBron James had failed. He had all the tools to win a championship at his disposal, and he ended up failing miserably. LeBron James was supposed to be the next golden boy of the NBA. He will never be that player, and that would have been true regardless of what team LeBron decided to go to. LeBron James, Golden Boy died the moment LeBron lost to the Celtics in this year’s playoffs. The decision LeBron made on Thursday night was nothing more than LeBron’s acknowledgement of that reality. 
For the first seven years of his career, LeBron James desperately wanted to be all things to all people. He wanted to be the hometown kid who loved his town, loved his mom, but could still be a global icon. He wanted to be a team-first player while also establishing himself as a dominant individual force. He wanted to be a goofy kid and the NBA’s big man on campus. After he failed to deliver a championship, his all-encompassing persona didn’t work for anybody anymore. You can’t please everybody all the time, especially if you don’t have a championship. Somewhere along the line, LeBron realized that. 
LeBron James will never become the undisputed darling of the NBA, the way so many thought he would someday become. LeBron never had much of a cult of personality — a quick look around message boards, LeBron’s FaceBook page, or any comment section will reveal that LeBron is now flat-out reviled by the vast majority of serious NBA fans. 
He will never experience the pure joy of bringing his hometown its first championship in a major sport since 1964. If he does win a championship, or even several championships, some people will always remember that he needed Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to get him one. He might win, but it won’t trigger the kind of mass celebration that it would have before. If he wins now, it will have been on his own terms. 
History, especially in the world of sports, is the propaganda of the victors. LeBron said all the right things after he came into the NBA. He played at an incredibly high level for seven regular seasons, and won the last two MVP awards easily. He stayed in his hometown and tried to bring the Cavaliers a championship. He was effective, exciting, creative, and explosive on the court. When he failed to win championships, none of that mattered. He was a failure, and all his previous achievements just gave him a higher pedestal to fall from. 
Trying to do things the right way and losing didn’t work out for LeBron. Now he’s going to take a crack at doing things the wrong way and giving himself a better chance to win a championship. After the Eagle Rock incident and Shaq’s departure, Kobe Bryant didn’t try and be the golden boy he was when he was younger. He starred in a “Love Me or Hate Me” ad campaign. He embraced his inner ruthlessness on the court. 
Kobe didn’t mind being disliked, so long as he wasn’t disrespected. He didn’t try to force his way back into anyone’s good graces.  He just played his game, waited his turn, and eventually got a great supporting cast and two more rings. Today, Kobe Bryant is more respected and beloved than he ever has been before. He still has his detractors, but one gets the feeling he doesn’t care much about them. 
On Thursday, LeBron James took a major step towards embracing his own ruthlessness. He did it during a ridiculous ESPN special while cracking jokes with Jim Gray, thanking his Mom, and donating money to charity, but the message stayed the same: Love Me or Hate Me, my friends and I are going to try and take over this league. 

LeBron James has left his hometown, and did it during a one-hour television special celebrating his move to greener pastures. He is trying to take the easy way to a championship. He’s given up his hometown and his undisputed alpha dog status in order to give himself an easier path to the rings he was supposedly destined to earned. He is a quitter. He is an egomaniac. He is every bad thing that you want him to be. 
The thing is, LeBron James knows that none of that will matter if he becomes in Miami what he never became in Cleveland: a Champion. He doesn’t care about doing it the right way anymore. He just wants to get it done, and let the opinions fall where they may. LeBron James is no longer interested in winning your approval. He knows that if he wins championships, the fans will come to him, no matter what they’re saying about him now. Of course, if LeBron doesn’t win a championship with his new superteam, the backlash he’s feeling now will seem like nothing at all. LeBron had better get to work now, because he’s cast aside whatever safety net he had left under him. 
492 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. AR15 - Jul 9, 2010 at 12:23 AM

    Dumbest article I have ever read… Get off Lebron nuttz!!

  2. Ryan - Jul 9, 2010 at 12:36 AM

    Did you say the same thing about Shaq when he left Orlando. I didn’t hear anything in your article about Bosch or Staudomire being quiters for leaving in free agency. Man with your logic Karl Malone, Kevin Garnett all quiters. I can read you like a childrens book your so jealous of Lebron you can taste it.

  3. Elmo533 - Jul 9, 2010 at 12:40 AM

    This is a poorly written article. Obviously a disgruntled Cavs fan. Get over yourself–it’s just a game.

  4. Really - Jul 9, 2010 at 12:51 AM

    Finally people are seeing this clown for what he’s always been.. A front-running ego maniac. He deserves all the backlash he’s getting.

  5. harold - Jul 9, 2010 at 12:57 AM

    I think it’s actually the contrary.
    LeBron accepted and showed that he isn’t cut from the same cloth as Jordan, kobe or others that needed basketball to create their identity.
    No, LeBron thinks he’s beyond basketball, or rather, that basketball is only a part of him, so he only cares about the superficial (but meaningful) part of basketball, which is winning championships.
    He could be Pippen to Wade’s Jordan, or actually become Magic playing with Jordan in the original dream team, and it doesn’t really matter to him as long as he’s an integral part and part of the last team left standing.

  6. Bernie d. - Jul 9, 2010 at 12:57 AM

    This article was dead on.
    LeBron James is a quitter and a coward.
    Good riddance.

  7. ANH - Jul 9, 2010 at 1:04 AM

    I AGREE WITH RYAN ABOUT LEBRON JAMES CASE:
    Did you say the same thing about Shaq when he left Orlando. I didn’t hear anything in your article about Bosch or Staudomire being quiters for leaving in free agency. Man with your logic Karl Malone, Kevin Garnett all quiters. I can read you like a childrens book your so jealous of Lebron you can taste it.
    LEBRON MAKE A RIGHT CHOICE FOR HIM TO GET A CHAMPIONSHIP RING THAT WILL MAKE HE HAPPY. THAT ALL I CARE AS HIS FAN.

  8. Ethan - Jul 9, 2010 at 1:05 AM

    I was about to say the same thing as Ryan. Way to jump on the writer bandwagon, and throw LeBron under the bus. Cleveland just wasn’t able to surround him with the talent he needed to win a Championship, and LeBron has basically been carrying the Cavs on his back, along with some superior coaching, because this Cavs team does not look anywhere near a championship team on paper. Mo Williams should not be the Cavs’ no. 2. He should be a no. 3 or 4. It’s easy to say Kobe’s classy now for being patient for his time, but he about packed his bags before Gasol was given to the Lakers. Kobe also should have been a New Jersey Net, but manipulated a trade to the Lakers coming into the league. It’s a lot easier to be patient on a Lakers team, than a Cavs team. Talent is going to continue to flock to the Lakers as much as flee from the Cavs. They could not provide him with his Pippen or his Gasol, and so, after seven years, he left for a team the could surround him with talent.

  9. Lol - Jul 9, 2010 at 1:07 AM

    LOL. Look at this moron’s great arguments.
    “Now he’s going to take a crack at doing things the wrong way and giving himself a better chance to win a championship.”
    “but the message stayed the same: Love Me or Hate Me, my friends and I are going to try and take over this league.”
    “He is trying to take the easy way to a championship.”
    “He is a quitter. He is an egomaniac. He is every bad thing that you want him to be.”
    “He doesn’t care about doing it the right way anymore.”
    Hey, wasn’t Kobe pining for some help when his team got absolutely destroyed in giving up a 3-1 first round lead against the Suns? So Kobe is a quitter too then, he wants championships spoon fed to him because he asked for help and actually got it in the form of Pau Gasol. Look at Kobe’s team compared to Lebron, besides Gasol he has Odom, Artest, Fisher, Bynum. Who did Lebron have? Antwan Jamison? Larry Hughes? Old Shaq?
    How about Paul Pierce? This guy pouted and whined and cried until he got help in KG and Ray Allen. So it’s okay to cry like a baby to get the help you want(that’s the right way to do it according to you), but if you go out and do something for yourself, then you are Satan, you’re taking shortcuts, you don’t work hard and want things handed to you.
    Gilbert is just mad (and you apparently are too) because he failed to surround a once in a generation player with decent talent. You don’t need to give a player like this very much to win (look at the team stats from Wade’s 2006 Finals).
    You’re a grown man, it’s embarrassing to hear you cry like this.

  10. dude1 - Jul 9, 2010 at 1:11 AM

    who says lebron is even going to win a championship in miami!! there team will be so incomplete its not even funny. the celtics, lakers and magic are still better teams then the new heat. as of now they have no paint pressance and will get dominated on the boards all night long. not to mention without a legit center on some nights they will be reduced to jump shooters.

  11. ABc - Jul 9, 2010 at 1:14 AM

    does anyone know the name of the song they played during the special at the 52 min?

  12. hemlock09 - Jul 9, 2010 at 1:15 AM

    john krolik, along with brian windhorst, has always given lebron james his due. of all the pieces i’ve read, this is definitely the best. spot on. reading it as an indictment of james’ character is a mistake. krolik is framing the decision, not the man. james is a quitter. he could have played his whole career in cleveland, possibly trying in vain to bring a championship there – but he’s going to a place where its more likely. does that make him a coward? i dont know, did it make kobe a coward when he threatened to leave in 04 and then ragged on mitch kupchak for years until they got gasol?
    i will continue watching lebron because he’s the best basketball player alive. i dont care why he does what he does, i just like watching him do it.

  13. Anonymous - Jul 9, 2010 at 1:22 AM

    Yeah sure, um in case you didn’t notice Rondo was the main rebounder for the celtics during the playoffs. And just FYI not only the heat but the celtics and the magic are lower than LA, they’re the back to back champions. Sounds like your a little bitter! Suck it! Go heat, bitch!

  14. Ethan - Jul 9, 2010 at 1:30 AM

    LeBron is joining a team that eventually be cut fromthe same cloth as Magic/Worthy/Jabbar or Bird/McHale/Parrish, superstar teams that were able to work together.
    And Jordan worked hard for his image, and his legacy. Allegedly he got married and started a family early on after his agent suggested it would be beneficial for his image. My ex-girlfriend also worked at a restaurant he used to frequent in New York, and she said he was one of the two biggest man-whores she ever saw at her work, the other being Brian McKnight.
    I’m a Laker fan, but LeBron’s one of my favorite players because I like the type of player he is. He plays unselfishly, and he makes everyone around him play better. Truth be told, since he came into the league, people been saying his game is more like Magic’s than Jordan’s. LeBron will become the facilitator of the offense, Wade will be the finisher, and Bosh will become their inside man.

  15. Dirk Simmons - Jul 9, 2010 at 1:37 AM

    I personally thought this was a well-crafted and insightful article. Anybody that doesn’t see how classless Lebron has been through this whole process is either blind or a Miami Heat fan. And his safety net is definitely gone. The Heat now have the craziest, most absurd expectations of any team in history. They have to win one. Probably more like 2 or 3. But if this experiment fails, he is going to hear it for the rest of his life. If he had stayed in Cleveland and never won, it would have been disappointing for sure, but the backlash he will get from every other city in the league will be astounding now. He HAS to win. His legacy is on the line. He took the biggest risk here. This is the battlefield for old school versus new school. I grew up hearing about the rivalry between Bird vs. Magic and seeing Jordan torch everybody. You think those guys would have played with each other? No way…They got much more of a thrill beating each other. That’s what makes winning a championship so gratifying. Sure Magic had Kareem and Worthy. Bird had McHale and Parrish. Jordan had Pippen. But they didn’t have to go through major tampering to do it. And they didn’t have to manufacture it like this, which is exactly what they’re doing. They just manufactured a dynasty through a bunch of back door deals. Pat Riley is the sickest genius of them all. You have to have greats to win, but something about this feels dirty. I don’t know what it is, but it doesn’t feel right. Probably because my team lost out, but I’ll tell you this. I hope the Knicks win the next 20 championships if it means these guys get none. And I passionately hate the Knicks…

  16. Mortimer - Jul 9, 2010 at 1:47 AM

    Agreed, Dirk. I’m now a huge fan of whoever plays the Heat…

  17. james - Jul 9, 2010 at 1:50 AM

    Okay the thing I don’t understand is what did Cleveland do to keep Lebron? What incentive other than “stay for the fans” did the organisation give him?
    If you look at previous champions every elite player had a side kick or a top 30 player. The organisation is to blame here not just Lebron.
    I mean who knows if the Cavs give JJ Hickson to the Suns then maybe they challenge the Celtics and reach the finals?
    I just don’t think everything can be blamed on Lebron because if you look at the Cavs now they seem like the worst team in the league.

  18. Dirk Simmons - Jul 9, 2010 at 1:51 AM

    And I love how Jordan and Pippen changed the dynamic for building a team. All these idiots sit around wondering who is going to be their Pippen. They probably sat down one day and said, “Aren’t three Batmans better than one Batman, a Robin, and a couple Alfreds?” I hope this fails miserably.

  19. Dirk Simmons - Jul 9, 2010 at 1:54 AM

    And I love how Jordan and Pippen changed the dynamic for building a team. All these idiots sit around wondering who is going to be their Pippen. They probably sat down one day and said, “Aren’t three Batmans better than one Batman, a Robin, and a couple Alfreds?” I hope this fails miserably.

  20. Dylan - Jul 9, 2010 at 2:05 AM

    “I can read you like a childrens book your so jealous of Lebron you can taste it.” What does this even mean? Hmmmm

  21. Marcus - Jul 9, 2010 at 2:06 AM

    I’m from Boston.I root for my home team. But I’m happy for Lebron. Yes if Lebron stayed in Cleveland they will wiln a avg. 58-62 games no question. But 1 finals appearence in his 7 years. and the east is getting better but not the cavs w/ Lebron. Give Lebron a break. He did everything for the orginazition. He is the best player in the league with no superstar talent on that roster.There starting 5 are really bench players besides Shaq but very limited with his minutes because his ability now (lack of).I really can understand how Cleveland fans and the orginazition are feeling right now. But it was all Lebron 24/7.To much for 1 superstar. Lebron wants to win now!! If Cleveland had cap room it maybe would be the other way around.Weather or not if Lebron really tried hard get Bosh to team up in Cleveland.Bosh picking Miami can’t blame him nice weather and playing with a superstar in wade.LEBRON YOU ARE A WINNER!! GO ENJOY THE BEAUTIFUL MIAMI WEATHER AND GO GET YOUR RINGS!! YOU DESERVE IT. YOU DID EVERYTHING FOR THE CAVS ORGINAZITION SCORING,REBOUD,ASSIST,DEFENSE.. TIME 4 YOU TO TAKE A STEP BACK AND A LITTLE LESS PRESSURE OFF YOUSELF AND WIN,WIN,WIN TITTILES….I KNOW U MADE THE RIGHT CHOICE… I wish Boston’s big 3 came happen 6 years ago.Go get em # 6

  22. Dan - Jul 9, 2010 at 2:13 AM

    Making analogies to other big name players leaving their teams in free agency is a weak way to support your argument. The Boston team was formed with ‘superstar’ players past their prime. Amere left Phoenix to join a team with no real supporting players. Lebron, on the other hand joined a team with two other dominant players who are literally at their primes (as himself). I look it at borderline cheating (they took pay cuts to make this act work!). I mean, what would we all say if Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul decide to take massive pay cuts to join Miami next season when they are free agents? Would that be ok? This is a joke. The way I see it now, Lebron is a 25 year old kid (as are Bosch and Wade; kids) who thought it would be cool if they make their own little “dream team” and play with each other in “South Beach”. Notice how Lebron didn’t say “Miami”. His mind is on all the thongs, silicone, and partying down on Collins avenue.
    I guess I don’t blame him. If I were young, rich, and dumb, I’d be doing the same thing.

  23. Dan - Jul 9, 2010 at 2:14 AM

    Making analogies to other big name players leaving their teams in free agency is a weak way to support your argument. The Boston team was formed with ‘superstar’ players past their prime. Amere left Phoenix to join a team with no real supporting players. Lebron, on the other hand joined a team with two other dominant players who are literally at their primes (as himself). I look it at borderline cheating (they took pay cuts to make this act work!). I mean, what would we all say if Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul decide to take massive pay cuts to join Miami next season when they are free agents? Would that be ok? This is a joke. The way I see it now, Lebron is a 25 year old kid (as are Bosch and Wade; kids) who thought it would be cool if they make their own little “dream team” and play with each other in “South Beach”. Notice how Lebron didn’t say “Miami”. His mind is on all the thongs, silicone, and partying down on Collins avenue.
    I guess I don’t blame him. If I were young, rich, and dumb, I’d be doing the same thing.

  24. Dan - Jul 9, 2010 at 2:15 AM

    Making analogies to other big name players leaving their teams in free agency is a weak way to support your argument. The Boston team was formed with ‘superstar’ players past their prime. Amere left Phoenix to join a team with no real supporting players. Lebron, on the other hand joined a team with two other dominant players who are literally at their primes (as himself). I look it at borderline cheating (they took pay cuts to make this act work!). I mean, what would we all say if Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul decide to take massive pay cuts to join Miami next season when they are free agents? Would that be ok? This is a joke. The way I see it now, Lebron is a 25 year old kid (as are Bosch and Wade; kids) who thought it would be cool if they make their own little “dream team” and play with each other in “South Beach”. Notice how Lebron didn’t say “Miami”. His mind is on all the thongs, silicone, and partying down on Collins avenue.
    I guess I don’t blame him. If I were young, rich, and dumb, I’d be doing the same thing.

  25. Dirk Simmons - Jul 9, 2010 at 2:17 AM

    Marcus, are you seriously that misguided? You claim to be a Boston fan and yet you are cheering for Lebron. He is not the victim in all this. I don’t know how I feel about saying people deserve rings. You earn them. I’m of the opinion that championships don’t make greatness…they solidify it. You come off as such a bandwagon fan by posting something like this. Cheer for someone to take down this giant. Miami Thrice is the new Goliath.

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