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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. Cleveland Loser - Jul 9, 2010 at 2:52 PM

    People from around the world will eventually discover the wonderful secrets of the losers living in the hard luck cities around the world like Cleveland!
    – We try not to take ourselves seriously.
    – We are good at it(losing)
    – We are consistent.
    – We have lots to talk about at parties and in our travels.
    – We are not angry/nasty internet bloggers.
    Lebron just doesn’t belong here anymore. He just takes himself and his silly profession too seriously!
    Good luck to all. Have a beer and enjoy life!

  2. wes unseld - Jul 9, 2010 at 2:52 PM

    Does this idiot still have a house in Clev? hope not…it may be in ashes by sundown……dumbass!

  3. tim - Jul 9, 2010 at 2:53 PM

    Kevin – Lebron is overrated? How? he isn’t one or two best in the NBA? Wow, you’re angry, you sound like Dan Gilbert……lol

  4. Keith - Jul 9, 2010 at 2:53 PM

    To me as a fan (hometown Celtics & NBA) it is a matter of respect. I wasn’t happy for many seasons after the Bird era but I respect players and teams that stick with what they have, bring in new talent and then win. Some might say Miami is trying to do this with Wade and his new (superstar?)team-mates but that is the only positive way to look at what has transpired. Having friends from Ohio, I feel for them. Losing the (Ego minded)Golden Home town boy is bad but if he wins in Miami it will truly suck for Cleveland fans and come complete with blemishes. You can blame ownership and team-mates but even if he stayed and they continued to lose you would blame KING JAMES like you can now!

  5. Cleareye - Jul 9, 2010 at 2:54 PM

    James’ announcement was an embarrassing hour for him. He is a smart guy, although uneducated, and should have handled the situation with more understanding and dignity. He will hopefully grow into the shoes nature has provided him, but last night showed that he is still 18 in the area of public forums. He couldn’t keep from mentioning how “great” he is instead of how great Cleveland was to offer him the opportunity to succeed in his home state. His hometown supporters deserved better treatment than to be the “loser” in his ego game. I lost a lot of respect for him and now agree with the many who claim he doesn’t have the ultimate ingredient that winner needs- loyalty and commitment to the team that helps him win.

  6. Cleareye - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:01 PM

    It’s the Laker Dynasty for the next 5-10 years. Bynum is just beginning to be the next Kareem, Kobe will win another 5.

  7. John in Houston - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:01 PM

    Lots of LeBron haters out there! But the article is BS! Kobe needed Shaquille or Pau! HE couldn’t do it BY HIMSELF! There are FIVE men on the court for a basketball TEAM! Five on one and the one gets skunked! LeBron took the offer from ESPN to raise a BIG sum of money for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, NOT to feed his ego! THAT is CLASS! To help others so much less fortunate than himself. A lesser man with the ego all the haters assume he has, would have gone for the $$$$. You’re going to tell me that EGO went to Miami for LESS MONEY? BS! D-Wade, Bosh and LeBron brought home the Gold in the Olympics and found they had CHEMISTRY! Three high powered players willing to put ego aside for the collective good of the TEAM. I wish them all well, AND MANY RINGS!

  8. Chris - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:02 PM

    Before everyone sucks Kobe’s dyck, remember he requested a trade because he felt the Lakers weren’t offering enough for him to win. Stop bringing up MJ, Magic and Bird as they were from a completely different era. We are now firmly in the Twitter/internet/24 hour/no privacy/all access age. I am not real happy with how LBJ handled things, but let’s face it: this is a perfect example of what happens when the media and fans build a young kid up with more expectations than he should possibly be asked to bear. James is a much better teammate than given credit for. Unselfish and wants to win. CLE couldn’t get it done, so he left. B/C he’s from that area he should stay? Not like any of us are completely loyal in life. We just demand it from everyone but ourselves. Hypocrites. We bitch about athletes only chasing the dollars, and here we have three friends who genuinely like each other and are willing to sacrifice everything (money, individual glory, bragging rights) so they can possibly enjoy winning a title together deserves praise, not ridicule.

  9. Paulo Anozie - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:03 PM

    There’s no doubt about, LeBron James is a quitter! Why didn’t Wade go to Cleaveland and play with him? He’s looking for easy ring delivered to him by Wade & Bosh. My friends, LeBron is overrated. He quits during play offs when real players are born! He will be a bust in Miami. Nonsense!!

  10. Reality check - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:06 PM

    When greedy owners rid of loyal players it’s just business but when a play decides to look out for his best interest.. he’s quitter… Let’s be real and not stupid people… If you were offered a job that you know you could advance and possibly acheive a higher goal would you not take advantage of it… all the stupid people say NO and stay in that dead end job with little or no possiblity of advancement for loyality. He was wise to leave because eventually after the city sucked the life and youth out of him they would then start yelling TRADE HIM! Good Luck King James and GET A RING!

  11. Rick Wagers - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:07 PM

    Who are you to call anybody a failure? You sit in your ivory tower spouting like some deified oracle, puffed up by your overblown ego. Your pronouncements mean nothing; you’re just another talking head who thinks he knows it all. I’d like to see how well you would stand up under such scutiny. However, that’s something you probably want have to worry about while hiding behind the skirt tails of media mommies.

  12. Spoonster - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:08 PM

    Hey bebi:
    It’s apparent you did not see the “early” Jordan years. I can remember being able to walk up to the Chicago Stadium ticket window on game night(pre & early Jordan years), buy a ticket and sit in the first few rows; watch Jordan score 50 points and the Bulls lose by 45. Jordan did not always have Pippen (do some history research please) – however, Jordan either had a vision or just felt compelled to stick with it. Jordan sat out his second season due to injury and the Bulls stunk even more. But as a lifelong Bulls fan (Artis Gilmore was my hero) and Cubs fan, you know that people (star players as well as lesser knowns) come and go. And if you are a true fan of the game you know that Championships are nice to have, but not a given (unless you’re a Yankee fan – they expect a Championship every year. Unrealistic – but no disrespect). You cheer for the team, year in and year out regardless. And when they do put it all together and deliver, it is all the sweeter. Jordan didn’t always have Pippen – so that should not even be a point of contention in the argument. As I said people come and go, the Cleveland fans will everntually accept this with Lebron’s departure. Hey, anyone remember when football left Cleveland? All things come full circle…

  13. Fan from NYS - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:08 PM

    321 hits the nail on the head.
    I agree with others regarding too much money in sports, but since it exist, sports does need to go back to reality and the “home-town team.”
    In all sports the great player is known for the team their famous for. Bradshaw – Pittsburg, Staubach – Dallas, Farve – Green Bay, Briere – Sabres, etc.
    Lebron can do what he wants, but he will never have the image of the great ones now that he has left.

  14. H - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:10 PM

    I feel bad for the Cle fans! If LBJ wins an NBA championship in Mia, it will be like Ravens (The old Browns team) winning the Super Bowl after they left Cle.

  15. toosano - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:10 PM

    You said it all!!

  16. Juan B Rivera Pereira - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:11 PM

    As talented as Lebron James is,he will never be as good as Michael Jordan,it just takes a little bit more than talent to be that good and to win the rings that Michael and Pippen won.Lebron will never get there.

  17. DG - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:11 PM

    [i]he basically hamstrung the front office’s efforts to lure big name free agents- because the front office couldn’t assure the free agents that LeBrick would stick around.[/i]
    Or, did you stop to think that maybe the city of Cleveland itself sucks so bad that no other free agents really wanted to go there? I mean, can you list even one serious free agent in any sport that has gone to Cleveland willingly without being drafted by them? Really, I’ll wait for the list.
    Given the choice between living in Cleveland and living in either NYC, Chicago, LA, or Miami, which one do [b]you[/b] choose?
    At some point, you have to ask yourself if you are the problem instead of blaming other people.

  18. RJV - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:11 PM

    LEBRON JAMES IS *******NOT********* FROM CLEVELAND!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    HE IS FROM AKRON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    HE OWES NOTHING TO CLEVELAND…………………………………

  19. blonde german girl - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:12 PM

    Lebron has fallen from grace for his selfish diva episode but all he has to do is win a championship and he’ll be loved again by us fickle sports fans. No different from Kobe’s rape accusation, Tiger’s infidelity … so win a championship for Miami or else you’ll be nothing but rich failure.

  20. Toosano - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:13 PM

    Gee, I want to take the hard way to a championship, lmao!!!

  21. Anonymous - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:14 PM

    If cleveland rocks we would be having the conversation !

  22. Burundi - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:14 PM

    How can you preach so much hate by writing and publishing such an article? Someone please take away this article!

  23. Debbie Gomez - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:17 PM

    Wow…you’d think LeBron had committed a capital offense by switching teams. Good grief, folks, this is sports for goodness sake. And while we’re talking about sports, let’s see. Football players switch teams, soccer players switch teams, Nascar drivers switch teams, volleyball players switch teams, BEACH volleyball players switch teams….you name the sport and there are players who switch teams. As far as I’m concerned, I really don’t care why he decided to leave. It doesn’t matter. He willingly and brilliantly fulfilled his 7-yr contract with the Cavs, and it was no secret to anyone that he planned to shop himself out when it was over. He did what he signed up to do, and I think it’s sour grapes on the part of the writer of this story (and alot of others) to now say he’s no longer the “golden boy” of the NBA. I don’t know whether he is or not, or ever really was, but you don’t have top tier teams fighting and campaigning to get you on the team if you’re not seen as pretty darn valuable. So say what you will about the press con etc. Whether you like the way he announced his switch is personal opinion. I personally think the media had alot to do with the media storm it became and he just allowed it to happen, but he’s not the first to make a media splash and he won’t be the last. But all this trash talk about him being disloyal to Cleveland is BS.

  24. Fan from NYS - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:17 PM

    RJV…..your statement makes you an idiot! Thats like saying that the Buffalo Bills should be the Orchard Park Bills, New York Jets / Giants should be the New Jersey or Newark ? Jets / Giants, Dallas Cowboys, s/b the Irving, etc.
    You can’t be more Hometown boy than Akron, look at a map jerk!

  25. Gerald - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:17 PM

    This article is just plain ridiculous; since when has any professional athlete of color been considered a “Golden Boy?” LeBron doesn’t owe the city of Cleveland anything — he fulfilled all his contractual obligations with the Cavaliers. The owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers should quit whining like a little girl and get over James’ departure. I have never, ever seen an owner of a major professional sports team act as though James did some wrong by not staying with his former team. LeBron did absolutely nothing illegal or immoral when he decided to go to Miami. It was all about business, nothing personal. Who wants to live and play in Cleveland when Miami’s South Beach is an option?

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