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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. Noahshafer - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:18 PM

    Lebron might have been one of the better classed players in the NBA but after this he proves himself to be one of the scummier. I say this as a Mavs fan, I would rather see him go to the Spurs and keep Dallas out of the playoffs for the next decade than see him pull this pu$$y move. This completely goes against our perception of him as a great competitor and shows him in his true light, a kid who cries to his parents when his little league team loses and wants to quit. MJ was great not because of what he did but how he did it. He certainly didnt score the most(kareem) or win the most championships (russell). He gutted it out and MADE his team better. I think the Heat are about to give the Yankees a run for their money as the most hated team in sports.

  2. Dave - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:20 PM

    This is a spot assessment of LeBron James. Fickle fans may return to James one day, if he wins a championship. For me his downfall started with the Boston series where we witnessed the “best player in the game” give up on his team and fans. It continues with him tucking his tail and running to the heat.

  3. in FLORIDA - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:20 PM

    i don’t think it’s a poorly written article as many have said, but i do think it’s very premature to refer to Miami as a “superteam”. they haven’t done anything yet, and they don’t even have a complete roster. you don’t win titles with three players. they have a LOT of work to do before they win the MULTIPLE championships necessary to be considered a “superteam”.

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

    RIGHT BACK AT YA!

  5. Bert - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:21 PM

    So what if Lebron is doing what’s best for him?? There isn’t any player in ANY sport that wouldn’t do the same.
    He will lose fans (undoubtedly in Ohio) and will gain fans (undoubtedly in Florida) – but he will still have his fans.
    Miami will become a fun team to watch next year – I’m a long-time Celtics fan, but will relish in watching the Heat games next year!

  6. mcstl - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:22 PM

    I never would have thought that LeBron James would beat Sarah Palin as a quitta.

  7. Anonymous - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:26 PM

    Agreed AR15. This wannabe sportswriter is a loser.

  8. Jon - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:26 PM

    This whole Lebron backlash is freaking stupid. I’ll admit I don’t pay as much attention to basketball as say football, but what trash. Agreed, Lebron practically by himself for 6 seasons and with a decent team his 7th, wasn’t able to win a championship. So he goes to Miami to play with Wade and Bosh. Now people call him a coward and say he isn’t doing things the right way. THAT IS DUMB. He was a free agent! That is what free agents do, they go wherever they are wanted and want to go in return. Cleveland and all its self-righteouss hypocrites need to get over themselves. If any one of them could get max salary and more than likely at least 1 gauranteed ring they all would have done it too. Losers.

  9. AJS - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:33 PM

    Got to ask, “what was Kobe doing last night during all of this,” My bet he was in the gym taking shot after shot with steam coming out of his ears…from now on i’m a KOBE fan

  10. David - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:34 PM

    Queen LeBron is now officially the NBA’s biggest drama queen, it’ll be interesting to see how the Miami experiment works. It’ll be fascinating to see a Lakers-Miami regular season game for sure.

  11. Reggie - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:37 PM

    I totally disagree with that! the media and some of the LeBron fan base has crowned him “The King” listen the players that you mentioned never had the same expectations as James. I’am old school, when you know about old school basketball, then you know! when you are made a franchise player! you stay with, the franchise. you build the franchise up, you stay there through thick and thin, you put the right pieces around you! they compliment you, and you build them up! Mr. Lebron James has no humilty, none, whatsoever. he has crowned himself a superstar! says who?? A true superstar stays with his team, he builds a legacy! I’am done with these fake players, who want all the instant success, without putting in the real work. deal with losing, real losing, then you learn how to Win, Winning is a art, something that you learn. when you start to win. you always know how to win, Old School speaks for it self. look at Jordan, Magic, Bird, Thomas, Robinson, Duncan, Bryant, O’Neal And West. “Real Winners, True Winners” They put in work. Check-it.

  12. CubFanInSeattle - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:38 PM

    PDOG:
    I agree with one thing that you said – the NBA should not allow high-schoolers to go straight into the pro ranks (no offense to Moses Malon, Kobe, Garnett, or Lebron). Although a lifelong Chicago Bulls and Cubs (I forgive the President) fan, I agree with Dennis Rodman in that the NBA (to garner and improve ratings) dangle incentives in the faces of these kids and then expect them to act like adults, when you just gave them access to the biggest candy store in the world.
    Just like golf has Q-school, the NFL does not recruit from the HS ranks, and MLB has the minor leagues/farm systems, the NBA needs to step up and get with the program. If Lebron had sustained a career-ending injury in his first or second season (as other potential stars before him has done) what would he have had to fall back on? A HS diploma? Just saying…Good luck in Miami Lebron. Cleveland fans will eventually move on to cheering for the Cavs regardless to who is on the floor.
    Hey look at A-Rod, he still gets boo’d in Seattle, but looks like he got the better end of the deal. They are still sleepless in Seattle. And we even got Lou! :-) Go Yankees!!!

  13. Lue Blacknell - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:46 PM

    Amen-you took the words right out of my mouth! I am glad to see that at least LeBron has a mind of his own……….Charles Barkley need to shut the f— up-because he knows he wish he had at least 1 ring-and so does Reggie Miller. Even Artest has a ring-so what about that??????

  14. road warrior - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:47 PM

    wtf are people mentioning kobe? and wtf people are trying to compare kobe to leqone from cleveland? leave the kobester out of the thread!
    yeah i’m a lakers fan! not a bunch of bandwagoner fan from miami. i’ve read and heard people already penciling in miami to be in the finals, yet the pieces they have, who’s going to defend? who’s going to rebound? which of those 3 amigos gonna go up against the bigs? who’s gonna take the winning shot?
    yeah miami also picked up mike miller but when will miller get to see the ball? so basically, miami has put together 3 superstars and 2 scrubs as their starting lineup. since all three wants the ball and can’t haven’t all the time, which of those three will become a role player?
    i still see boston as the beast of the east followed by orlando, then miami.

  15. Arny - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:48 PM

    Where I seem to come down is, “Who cares?” Mr. James is a free man on the planet and play for whoever the hell he wants. Personally, I just don’t care. I would add that I am a big sports fan and I totally get being emotionally involved with your local team. I’ve taken my lumps as a fan: How about, as a kid growing up in Brooklyn, the sight of Roger Maris in a St. Louis uniform. Or later, as a long-time New England resident, the sight of Roger Clemens in a Yankee uniform. Or, for that matter, the sight of grown men crying because they lived long enough to see their beloved Sox win a championship and knew they could now die in peace. I get it, I really do. At the same time, I question what lasting value Mr. James, or any professional athelete/entertainer, delivers to the community; like, say, an elementary school teacher. (How many elementary school teachers do you suppose could be paid out of one-year’s worth of Mr. James’ annual salary and do you suppose Cleveland would benefit by those extra teachers. Apples and oranges, I know. I’m just saying. Mr. James…lots of luck to you. Next!

  16. soulbrother - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:48 PM

    Nice they pay you to write this stuff… If you were doing it for the love or for free you’d starve. LeBron was annointed the “goldenboy” by the media types like yourself. As far as I know the man never asked for it. He alone is not responsible for the success or failure of the team. Many decisions, if you actually cared to look, went into the failure of the cavs to perform better. Disappointing season (best reg. season record in the nba fool!!) and unexpected playoff loss. Sure. You putting it all on LeBron? So I guess the gulf coast oil spill and the financial crisis was all Obama’s fault? Strange what a dollar will make unimaginative, lazy and superficial people do.

  17. SallyB - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:49 PM

    Well, of COURSE, Ray, he wants to be The Man. That’s been his Number One goal all along. He’s so in love with himself, so caught up in his own celebrity, that he thinks that he is The Man, the Saviour of basketball, the reicarnation of Michael Jordan. All he’s turned out to be is a self centered, narcissitic man-child who thinks that the entire world revolves around him and him alone. Hell, who else in the history of basketball has put on a self aggrandizing, hour long special, “The Decision” (as if to rub in the wounds we Cleveland fans already have over “The Fumble, “The Drive” and “The Shot”) to announce what team he’ll be with next year? Michael Jordan at least had enough class NEVER to do that. LeBron is beginning to reveal himself as a legend in his own mind. Maybe one day he’ll wake up and realize that he’s just another hyped up, overrated, immature basketball player. I just hope he’s got plans for his life AFTER basketball. A high school education these days doesn’t get you very far, after all.

  18. soulbrother - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:50 PM

    Nice they pay you to write this stuff… If you were doing it for the love or for free you’d starve. LeBron was annointed the “goldenboy” by the media types like yourself. As far as I know the man never asked for it. He alone is not responsible for the success or failure of the team. Many decisions, if you actually cared to look, went into the failure of the cavs to perform better. Disappointing season (best reg. season record in the nba fool!!) and unexpected playoff loss. Sure. You putting it all on LeBron? So I guess the gulf coast oil spill and the financial crisis was all Obama’s fault? Strange what a dollar will make unimaginative, lazy and superficial people do.

  19. E - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:54 PM

    It’s a shame the nasty comments that people would make because a young man decided to switch teams. From the owner of the Cavaliers to the used to be fans of Lebron James it seems to me that is was all about making money for Cleveland and not winning a Championship. Less place blame where it goes Danny Ferry had an open check book to obtain good talent for the team but he goes and recurits Shaq (no offense Shaq just to old for the league now)Basketball is a team sport and any team or owner in the league that believes that one man can carry a team is STUPID. And for the fare weather fans of Cleveland as usual let your true nasty ugly heads show so the world can continue to see why we are the joke of the USA

  20. BassaBallJones - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:57 PM

    Um…I’m sorry….LeBron something?…what does he do fo a livin?

  21. Lebronjamesconscious - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:58 PM

    I am hurt; I am wounded; I am abandoned; I am nothing.

  22. Azucar - Jul 9, 2010 at 4:03 PM

    Hilarious comment 381

  23. Anonymous - Jul 9, 2010 at 4:03 PM

    Lebron gave 4 years to the Cavs – the others were tutorials. The owners of the Cavs were unable or unwilling to provide Lebron a surrounding cast like the Lakers and Boston did. When Garnett left the Wolves for Boston the fans understood that it was time for Kevin to get his ring. While sad to see him go, people in Minnesota understood. With time, so will Cleveland fans as they are a class act in a secondary market.
    Championships are fickle things. Can Riley develop the right surrounding players? What about injuries? No one knows. But, Lebron James wants rings; he wants championships. He took a pay cut to have the chance. To vilify his choice is silly. Every day, I ask why a player won’t accept less money in order to field a winning team around him. Now we see 3 players do just that, and the press trashes them. Knowing how to parse a sentance does not mean you understand sports, or what drives an individual towards excellance, This article is well written trash. But, it is still trash.

  24. Fan from NYS - Jul 9, 2010 at 4:04 PM

    366 Jon, He didn’t do it for the money, he only did it for a possible ring….thats what is wrong which is making it a discussion. I agree too much sports crap, but since it exist, we might as well have a discussion. Go Bills! lol

  25. Azucar - Jul 9, 2010 at 4:07 PM

    “parse a sentance”? geez get a spell check dude
    I can’t stand to read things when the spelling is incorrect
    it’s sentence!
    it’s excellence!
    You are trying to make some points but you fail to spell!!
    Anonymous…be just that…and go away

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