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LeBron James: The Golden Boy No More

Jul 9, 2010, 12:16 AM EDT


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. Dean - Jul 9, 2010 at 4:08 PM

    I believe the central reason Cleveland had difficulty attracting another top 30 player to run with LeBron is because LeBron insisted on having an opt-out clause in his second contract. That meant he could opt-out of his contract after 3 years, which of course he did. How are you going to attract the best supporting cast under those conditions? If they could not be assured LeBron was going to stick around, why would any top level player go to Cleveland? That’s why all they could get was old Shaq and Mo Williams. LeBron sabatoged (sp?) Cleveland from the moment he signed that extension with the opt-out clause he asked for. Let’s put it another way. What if LeBron signed with Cleveland right now under the exact same conditions he did his last contract where LeBron has the option of opting-out after 3 years. What other top player available right now would beat down Cleveland’s door to join him? None, just like the last time. LeBron is a d-bag.

  2. John - Jul 9, 2010 at 4:09 PM

    Dan Gilbert is a dirtbag. He’s the Dan Snyder of the NBA. They’ll never lead their franchises to the promised land.

  3. Randy - Jul 9, 2010 at 4:15 PM

    I would love to know where the sense of “entitlement” came from Cleveland and it’s fans. This franchise was ABSOLUTELY NOTHING before LBJ arrived. He almost singlehandedly took them from nothing to the finals, and the best record in the league more than once. Now he is garbage because he left?? Whoever said that just because he is from Ohio that he HAS to stay in Cleveland?? the guy did a lot for the city and the franchise. Get over it and move the eff on. It’s his life and his decision. Not Dan Gilbert’s (and by the way, great prediction, Dan!! Good luck with that championship b4 LBJ!!), and certainly not the city of Cleveland’s decision. The guy wanted to take on a new challenge, and actually will end up taking a lot less money to go to Miami. He wants to win, plain and simple. Every athlete wants to go to the place that will give them the best chance of winning (except Amar’e who just wants as much cash as possible).
    I would be upset too if I was a Cavs fan, but burning the guy’s jersey in the street is just plain dumb. People actually cared about Cleveland when he was there, and that was never the case prior to his arrival. Be thankful he made your franchise relevant.
    If Dan Gilbert truly thought LB quit on them in the playoffs, then why the hell is he so pissed?? Why was he offering the MAX contract to a quitter?? Wake up, Dan!! That logic is about as solid as most of the people’s logic you have working for you at Quicken Loans!! purely idiotic from top to bottom!

  4. Spoonster - Jul 9, 2010 at 4:17 PM

    Correction…Kobe did not stick with the Lakers, the Lakers stuck with him. They stuck with him when he and Shaq were having their monumental kindergarten/playground spat, by trading O’Neal. They stcuk by him again when he had his legal drama in Colorado. And they stuck by him again when he again whined that he would leave unless they got some players to support him. Just because he is amongst the “adored” right now, please do not make the mistake of saying that he stuck with anything but himself.

  5. vinnide64 - Jul 9, 2010 at 4:22 PM

    Let’s get focused! Lebron had the right to choose Miami, he was a free agent and that is the bizness part of the game. But that is where the dignity part ends. I have read alot of the statements and some support him, some hate him, but who are we at the end of the day! just a bunch of opinionated people who want to be heard, like we could change anythang!!!! Two schools of thought……….
    The cleveland front office is much to blame for this as LEBRON! and as would any owner would be from now on. The message: don’t put everthing into one guy! cleveland was so busy courting this king dude that they didn’t seek no one else, now they got absolutely NUT-IN! out of FA. their hopes were if they signed Lebron then his royalness would bring someone else a comming. NOT!
    2. BLAME LEBRON!!!!
    YES LEBRON! he dragged a city with him on his quest for ESPN mortality, that one hour show was tacky and classless for a city who has endured so many heartbreaks on national TV behind the word “THE” there was THE catch, THE shot, THE drive, The Fumble, THE hit,(cleveland indians and florida marlins world series) now from HIS-HI-NESS Productions comes THE decision. Lebron dragged these poor people along with his ego and then like being on Jerry Springer he tells the whole world on TV he was going to south beach. it would have been far easier had he let the lil’ tab on the bottom of ESPN brocasting tell them what he was doing and not drag them to a televised stabbing in the back. he by dragging this out stuck cleveland with NUT-IN! and that hurt.
    I understand he wants to win who doesn’t but Lebron is just 25 and has some time to get that robin he needed in cleveland. I agree that his suppoting cast of heroes are not mighty like Mo..who is often a no show! then there is Shaq..who’s skills truly are a lack! of course Ilguakus..who is aging with rust! Antwain..who’s best days are gone! Da dude named Moon..who should be packing real soon! and my boy Gipson..who is mo off than on! and finally there’s Verajao..who often plays like ME-OW! these guys are not the best but just a couple mo pieces and it could have worked. And why do they call him “King James” a king is a conquerer and he hasn’t conquered anything in the NBA kingdom but cleveland. How bout that evil king Kobe who has conquerered the west and the east, what about those kings of the 1980’s king Larry, king Isiah, and the king who did Magic, what about king Ahkeem? there was even a quiet king, he was king Duncan, then there was jabba da hut king Shaq and let’s not forget the most ruthless king of all..king Micheal who ruled for a long time. those are real kings they conquerered the NBA and they have the crowns to prove it, and you know what these great conquerers all have in common???? they did it with one team having to wait while another tried to battle for his thrown it’s called RIVALRY! but I guess if nothing else Lebron does live up to the old cliche’ “if you can’t beat um’join um’. And who just gave up and surrendered the championship to them! sometimes to much of a good thang ain’t always a great thang for ya. to be continued in the fall..

  6. Joe - Jul 9, 2010 at 4:23 PM

    You can’t spell words.

  7. Bob - Jul 9, 2010 at 4:24 PM

    What a disgrace. I thought that collusion was against the rules of the NBA. Had three NBA owners gotten together and colluded against them, the league would’ve been in an uproar for violating these players’ rights. And the players union would’ve been in court before the interview concluded.

  8. Jim - Jul 9, 2010 at 4:25 PM

    Looks like he is turning in to be a Regular, just like the rest of them. NBA JERK.

  9. kh - Jul 9, 2010 at 4:28 PM

    you must be from Miami!

  10. jim - Jul 9, 2010 at 4:28 PM

    Toilet Tennessee verus anybody and you should stick your head in it.

  11. Azucar's Dad - Jul 9, 2010 at 4:28 PM

    There is no end to my sadness on this day. I am embarassed.

  12. jim - Jul 9, 2010 at 4:31 PM

    Toilet Tennessee verus anybody and you should stick your head in it.

  13. Anonymous - Jul 9, 2010 at 4:33 PM

    You guys act like your girlfriend broke up with you. He was tired of being on a team that will never win a championship. you know all you Cleveland people sound like a lot of soar loosers to everyone outside the of Ohio jsut to let you know.

  14. Dean - Jul 9, 2010 at 4:34 PM

    Like I said, Cleveland management was hamstrung by the last contract LeBron himself insisted upon. 3 years with a players option for a 4th year. LeBron could opt-out after 3 years. No top level player was ever going to run with LeBron if they couldn’t be sure he was going to be around to see the thing through. (i’m a spurs fan in Austin) What top level FA in the last 2 years of that deal was going to sign a long-term contract in Cleveland? It’s freaking Cleveland for chrissakes! Did you see Durant do a crappy deal like that? No, he did 5 years on his second deal. Frankly that’s the dude a couple of these very good inside players (booz, gooden, etc) should be falling all over themselves to play along side with.

  15. Allthewaylive - Jul 9, 2010 at 4:36 PM

    I agree with you AR15. I don’t think LeBron gives a damn about being the “darling” of the NBA anyway!!

  16. Rick - Jul 9, 2010 at 4:38 PM


  17. LMAO - Jul 9, 2010 at 4:47 PM

    Pittsburgh: Undisputed “City of Champions”
    Pittsburgh Steelers: 6-time Super Bowl Champions
    Pittsburgh Pirates: 5-time World Series Champions
    Pittsburgh Penguins: 3-time Stanley Cup Champions
    Cleveland: Forbes Magazine Worst City in America Champions
    Cleveland: Most Underwhelming & Lackluster Skyline in America
    Cleveland Sports Franchises: Punchline of all Sports Jokes
    I was grinning ear to ear throughout last night’s broadcast. HAHAHAHA!

  18. Ms. Pea - Jul 9, 2010 at 4:52 PM

    If the Cavs wanted James to stay, they should have paid for him to do that. Money talks. James is no fool. Besides, have you ever been to Cleveland??? Who wouldn’t want out of there, if they had the chance to go???

  19. JZU - Jul 9, 2010 at 4:57 PM

    This guy has no clue about real NBA Fans! Forget Cleveland. If those fans are going to hate on LeBron then so be it. Shaq left the Magic and Lebron leaves the Cavs. If teams can’t build a front line what’s wrong with trying and wanting to win somewhere else that can? Real NBA Fans will understand what’s at stake and why LeBron left, not why the Cleveland fans are sad about him leaving.

  20. dgnr8 - Jul 9, 2010 at 5:02 PM

    Let’s get over it… if Heat wins the championship LBJ and Bosh made the right decision if they loose they suck…. what now ?

  21. Egghead-8 - Jul 9, 2010 at 5:15 PM

    Poeple, get over it. He owes nothing to anyone but his family. The game of basketball is about winning a championship. Ask any player. Nobody cried this hard when KG left and look what happened to him. A championship.

  22. Kevin - Jul 9, 2010 at 5:17 PM

    You’re joking right? Pay him more? Do you know how the salary system works in the NBA? They could offer him the most of any team. The only thing out of their control was the income tax situation in the state of Ohio. LeBron took less money (albeit not as much as first reported) to go to Miami. Money had nothing to do with it. Great article, Krolik.

  23. Ana - Jul 9, 2010 at 5:24 PM

    Im sure all the mixed emotions LeBron had last night about going to Miami are gone! That angry letter from the Cavs owner and the opinions of some of the fans did it! To win championships you need a good team not a good player. LeBron couldnt win a championship alone. Just in case some of you don’t know, all the profits from last night “The Decision” went to help the Boys and Girls Clubs, so if you think that is stupid than be it. God Bless You LeBron with your new team and may you win many championships!

  24. Rudy - Jul 9, 2010 at 5:28 PM

    Not to mention Moses Malone leaving Houston, Kareem leaving the Bucks, Wilt Chamberlain leaving the Warriors, Earl the Pearl leaving Baltimore – all to win championships. Please; if Lebron had grown up in Sacramento, would he be obligated to play for the Kings his whole life?

  25. gopagins - Jul 9, 2010 at 5:38 PM

    Lebron is the BEST player in the league. Same as Jordan was by 1989-90, but Jordan didn’t win the championship until Pippen became an All-star in 90-91. No SINGLE player wins the championship! Earlier post mention Jordan, Magic, Bird, Kobe leading their teams.
    Well, ever hear of Pippen, Kareem, Worthy, Parrish, McHale, Shaq, Gusol??? Pretty good #2’s – HOFers or will be. The 2nd best Cav is not getting anywhere near HOF, or even all-star. Lebron knows there have been great players who didn’t have enough star power around them to win – Chamberlain in Philly, Ewing, Barkley, Wilkens, Marovich in NO, Moses in Houston, Doc until Moses showed up.

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