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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. joshua - Jul 9, 2010 at 5:43 PM

    John Krolik should be fired. I thought news writers were supposed to be impartial. This guy’s basketball IQ is probably around a 5 on a scale of 0-200. What a hater. Well now we know who’s in his nightmares…. The KING!!! Don’t bitch too much when Miami goes for three in row, whiney little girl. Lol. LeBron is simply the best player over his first seven seasons in History. Don’t take my word for it, the proof is in the pudding. Look up his stats and accomplishments after being drafted to the worst team in the history of the NBA. They were in the finals within 4 years and had the same basic cast as when he got there. Krolik should get the douche of the year award. NBC should check their applicant’s resumes a little better before hiring, just a suggestion.

  2. unclejehu - Jul 9, 2010 at 5:43 PM

    O to be the failure that Lebron (supposedly) has been.
    How about an article from a Miami writer?? Lebron owes
    Cleveland NOTHING.

  3. Sharon - Jul 9, 2010 at 5:45 PM

    Debbie — you hit the nail on the head!

  4. Kofi Jamal - Jul 9, 2010 at 5:47 PM

    If he’d left to join Miami without putting the fans out there on national TV, I’d be ok with it. Because the Cavs couldn’t surround him with the talent, fine, that’s a valid point. And I think joining with other players who are about winning IS the right thing to do. But the self-importance, ego involved in a TV special about his “decision,” it’s weaksauce. It drips of “look at me” and frankly it was lame to do that to the Cavs faithful. Yeah he could and should have left, but not on TV like that. That was a chump move.

  5. greta482 - Jul 9, 2010 at 5:53 PM

    Well to be honest i am not a basketball fan, but i do remember when we got LeBron James…. He said that he would never leave his hometown… and how much he loved here in cleveland. I hope he gets what he derves, because the saying goes what you do on to others will come back on you…He lost the respect of alot of clevelanders and betrayed the city who loved him

  6. Azucar - Jul 9, 2010 at 6:07 PM

    Comment 397 was insensitive and discourteous. I am in deep depression with Delonte West.
    Anonymous still needs to get a spell check or stop posting on threads if it cannot spell English.

  7. Anonymous - Jul 9, 2010 at 6:11 PM

    Dude, I agree with your comments and you are the only person so far that didn’t type like they were drunk or stupid!
    I know that Gilbert made a pretty forward claim about LeBron yesterday and we should evaluate that as well. If what Gilbert claims is true, there should be a full investigation by the NBA and maybe the FBI. It would be way worse than what Pete Rose did or what Tiger Woods did.
    I have been thinking about Gilberts comments all day and it may make sense. If LeBron had won a championship in Cleveland how could he possibly leave to play with D.Wade and Bosh! Doctors could not find anything wrong physically; go figure!
    All you drunks out there can respond now and have your wife check the spelling and grammar; PLEASE!

  8. Azucar - Jul 9, 2010 at 6:14 PM

    Comment 399 it’s “losers” not “loosers”….wow! Anonymous, can you please, please, please spell correctly before writing what people need to do in your opinionns. I mean opinions.
    English 1A
    Monday
    Wednesday
    Friday
    8-9 am
    Your local community college
    Done!

  9. Alex - Jul 9, 2010 at 6:15 PM

    The difference is none of those guys held up their teams from going forward at all during the free agency period, and then threw a goddamn press conference on ESPN at the 11th hour and slap his old team in the face. Just telling them he was leaving after the season would have been sufficient

  10. AK Laker LOVER - Jul 9, 2010 at 6:16 PM

    Firstly, LeBron can do what he wants. He is a grown ass man and can decide where he wants to live and who he wants to play with. However, the one hour special was pretty effin stupid.
    Now that I got that out of the way… He IS a coward. This should stop all of the LeBron is the best ever talk. Whether he has admitted it to himself or D-Wade told him, he is not able to be first banana on a championship team. Say what you want about the “scrubs” he played with the past two years, but remember they had the best record in the league both of those years. If winning is what matters, didnt you do the most of it the past two years? How many preseason experts picked them to win the title the past two years? (I remember seeing quite a few.) If you want to blame anyone for their playoff losses, you have to blame LBJ. Anyone that honestly looked at it could see he didnt have the fire to win that series against Boston. He just couldn’t do it. End of story.
    Secondly, It still wont matter that he went to the Heat. The other 9 players they add to the team are gonna be D-League cast-offs and washed up role players. I would have been more worried if he ended up on a more complete Bulls team than a 4-man Heat squad.
    Lastly, what is up with you idiots turning this into a rich white man – black slave discussion. You guys are the type of morons that drive this country apart. He is a man plain and simple. If he was the best and white, Dan Gilbert would still be pissed and writing letters. You bigots (both black and white) make me happy I live as far away from you as possible.
    Lakers in ’11 and beyond. Thats where the real “GOAT” plays and where championchips are a way of life.

  11. CMAC - Jul 9, 2010 at 6:17 PM

    I think its clear there was tampering involved here. I’m a Mavs fan and we were not in on the Lebron sweepstakes so I have no bone to pick with James’ decision. I actually like all 3 players: Wade, Bosh, and Pauper James (you can’t be King until you rule the kingdom with an NBA crown); however, I believe the three players conspired BEFORE their contracts were up, Wade told Riley, “Hey, I bet if you clear enough cap space, I can get both LeBron and Bosh here (wink wink)…”. And that’s exactly what happened. Why else would an NBA team drop all but two players for the “chance” to sign three free agents. What if none of those three had gone to Miami. The Heat would have no one and be the worst team in the NBA. I don’t think they took this shot without knowing the eventual outcome. Just my two cents….

  12. Azucar - Jul 9, 2010 at 6:22 PM

    And Beasley is already gone to Minnesota. Doesn’t he have the right to say anything? He got dumped by Riley; it’s a bidnezz.
    Anonymous: it’s business by the way.
    Now I really have no respect for Riley. He has had that same hair for the past 3 decades.
    Anonymous: ssssshhhhhhhhhh

  13. CMAC - Jul 9, 2010 at 6:22 PM

    Ummm…they offered him the max of about $130M which is going to be about $30M more than what he gets from Miami. I think that was about as much $$ as Cleveland could offer. He chose the easy route to a Championship over $$. I commend him for wanting to win more than $$$, but…I probably wouldn’t have done it the way he did.

  14. Krautmick - Jul 9, 2010 at 6:38 PM

    Distasteful comes to mind. As a “purist”, you like to see each opportunity through to the end. That just simply is not the case here. I just have a bad feeling and taste in my mouth about the whole thing. It’s too bad. Not even being a Cavs and being a lifelong Bulls fan, I’d rather see him in Cleveland more than anything (regardless of him beating up on the Bulls every year). It’s somewhat disappointing to see him sell out his chance of being up on the pillars of a Michael Jordan, Peyton Manning type…

  15. Matt - Jul 9, 2010 at 6:40 PM

    Why? He sliced of Cleveland’s, and spit ‘em out in the ocean near south beach. I will never support him again, ever.

  16. Anonymous - Jul 9, 2010 at 6:41 PM

    LOL…I just saw where Mark Cuban mentioned the possiblity of tampering in this 3 NBA Stars to Miami deal. I hadn’t heard anyone else mention it before my post above and now its my Mav’s owner. I’m kinda nervous about being on the same brain wave as Mark…LOL…

  17. Erika - Jul 9, 2010 at 6:41 PM

    The article misses the point, of course LeBron will be judged by both sides because everyone seems to have an opinion, but whether or not he returns to his golden boy status deponds on how good the Heat fairs next year.
    This is a baseball reference but when Alex Rodriguez left the Mariners to sign the then biggest contract in baseball with the Texas Rangers he didn’t really fall from grace until the Rangers went on to be spectacularly bad for many seasons thereafter. Their record cemented the fact that Rodriguez was a sellout. Next year if the Heat doesn’t put it together and at least have a good playoff showing then LeBron will forever more be remembered as a sellout but on the other hand if next season the Heat wins it all, then LeBron simply did what he needed to do to win a championship. When it comes down to it isn’t winning it all what pro sports are about, escalating yourself, the game and your team to the highest level?

  18. Ken - Jul 9, 2010 at 6:48 PM

    I couldn’t agree with you more (except for hating the Knicks…I am a revitalized Knicks fan-I can now root for them after the stench of Isiah is gone)…
    Your characterization of how the “old school” superstars would NEVER have copped out in order to win rings is spot on. If Bird and Magic ever thought about “teaming up” so they wouldn’t have to play each other it would be the first time…
    I will put money down that DweBrosh doesn’t make it out of the East next year and if there is a God (or vindictive teams) the new CBA will no longer have a midlevel expemption…tee hee…

  19. brutus7004 - Jul 9, 2010 at 6:50 PM

    The thing about LeBron now if you want to discuss who is the greatest, history will show he went to D Wade’s team. Wade and others didn’t come join him, he went there to their team. He can NEVER be called a leader now. A team player perhaps, but the Birds and Jordans and Johnsons in history were the clearly leaders of their teams. Wade will get that title because it is always going to be “his” team LBJ joined.
    The other thing lost in this is that it was honorable to beat the best. LBJ didn’t do it. He did the old “if you can’t beat ‘em, then join ‘em” thing. Lost all my respect. Bird battled Johnson and when you beat him, you were the KING! Ditto Russell over Chamberlin, and on and on… LeBron bowed before his peers. NEVER can be called the greatest now. He is now and forever Prince James! Long live the prince!!

  20. brutus7004 - Jul 9, 2010 at 6:51 PM

    The thing about LeBron now if you want to discuss who is the greatest, history will show he went to D Wade’s team. Wade and others didn’t come join him, he went there to their team. He can NEVER be called a leader now. A team player perhaps, but the Birds and Jordans and Johnsons in history were the clearly leaders of their teams. Wade will get that title because it is always going to be “his” team LBJ joined.
    The other thing lost in this is that it was honorable to beat the best. LBJ didn’t do it. He did the old “if you can’t beat ‘em, then join ‘em” thing. Lost all my respect. Bird battled Johnson and when you beat him, you were the KING! Ditto Russell over Chamberlin, and on and on… LeBron bowed before his peers. NEVER can be called the greatest now. He is now and forever Prince James! Long live the prince!!

  21. CubFanInSeattle - Jul 9, 2010 at 6:55 PM

    As a lifelong Chicago Bulls and Cubs fan, I can tell you that things were not always champaign and roses during Jordan’s tenure with the Bulls. I can recall games where Jordan would score 30, 40, 50 points and the Bulls would lose by almost the same margin. And Jordan, unlike this era of NBA players, was not given a hefty contract worth millions of dollars. He had to earn every penny he was finally able to command near his end with the Bulls.
    Like Lebron, it was actually 7 mostly frustrating years (at least for the fans) before Jordan was able to make it to the NBA Finals and win a championship. In those seven years the Bulls were horrid and brilliant, sometimes all in the same game. However, Jordan’s patience finaly paid off (6 times to be exact). And he’ll be the first to tell you that no one could have called him highly paid at the time. The Bulls were very stingy with payroll (Jordan was paid 1 million dollars salary the year the Bulls won their first championship with him)and were not about to pay a draftee more than they were their veterans (no matter how skilled). Of course, in 1984 when Jordan was drafted, players were not commanding 100 million dollar contracts. Yes, it took a while to build up the team Chicago sent into the playoffs in 1991, and yet it was by far the worst of Jordan’s championship teams.
    And while I never fault a person for wanting to better themselves, maybe Lebron’s patience would have been getting ready to pay off for him. Or maybe things will be brighter for him in Miami. I say good luck to him and Wade and Bosh in their quest.
    The true fans in Cleveland will wish him well and continue to support their team. Because as any true fan knows, players and coaches come and go (sometimes even the team goes – just ask Seattle) and yet, you still have to pull for the team you know and love. One player does not make a team much to the dismay of may people who had pinned their hopes to Lebron. There were many examples before him that the Cleveland fans could have looked to – Bird, Johnson, Jabbar, Jordan, Bryant, and the true great ones didn’t win one championship by themselves. They had four other starters, and a bench of contributors, who all played their part to make it happen. Just as Lebron will not win a championship for Miami, the team will win one (if that happens) with everyone playing their part.
    Was his parting done with class; who’s to say? Cleveland woke up this morning to another day and they will continue to do so, no matter what James does in Miami or elsewhere. I will say to Cleveland fans, please don’t be as petty as some fair-weather Seattle Mariners fans have been with A-Rod. Let it go and get over it. A-Rod certainly has as Lebron certainly will. And yet the Mariners are still clueless in Seattle. Go Yankees!!! (I just said that because they are in town) :-)

  22. HeadDr23 - Jul 9, 2010 at 7:13 PM

    I find it disgusting that some people who have responded on this board that claim to be fans do not see the bigger picture. So what, maybe you don’t agree with this article-but it does make valid points. How narcissistic to string people along and carry out this crap when he knew damn well where he was going. I can respect the fact that he wants to leave, hence being a free agent but the way he did it was shady, disgusting, egotistical and a slap in the face to the fans who gave that D-Bag nothing but love and loyalty. Even Mo Williams, was hurt by how Lebron handled things and Mo has mad love and respect for Lebron. If you morons can’t see that he handled this in a messed up way of having a televised tv show stating his decision and showing no heart for the fans then I can’t help stupidity. Lebron is and will always be a great player but he will never be a MJ. MJ never abandoned ship and stuck it out. Lebron brought lots of revenue to the city of Cleveland but for you people to act like we didn’t have some great supporting cast members of our own, you are fooling yourself. Lebron wants a win, I get that and honestly I knew he was going to leave before all this when I watched him snatch off his jersey so quickly when they lost the last game. The Cavs organization was holding out the largest sum of money and got a new coach and was willing to get people to help him. Lebron had every right to leave but he did so in a disgusting manner that had no respect for his former team mates or the city of Cleveland. Lebron can choke on his rings and suck it! I loved Dan Gilbert’s letter and so do the true fans who felt betrayed by that scumbag!

  23. Rob - Jul 9, 2010 at 7:15 PM

    CLEVELAND IS AMERICA’S WORST CITY. NO JOBS, CLASSLESS PEOPLE WHO BURN JERSEYS THE IDIOTS COULD SELL IN A FEW YEARS TO PROFIT FROM. LET’S SAY LEBRON GOES ON TO BECOME ONE OF THE ALL-TIME GREATS, YOU HAVE AN ORIGINAL CAVS JERSEY MORON THAT YOU REMEMBER BURNING BECAUSE HE MADE THE DECISION TO GO FOR THE RING. If I was Lebron, I would’ve done the same thing. Jordan was probably the best that ever did it in the modern era…hands down! But all of his over the rim antics couldn’t win him a championship by itself. He needed a team of dedicated and talented individuals that wanted to win as desperately as he did. Lebron never had a Pippen, a Grant, an Armstrong, a Paxson, a Hodges, a Cartwright even. Cleveland had seven long years. You guys had been watching this kid grow up and do phenomenal things on the basketball court. You should have surrounded him with the pest. It’s like hosting God himself at your home and giving him a bowl of cereal for dinner…CLEVELAND LOST like a PAST LOVER. CLEVELAND TOOK LEBRON FOR GRANTED, forgetting that tomorrow is not promised. When you have that type of freakish talent, you get the athlete what they ask for. You don’t cut corners…you give him freakish support! You don’t risk losing a star of this caliber. What I see is a guy that is more concerned with winning then money. He could have gone to NY for the money. He chose to give up the money for the opportunity to play with like-minded athletes that want to win above all else. I can’t fault him for his decision. America makes political, business and personal decisions like this everyday. WELCOME TO AMERICA CLEVELAND! Where we want to win and be the best by an means necessary!

  24. ROB T - Jul 9, 2010 at 7:20 PM

    CLEVELAND IS AMERICA’S WORST CITY. NO JOBS, CLASSLESS PEOPLE WHO BURN JERSEYS THE IDIOTS COULD SELL IN A FEW YEARS TO PROFIT FROM. LET’S SAY LEBRON GOES ON TO BECOME ONE OF THE ALL-TIME GREATS, YOU HAVE AN ORIGINAL CAVS JERSEY MORON THAT YOU REMEMBER BURNING BECAUSE HE MADE THE DECISION TO GO FOR THE RING. If I was Lebron, I would’ve done the same thing. Jordan was probably the best that ever did it in the modern era…hands down! But all of his over the rim antics couldn’t win him a championship by itself. He needed a team of dedicated and talented individuals that wanted to win as desperately as he did. Lebron never had a Pippen, a Grant, an Armstrong, a Paxson, a Hodges, a Cartwright even. Cleveland had seven long years. You guys had been watching this kid grow up and do phenomenal things on the basketball court. You should have surrounded him with the pest. It’s like hosting God himself at your home and giving him a bowl of cereal for dinner…CLEVELAND LOST like a PAST LOVER. CLEVELAND TOOK LEBRON FOR GRANTED, forgetting that tomorrow is not promised. When you have that type of freakish talent, you get the athlete what they ask for. You don’t cut corners…you give him freakish support! You don’t risk losing a star of this caliber. What I see is a guy that is more concerned with winning then money. He could have gone to NY for the money. He chose to give up the money for the opportunity to play with like-minded athletes that want to win above all else. I can’t fault him for his decision. America makes political, business and personal decisions like this everyday. WELCOME TO AMERICA CLEVELAND! Where we want to win and be the best by an means necessary!

  25. Andrew - Jul 9, 2010 at 7:21 PM

    Lebron will never own a ring.

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