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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. buckeyepat - Jul 9, 2010 at 7:23 PM

    Hey Bron –
    Go and join your boyfriend Dwayne in Miami. Now that you boys will be showering together, maybe you can finally come out of the closet.

  2. ROBT - Jul 9, 2010 at 7:31 PM

    Furthermore, the whole D-Wade’s team argument is baseless. No athlete in a team sport cares about who’s team it is was or whatever. Lebron is a star. He is honest, classy, ultra competitive. He won’t stop being who is. He worked hard to develop his talent. Trust me, the sun will still shine in Miami! Boston did it with a team, LA did it with a team, Chicago did it with a team. Lebron understands this more than ever now and this is what contributed to his decision. There is no “I” in team. There is no island that has ever won a ring. Miami is no longer D-Wade’s team. Miami now has a nucleus of stars that transform Miami into an ALL-STAR COLLECTIVE with a combined focus…TO WIN IT ALL and TO WIN IT OFTEN! Would you leave MYSPACE for FACEBOOK? HELL YEAH! Would you leave poverty for riches? Of course you would. Don’t hate on this kid. He gave Cleveland all he could give. A gift, honestly! Now, I think he’s entitled to giving himself the gift of happiness. LONG LIVE THE KING! I still think he’s the 2nd best player in the league. When he gets five rings and catches Kobe, we can discuss the number one spot!

  3. BobD - Jul 9, 2010 at 7:33 PM

    I’ve watched Lebron for 7 years as a Cleveland fan and towards the end, especially against Boston this year it became obvious the man had no heart when it truly mattered and was a quitter. I have no problem with him moving on, but to do it the way he did was classless. Miami, enjoy your loser superstar.

  4. krautmick - Jul 9, 2010 at 7:34 PM

    the pirates? really, how old are you – 75?

  5. whocares - Jul 9, 2010 at 7:44 PM

    Who cares about Lebron he was definently afraid to play in NEW YORK

  6. Jim - Jul 9, 2010 at 7:50 PM

    I’m a big basketball fan, but I could not bring myslf to watch LeBron’s Hype Show. Call me Old School, but I think its wrong if someone has to “Toot His Own Horn” that should be for the writers, broadcasters and the fans to do! LeBron may well geet Booed in Many, Many Cities this year. Yes I know he is a great talent.

  7. Rog - Jul 9, 2010 at 8:02 PM

    The sponsors he is a spokesperson for want the ring.
    Hs NBA salary is small in comparison. No Ring = Less $$$$

  8. bseese1 - Jul 9, 2010 at 9:39 PM

    Your comments are right on. I’m a Cavs fan born and raised in Cleveland and totally agree with you. LeBron had the right to make a decision to leave, but the manner in which he did it is the issue. Anyone with common sense would know that it would be heart-breaking for the Cleveland fans – we’ve had more than our share of disappointments already, but this was the worst. He should have been up-front right from the start – It’s really a shame…

  9. luvyanez - Jul 9, 2010 at 10:06 PM

    It’s not about LeBron James leaving Cleveland, it’s about how he left Cleveland. The Cleveland Cavaliers was his team and family, as he coined the phrase, for 7 years and he left them in a disrespectful manner. Both Cleveland and LeBron benefited from his talents for 7 years, but all he had to do was go to management and let them know his intentions. This way you leave on good terms and you treat the family like family. You don’t inform the team and the community of Cleveland as part of a larger audience to find out that you is leaving Cleveland. LeBron toyed with the emotions of a city and a franchise that had high hopes in “what could be.” It’s okay that plans change; its okay that a new location is needed to fulfill a dream. That’s okay too. Lebon just did it in the wrong manner to the Cavaliers management, his team mates and to the community of Cleveland. If he left the right way, his hometown may not have liked or agreed with the decision, but LeBron would have demonstrated that he is man of integrity, a man of character. I pray that someday his maturity will rise above his ego and he will grow to become a man of integrity and character. Basketball can use that type of ball player. Until then, Lebron will reap what he sows.

  10. luffy - Jul 9, 2010 at 10:15 PM

    It’s over, get over it, LBJ made his decision. Don’t worry, he’ll be back in Cleveland for a vacation…
    I’m rooting for the Bulls next season though, complete line-up w/a good coach…
    Chicago – Rose, Korver, Deng, Boozer, Noah, Pargo, Gibson, Miller
    2011 East Finals, Chicago vs. Boston, Boston wins in 7 games…
    2011 Finals, LA vs. Boston, LA wins in 6 games…
    2012 East Finals, Chicago vs. Orlando/Miami, Chicago in 7 games…
    2012 Finals, LA vs. Chicago, LA wins in 7 games…
    2013 East Finals, Chicago/Orlando vs. Miami, Miami in 6 games…
    2013 Finals, OKC vs. Miami, ?????????…..

  11. luvyanez - Jul 9, 2010 at 10:29 PM

    It’s not about LeBron James leaving Cleveland, it’s about how he left Cleveland. The Cleveland Cavaliers was his team and family, as he coined the phrase, for 7 years and he left them in a disrespectful manner. Both Cleveland and LeBron benefited from his talents for 7 years, but all he had to do was go to management and let them know his intentions. This way you leave on good terms and you treat the family like family. You don’t inform the team and the community of Cleveland as part of a larger audience to find out that you is leaving Cleveland. LeBron toyed with the emotions of a city and a franchise that had high hopes in “what could be.” It’s okay that plans change; its okay that a new location is needed to fulfill a dream. That’s okay too. Lebon just did it in the wrong manner to the Cavaliers management, his team mates and to the community of Cleveland. If he left the right way, his hometown may not have liked or agreed with the decision, but LeBron would have demonstrated that he is man of integrity, a man of character. I pray that someday his maturity will rise above his ego and he will grow to become a man of integrity and character. Basketball can use that type of ball player. Until then, Lebron will reap what he sows.

  12. Anonymous - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:22 PM

    Bosch and Staudomire? st

  13. Mark - Jul 10, 2010 at 1:28 AM

    His ego is too big even for the state of Florida, have fun Miami. Lebron is a quitter, watch the films from the playoffs, the second we go down, Lebron starts yelling at everyone instead of stepping up his game. Miami can have this worthless human, to go on national TV to rip our hearts out was just perfect. It shows his true self, watch out. He did this to his home town, what will he do when he falls flat in Miami? He’ll quit.

  14. bpiac - Jul 10, 2010 at 2:18 AM

    At least Kobe didn’t leave his team when everybody thought Shaq was the reason they won championships. HE proved everyone wrong. Showing he “was the guy” that brought rings to L.A. At first it was just two in LA. The “Chosen One” needs another two win a championships. I’m not going to lie, he was fun to watch, but only if in Cleveland. Other than that he’s just another player on another team that may win a ring. Big deal. I hope Oklahoma wins it all. At least or should I say at the very least, Durants has class and the the talent to go with it. Go Thunder.

  15. whadup - Jul 10, 2010 at 10:34 AM

    First of all it’s not about the decision…It’s about how he made a whole parade out of it and stabbed his city right in the heart on national TV.And he’s an Ohio native too…
    Secondly do you seriously believe that he wouldn’t win if he went to the Bulls?With Boozer,Rose,Noah and Deng?Oh but i forgot then he would always be compared to Jordan.And he can’t have that because in his mind he is better than Jordan
    So he makes the easy decision.He goes to D-Wade’s team and he becomes Pippen to Wade’s Jordan.No matter how many rings he wins and whether he has better stats than Wade(IMO Wade is still the first choice)he destroyed his own legacy and his(slim if you ask me)chances of becoming the Greatest of all time

  16. James - Jul 10, 2010 at 10:35 AM

    Anyone who watched the Boston series saw that he tanked games. There is no getting around it. Did you watch game 5? He quit, and then tried to say he just had a bad game. Not a bad game, he quit. The cavs were up 2 games to 1 after they destroyed Boston in game 3. Then everything changed. On the verge of going up 3 games to 1, instead of finishing the job, he quit. Game 5 was so obvious it can’t be denied. Watch the tape. He didn’t want to win the title this year because he already new he was leaving, and wouldn’t have any excuses to leave. Just watch game 5, anyone who watched that game knows it. The people in Cleveland kissed his butt for 7 years and Dan Gilbert spent a lot of money, third highest payroll in the leage, and consulted with Lebron on every deal. He stabbed this team in the back and everything Dan Gilbert said was true.

  17. wasp76 - Jul 10, 2010 at 10:46 AM

    if you truly know your history, man, kobe was still a rookie when shaq first came in with the lakers.
    eventually, kobe developed into a superstar player on that team. can’t say they intentionally teamed up the way the new miami trio did, since nobody at that time knew kobe would be that good.

  18. Pete in Cincinnati - Jul 10, 2010 at 12:24 PM

    Best article on the situation I’ve read. Well done…you nailed it.

  19. Pete in Cincinnati - Jul 10, 2010 at 12:33 PM

    I can’t stand Cleveland…but no town deserved that spectacle. He has a right to leave, but he’s a classless jerk and could have at least shown some respect and appreciation to his “home town.” This article nails it, he’s failed, he quit and he moved on. Don’t tell me about the pay cut that B.S. There are no state income taxes in Florida.

  20. real deal - Jul 10, 2010 at 3:47 PM

    He quit? Really? 27pts 19reb and 10 asst is quitting? If you want to see qutting, watch a replay of the 2008 finals when kobe and the lakers got blown out by 30, now thas quitting

  21. julia - Jul 10, 2010 at 4:18 PM

    Here we go again white folks trying to tell a black man what to do .Slavery went out years ago.You have tried every thing to control the minorities.White men use money to try and control people.Look at PALIN is being control wiyh a few dollars.God control the world.If the white man is so in control with his money why not use it to stop death,you know why?,because only white men would be living.Why not try to control the weather?There were 20 white people got kill here in Arkansas last month.People you better wake up.There is more to come and worse.You put a ball before a human.People are free to go and do what they want.Every one do not worship money.GET UP OFF THE COUCH AND TEACH YOUR KIDS HOW TO PLAY SPORTS.most young black men playing sports played on a no pave field.while the average young white kid played in a air condition gym.Lebron James mother did not ask any of you people for a dime to help with her son.WHERE WERE YOU PEOPLE WHEN SHE WAS WORKING TWO JOBS TO SUPPORT HER SON?AMERICA BLACK MOTHERS HAVE TO RELIE ON GOD FOR HELP.IF THEY GO OUT ROB A BANK TO HELP SUPPORT HER FAMILY SHE WILL GO TO JAIL TWENTY YEARS.WHITE WOMAN ROB A BANK TO FEED HER FAMILY SHE WILL BE GIVEN A JOBAND MONEY.dON’T FOR GET GOD IS NOT SLEEP.WE SHELL REAP WHAT WE SOW IT IS A GUARANTEE.

  22. Cordae - Jul 10, 2010 at 5:13 PM

    Seriously, this is the most decorated player in the NBA, and he has NOTHING to show for it. With the moves made in the east alone, Cleveland had absolutely NO CHANCE! Orlando is still good, the bulls are now an instant contender, Boston has gotten stronger and Miami would have found low-budget role players to bring in titles (just like the lakers did for kobe and shaq). So with all that said….WHERE does that leave cleveland!? He would have been miserable had he stayed. Personally I believed he should have cried like a bitch to get what he wanted (Just like Kobe did). But he didnt, he took on the pressure YEAR after YEAR! which is why he is the best player in the league, he’s selfless. He knew all along they didnt have a championship-calibur team in Cleveland, but he made the best out of what he had. Now the CAVS on the other hand! they have to be the biggest DUMMIES ever to run a team! They passed up on great players like Amare Staudemire to get WASHED UP ASS 32 YEAR OLD ANTWAN JAMISON!!! And thought they shouldve gotten somewhere! he didnt even play his role in the playoffs!!! you can only take a mediocre team so far, and the finals arent it! He cant pull rabbits out of his ass EVERY single series like he did back in ’07 against the pistons! The cavs should’ve torn a page out of the lakers book and catered to LeBron instead of hyping him up as God. When Kobe threatened to take off, did you all NOT see the moves the lakers made? they realize (Unlike the cavs did) that they had 1 of 2 of the BEST PLAYERS IN THE LEAGUE!!! Come on now thats SELFISH on the fans part to wanna see him LOSE for the rest of his career to stay “LOYAL”! you play in the NBA to win Championships, not just to say “I’m a professional”, well, not with his resume atleast. GET IT TOGETHER!!!

  23. Neutral Fan - Jul 11, 2010 at 12:25 AM

    You said enough in your first line and that is it! Most Decorated and has nothing to show for it. All of the ” Super Stars ” everyone associates with LeBron had one thing in common, they made everyone around them ” Next Level ” enough to win CHAMPIONSHIPS (plural).
    Everything I read is either Positive LeBron from Heat Fans and mostly negative from Cavs fans, but, most important, Non Cav and Non Heat fans 80% negative ( Simply because he showed no real sympathy to any organization he left out.)
    Also, I believe everyone sees how choreographed this was, did anyone notice the Miami Heat No. 6 LeBron Jersey T-shirts were in shops that morning. Granted they can probably ship them quick,but, that is pretty organized. However, Bosh made a slip I was surprised nobody mentioned. When Bosh was asked if he thought this was possible he inadvertantly said ” for weeks and months ” this was being worked on and he tried to backup and correct and said months again. I don’t know exactly what to make of it, but, it just seems not exactly right.

  24. LBJ - Jul 11, 2010 at 2:21 AM

    CLEVELAND FANS ARE WEAK AND HURT CRYING LIKE BABYS.. CUZ THY KNOW THAT CLEVELAND WILL NEVER WIN ANYTHING WITH OUT LEBRON LMAO HELLA FUNNY !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  25. JBL - Jul 11, 2010 at 2:36 AM

    By the way, how IS the elbow ? The one that we didn’t hear about until the playoffs.

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