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LeBron James: The Golden Boy No More

Jul 9, 2010, 12:16 AM EST

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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. RBRi - Jul 11, 2010 at 10:12 AM

    you cant compare HOF of previous teams… bird was drafted so was mchale, parish was averaging 9.8ppg when traded… magic and worthy again through the draft, kareem through a trade involving a lot of players… pippen and jordan were both drafted… the miami trio? free agency… dream teamers already, and the sad part is, they planned this according to bosh for months… unbelievable…

  2. TBone - Jul 11, 2010 at 10:13 AM

    Lebron James is an egotistical low-life. I liked Lebron when he was a rookie, when he was humble, respectful of his surroundings and grateful of his good fortune. It ended for me after that. He became so full of himself because of apologists and enablers like you. His personality has changed drastically since his rookie season. He’s become arrogant and his behavior has become clownish and silly. BUT, we must all remember that LBJ is still a boy. Think about how we all acted in our early twenties.
    Anyway, don’t blame Dan Gilbert. Gilbert gave Lebron enough ammunition to win it all. He just didn’t get it done. Lebron has no one to blame but himself.
    I have told my son and my friends that LBJ would never stay in Cleveland, dating back to when he signed that short 3-year contract.
    That told me a lot, that he was on his way out.

  3. James - Jul 11, 2010 at 5:00 PM

    Yes, really, he quit. Thats not just my opinion, but the opinion of many people who watched that series. Please, just watch game 5 that was the most obvious. The stats your citing are from the last game of the series when the damage was already done. He put those numbers up so people like you would say, “what do you mean quit, look at his stats in the last game”.

  4. northeastohio - Jul 11, 2010 at 7:45 PM

    http://lettertolebron.blogspot.com/2010/07/decision.html

  5. FreeMindedThinker - Jul 13, 2010 at 5:27 AM

    What legacy??????????? Do you actually understand the meaning and concept behind FREE AGENT? Lebron did the right thing. Obviously the CAVS did nothing to keep him other than offer him legacy. Legacy does not pay bills, it provides for golddiggers.

  6. Sam A. - Jul 13, 2010 at 7:39 AM

    Excellent and well written article. Thanks!
    Lebron is a quitter and Cleveland deserved better than his cowardly betrayal.

  7. Jared - Jul 14, 2010 at 11:58 AM

    Krolik, do you want to know why lebron is the best player in the NBA based on individual talent (not rings…rings is the only reason kobe ever gets an edge): it’s because lebron took some of the worst players in the nba and made them good. Without lebron that team is nothing, lebron made his team better because they believed in him. They have nothing to believe in anymore b/c they have no leader and they are just gonna go back to being the bad players they are. Antwan jamison had some good years but he was a flopper when he came to the cavs…mo williams showed promise but he was unreliable and flopped big time in playoffs. And well i can’t really think of anyone else worth mentioning…that’s how bad the cavs were. It’s amazing they ever got as far as they did…nobody realizes how good lebron james truly is. You play to win and you hope your team gives you good players. But cleveland is crap town…i would never want to win for cleveland…the only ego maniacs out there are the inhabitants of ohio, your all nuts. Jordan had pippen and amazing supporting cast. Kobe has shaq, gasol, odom, and other clutch shooters. Stockton had malone (too bad they never won a title). Who has lebron had to be even close to helping him out. Mo williams was never james robin or 2nd hand man.
    Now who does lebron have? Wade and bosh. Now you will see that he was never a failure, the city of cleveland and the cavs organization was a failure. I guarantee that if jordan or kobe played with those cavs players not even they could get the cavs a championship. lebron knew nobody wanted to go there with him so he went to an electric city with palm trees and warm weather where he got to be in an organization with pat riley, alonzo mourning, etc. He is finally with a real family, not just a fake one who always looked at lebron james like they wanted to just kiss him b/c he made the team better and meant so much to them. Lebron will dominate and that is thanks to all you critics…he will be a new man and then all you cavs fans will be writing articles bashing your own organization b/c you realize it wasn’t lebrons fault, it was yours. Get ready baby, miami heat is gonna have 60+ wins and the cavs will be lucky to get 20.

  8. jared - Jul 14, 2010 at 12:02 PM

    If i had to play with your terrible players in cleveland, i would have quit long ago. Lebron never quit, he woke up and smelled the roses. You cavs fans are so stupid. I’ve watched the cavs ever since lebron entered the game and i’ve been praying for years for him to leave.

  9. ERIC TROY - Jul 14, 2010 at 1:34 PM

    I did not want King James 2 leave Cleveland. The way LeBron had a party was not cool but it wasn’t really all that bad either. Not cool cause it hurts Cleveland but not bad b/c that is what Phx did for Charles Barkely after he left Philly. Next, Barkley, Malone, Stockton, Reggie Miller, Domique Wilkins; Dave Bing, Grant Hill, Pat Ewing ect.. do not have rings & LeBron wants 2 ensure he has 1. So dont fault the man 4 wanting 2 win championsips. LeBron’s teams have regressed not progressed during the playoffs. We all blame LeBron for not trying harder; however, if the coach doesn’t coach well then he hurts his team – despite having a great player.
    Problems in Cleveland (1) West sleeping with his mom (all you people hating on him could you handle that) (2) Coach not putting in the best personnel to win against Celtics (Poe vs Perkins and the rest of the big men against Garnett) (3) Shaq was unable to finish around the bucket (4) LiL Candace (Anthony) Parker wanted to be the man and made horrible choices in crunch time (the Lakers have no problem giving the ball to Kobe during cruch but Candace/Anthony Parker did) (5) During the free agency period the Cavaliers did nothing to improve their team. a. Get Joe Johnson b. Get tall athletic 4 & 5 spots like Camby & Bird Man from Denver) (6)He was hurt during the playoffs and still basically averaged a triple double & we all still poop on him.
    Once again, I wanted him to bring a Championship to Cleveland but Cleveland was regressing – so he had to make a choice. I am from San Diego and Tony Gwynn has no rings and only made 4 million a year – why cause he stayed in San Diego despite his dad telling him to leave. As long as James doens’t get hurt he will re-write the record books; however, he might not have as many championships as the great ones he will have more points, assists and rebounds of any MVP to hold the trophy.
    To say he is selfish is crazy – you are not seflish when you average almost 8 assists a game. There is no selfishness in LeBron – just someone wanting to win and win NOW!!!!

    • scamp1946 - Dec 24, 2010 at 3:16 AM

      Which record books will he rewrite? Just curious.

  10. Anton - Jul 15, 2010 at 2:46 AM

    I am really sick of all these people crying about LBJ leaving Cleveland and how he left…
    What does he owe anyone? It is still a reasonably free country so get over it…

  11. Kevin - Jul 15, 2010 at 5:43 AM

    This is one of the most unintelligent comments I have ever read. Aside from your atrocious spelling and general disregard for punctuation, you employ some very flawed logic. First off why would the author discuss BOSH or STOUDEMIRE (this is how big boys spell)? The article is on Lebron and focusing on the rammifications of his decision. Also, comparing this to Shaq and KG leaving is inaccurate. When Shaq left Orlando, he didn’t leave to team up Hakeem and Ewing. KG didn’t team up with Kobe and Duncan. It’s the way Lebron humiliated his home town on national television and took the easy way to join forces with two other superstars. It was not only quitting on Cleveland when he promised to bring them a title, but also quitting on himself and his own competitiveness. It was a major cop out. Remind me oh so well-informed NBA historian, did Jordan team up with Reggie Miller and Karl Malone when he couldn’t beat the Pistons? No that’s right, he stayed and worked relentlessly until he finally got over the hump. That’s why Lebron is a quitter. He lacks the competitve edge and resolve to do it on his own, so he ran away to be a glorified Scottie Pippen. Sorry that I used too many big words and that you needed a thesaurus for most of this. Idiot.

  12. Kevin - Jul 15, 2010 at 5:44 AM

    This is one of the most unintelligent comments I have ever read. Aside from your atrocious spelling and general disregard for punctuation, you employ some very flawed logic. First off why would the author discuss BOSH or STOUDEMIRE (this is how big boys spell)? The article is on Lebron and focusing on the rammifications of his decision. Also, comparing this to Shaq and KG leaving is inaccurate. When Shaq left Orlando, he didn’t leave to team up Hakeem and Ewing. KG didn’t team up with Kobe and Duncan. It’s the way Lebron humiliated his home town on national television and took the easy way to join forces with two other superstars. It was not only quitting on Cleveland when he promised to bring them a title, but also quitting on himself and his own competitiveness. It was a major cop out. Remind me oh so well-informed NBA historian, did Jordan team up with Reggie Miller and Karl Malone when he couldn’t beat the Pistons? No that’s right, he stayed and worked relentlessly until he finally got over the hump. That’s why Lebron is a quitter. He lacks the competitve edge and resolve to do it on his own, so he ran away to be a glorified Scottie Pippen. Sorry that I used too many big words and that you needed a thesaurus for most of this. Idiot.

  13. DK - Jul 15, 2010 at 6:43 AM

    As much as i wouldn’t like to blame Lebron for every thing that went bad over playoff series with celtics – It was glaringly obvious that he was not willing to give 100% for Cleaveland to win (I am sorry, not a fan of cleaveland but just love basket ball).

  14. AL.D - Jul 15, 2010 at 3:48 PM

    (TO:LBJ) LOOK PLAYER CLEVELAND DONT WHINE OVER NO SPORTS WE JUST TIRED OF HAVING GOOD TEAMS AND ALWAYS FINISH SECOND.AS FOR THAT COMMENT THAT SAYS WE CANT WIN WITHOUT LEBRON IS WACK. HELL WE DIDN’T WIN WITH HIS ASS. SO THINK ABOUT THAT

  15. Angel_3 - Jul 15, 2010 at 7:06 PM

    LOL, James did play well in ONE game. How about the otehrs. What about his turnovers? What about him dribbling the ball and letting the 24 clock expire, how many times? How about his STEPPING aside and allowing Pierce a lane to the hoop? James played subpar in that series and ONE game with decent stats does NOT make a 6 game series. Those defending James are either Miami fans or not true basketball fans. The WAY he handled the whole thing is what stuck. He thinks he can come back and live in the Akron area?????……ROFL, NOT.

  16. Josh Lusk - Jul 15, 2010 at 9:59 PM

    Did Shaq go on national television and announce his choice in a 1 hour special?
    Did Bosh or Amare? NO
    It not that he left but how he did it. Not calling the Cavs owner but having a rep 5 min before his announcement. Show some class man. Lebron is a little kid, and wants the attention. Like the previous post he is drivin by the spot light. Did any hall of famer ever throw powder up in the air before a game or self proclain them the king?
    The obvious answer is no. If Lebron wants to win championships good for him. However, he will always be remembered for a self centered athlete that has no respect for the game or anyone. Except for his Mother. And did you here that joke.
    So Lebron James is Going south. However this just in Lebrons Mother is going WEST!!!!

  17. jamal - Jul 16, 2010 at 1:23 AM

    michael jordan used the powder before every game…kevin garnett did it next then Lebron took it to answer that question but all other points are acurate lol

  18. akronal - Jul 16, 2010 at 11:59 AM

    None of those guys did it to their hometown on a heavily hyped informercial. Very few people in Cleveland hold it against Lebron for his actual move – but the way he did it was classless, insensitive, egomaniacal, and insulting. Oh, and I left out stupid.

    • scamp1946 - Dec 24, 2010 at 3:35 AM

      What about the dumb struck looks on those poor kids faces when he announced he was deserting them? WTF was he thinking when he agreed to that? “I got an idea. Lets get a bunch of YMCA and Boy and Girls Club kids down here for my announcement. You know, the ones that idolize me. Let me break their little puny hearts on live national TV.” That tells me right there a lot about his decision making intelligence. It apparently is all left on the court and he doesn’t have a clue about real life. Quit sheltering this guy and everyone like him. Call them out on stupid and I mean stupid actions.

  19. akronal - Jul 16, 2010 at 12:18 PM

    First of all, it’s not that he’s leaving Cleveland, it’s how he did it. Taking out an infomercial and leading your hometown into thinking you are staying would be awful if he did it anywhere, and doing it to Cleveland is even worse. And he planned this for two years.
    Also, I don’t see how this was the “best” thing for Lebron’s career. He destroyed his image. The idea that Cleveland wouldn’t be a contender is preposterous – they were favorites to at least make the finals each of the last two years- and it was LBJs absolutely horrible play against Boston that knocked them out this year. There’s no reason to think that the couldn’t have added another piece or two this offseason, with the MLE and expiring or non-guaranteed contracts. The team did everything the could to provide him with the pieces he needed around him, and provide him that opportunity. It’s not like the team wasn’t winning or wasn’t willing to spend money. The Decision (™) HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH WINNING A TITLE! It’s about three kids wanting to play together.

  20. 12th moon - Jul 16, 2010 at 3:03 PM

    Congratulations to Princess Lebron for winning his second straight NBA MVP Award just like Steve Nash. Now Princess Lebron can put his focus on winning a NBA Title with Wade and Bosh.
    Follow him on his journey to winning that elusive NBA title that eludes the true Kings of the NBA…(sarcasm)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8JSfre74_gY
    Lebron is hard at work on his next music video and will be premiered very soon. About his gay relationship with D Wade and Bosh is the real why they have teamed up for the Miami Heat.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8JSfre74_gY

  21. Larry - Jul 17, 2010 at 4:08 PM

    Because Boston traded for Garnett and Ray Allen

  22. Dylan - Jul 17, 2010 at 6:54 PM

    for anybody who really admires LeBron as a great player…read this article from SI
    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/writers/ian_thomsen/07/16/lebron/index.html

  23. Jari - Jul 23, 2010 at 8:00 AM

    Well written, sir.

  24. Eugene - Jul 23, 2010 at 7:27 PM

    I couldn’t agree more. I haven’t read an article that was worse than this either. Poorly written too. But hey, who would have read an article by this dude if it didn’t have “LeBron” in its title?

  25. dakid21 - Jul 25, 2010 at 12:09 AM

    bosh and amare werent on the team with the best record in the east two years and row either… he’s a quitter…. he should of took over like dwade to the mavs……

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