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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. Anonymous - Jul 9, 2010 at 2:20 AM

    Dan where are you from?

  2. marcus - Jul 9, 2010 at 2:25 AM

    what i’m saying is who is helping Lebron in cleveland? Dirk.. NOBODY

  3. matt v - Jul 9, 2010 at 2:29 AM

    i can’t wait to see everyone get back on lebrons nuts after all this..
    its his life he can do what he wants, and all you blind jits out there saying he’s selfish are just pissed. i think people are missing a big point. If you had the chance to CREATE a dynasty for years to come by having 3 superstar players, your good friends, playing together, and knowing you’ll be winning championships, who wouldn’t want to take it. well maybe kobe, or dwight. someone thats already on a great team that knows they’ll win a championship. It’s been 7 years, 1 finals, 0 Championship. I know where id go.
    also
    Yeah i guess you can say its kind of selfish because he wants champions.. but wait… oh i forgot.. lebron not a person.. he can’t make his own decisions which he things will better him…he’s suppose to be what everyone wants him to be … oh yea duh

  4. LeBrontraitor - Jul 9, 2010 at 2:32 AM

    Dan Gilbert’s letter to the Cleveland fans is spot on. Durrant tweets what he is doing contractually, LeBron has a hour special to destroy whatever legacy he could’ve had in Cleveland. Even if he wins a championship, it will be watered down because he had to “sign up” to win it with Bosh and Wade’s team.
    I couldn’t care less at this point. I’m officially done with the NBA. Bunch of overpaid drama queens…

  5. V Brown - Jul 9, 2010 at 2:36 AM

    Did any of the other above mentioned superstars EVER tank a playoff game to seal their FA deal? Didnt think so

  6. davidc - Jul 9, 2010 at 2:36 AM

    Chasing Pippen. That’s what the new bio title is for LBJ. This is the wrong choice, though yes it increases his chances for a title. Jeff VanGundy made a great point tonight: What ever happened to rivalries? Why wouldn’t these guys want to compete in the Magic vs Bird tradition?
    But he’s a great player and is free to do as he chooses, obviously. But making Cleveland look like fools, stringing along NY and CHI and doing this ridiculous 1-hr special was an out-of-touch low-blow. So LBJ will have to live with some derison and some haters. But winning cures all (see: K. Bryant, B.Roethlesberger, R. Artest, T. Woods.)

  7. Dirk Simmons - Jul 9, 2010 at 2:37 AM

    No, what you said was Lebron deserves titles and that he should go to South Beach and “WIN, WIN, WIN.” I will gladly concede that the best basketball situation for Lebron is in Miami, but this whole process is sickening to me and, from the looks of it, many others too. He has gone out of his way to make this a classless spectacle. When Michael came back into the league in 95 he sent a fax to the Associated Press saying, “I’m back.” Michael was bigger than the game, but at least he kept his integrity. Lebron is living in fantasy land if he thinks he can go through this the way he has and keep his integrity intact. He doesn’t deserve anything. And being from Boston, you should hate this trio with a passion. I love the game, but the Bulls come first. Sure, I’m a slut for winning, so if they had all ended up in Chicago, I’d be happy. Maybe that makes me a hypocrite, but throughout this entire free agency hysteria, I always maintained that Lebron was handling this like a ego-maniac. I applaud his desire to win, but he doesn’t deserve titles. No one does. He only deserves them if he does win them. You act like they should hand him some Special Lifetime Achievement Oscar. Your buddies in Boston would be disappointed in your support of Lebron.

  8. Beekay - Jul 9, 2010 at 2:39 AM

    Thanks Dan Gilbert for saying what everyone was thinking. I said all along LeBron gave up in the playoffs. A true king can lead his court to victory, a pawn must have others bring him to victory because he can’t do it himself…Goodbye LePawn

  9. Anonymous - Jul 9, 2010 at 2:40 AM

    Lol, and the first domino drops. Lmao later sucker!

  10. Dirk Simmons - Jul 9, 2010 at 2:43 AM

    I’m actually a Bulls fan. And at least I live in a town that actually supports its teams. You guys had Dwyane and still finished in the middle of the pack in attendance. He had to play in half-empty stadiums the whole year. Typical…You just won the lottery, so I suppose you’re entitled to gloat. Fair enough.

  11. LVBuckeye - Jul 9, 2010 at 2:46 AM

    some of you people just don’t get it. LeBrick didn’t have the pieces to win? seriously? 126 regular season wins in 2 years says otherwise.
    furthermore, since LeBrick REFUSED to make a long term commitment in ’06, he basically hamstrung the front office’s efforts to lure big name free agents- because the front office couldn’t assure the free agents that LeBrick would stick around. he wanted the pieces to win NOW, not build for long term success, and the front office obliged him, gave in to his every whim. the front office is to be commended for putting the talent around him that they did, considering they were basically fighting with one hand tied behind their back. and what happened when he couldn’t win RIGHT NOW? he leaves like the lazy coward that he is, because, hey, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. pure, unadulterated horsebleep.
    so, LeBrick’s failure to win a championship in Cleveland rests entirely on his own shoulders, both for his on-court performance (especially the ’10 Boston series, in which he BLATANTLY quit) and also for his off-court hamstringing of the front office’s efforts to put a championship caliber team behind him. and then he has the nerve to take a giant crap right on Cleveland’s chest (all Ohio, in all honesty) on national TV. the guy is a fraud, and i’ve lost what little respect i still had for him after the Boston debacle.
    what galls me the most is LeBrick even being mentioned in the greatest of all time discussions. did Jordan ever mail it in? does Kobe? does D-Wade? did Magic? Bird? hell, did Reggie Miller ever mail it in? NO. they were MEN. LeBrick is an egomaniacal little boy, too scared and lazy to do it the right way, and taking the easy way out by going to play Robin to D-Wade’s Batman.
    LeBrick will NEVER be Jordan v2.0; because he’s Pippen v.20.

  12. Crash - Jul 9, 2010 at 2:52 AM

    As happy as I am as a Heat fan I will admit that his handling of this was pathetic and outright disgusting, but the proceeds did go to charity and with everyone glued to the TV surely help. On the other hand I blame Kobe and Shaq for this fiasco, they are the ones who started all this me me me crap! And guess what, they win a few games and everything is ok. Artest was freakin fist fighting and head hunting fans a few seasons ago and now he’s a good guy cause he won a championchip.You didn’t see this stuff with Bird or Magic. The majority of you haters are hypocrites anyway!

  13. Dirk Simmons - Jul 9, 2010 at 2:52 AM

    Wow. Great to hear it from a Cavs perspective. He just strung everyone along and didn’t tell the teams until five minutes before he makes the decision. That is wrong. I don’t care if people argue that the Cavs didn’t have pieces in place. What he did was wrong. And he even gave it a name. Doesn’t Cleveland have the Fumble, the Drive, the whatever else…Now they have the Decision to live with. What the heck is that? He just had to give it a name too.

  14. marcus - Jul 9, 2010 at 2:56 AM

    I don’t agree the way lebron handle the situtation. Kg told lebron after Boston knocked them out. If he could of load up with the big 3 earlier in his career he would. You need talent to win. and u need more than 1 superstar to win tittles. with role players. Cleveland on has role players. After Lebron 1 finals app. They could never go over the hump. Boston defense knew to shut down the other starters/ (once again not really starters .. Role playes that are staters)same with miami when boston took out the heat.Talent win games superstars win championships

  15. perspective - Jul 9, 2010 at 2:57 AM

    are karl malone or kevin garnett at lebrons skill and talent level? were they not at their backend of their careers when they left. don’t be a naive moron. lebron james’s goals in his career is to be the greatest player ever to play. EVER! did michael jordan leave the bulls in 1991 and team up with charles barkley and patrick ewing?
    when you (self) pro-claim yourself as “the king” then you have to be willing to fight like one. not pansy out and join a “supergroup” which now has more of a chance of failing than succeeding. when your expected to deliver, the pressure changes drastically.

  16. Omar - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:01 AM

    All the tools to win an NBA Championship? Are f*%$#ing nuts? What are the pieces? Mo Williams? An old slow fat shaq? An old injured jamison? You are crazy, James has one of the worst supporting casts in the NBA and was still getting it done. And after the way the owner has acted after his departure I can understand why lebron left. Dan Gilbert showed his real colours, not lebron. Lebron is off to win championships, he gave the cavs 7 solid years and what did the cavs give him? Mo f&*%$ing williams? get out of here. The cavs made more money than they ever could have imagined from lebron james and now because he made HIS own decision to leave they are saying he has betrayed them? No cavs, you detrayed him by not giving him what ever other superstar in the league has, a decent supporting cast!

  17. Ms.mocha - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:08 AM

    I think all this negativity is so stupid, this guy has
    done all he can do in Clev, what else do yall want ?
    I wonder were yall ever true fans.

  18. marcus - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:12 AM

    UNDERSTAND I DO FEEL BAD FOR THE CAVS FANS OUT THERE.I think Lebron should of express more to the fans of Cleveland.

  19. Marcus - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:18 AM

    I think they are true fans but they are hurt w/ alot of emotion right now and will be 4 a very long time.

  20. Blackman39 - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:32 AM

    Whats makes me upset is this.Lebron James,Dwyane Wade,Chris Bosh all plan this 2years ago,from that time to now they wanted this.I’am upsetat the way these players played organizations and the fans of these teams by misleading them into thinking that they had a chance of landing one of them on there team.Lebron did not even tell his now former team that he was leaving and to lie to them and say that he came to a decision thursday night when that decision was made a long time before this season started is wrong.The Cavs owner is right parents should never teach there children to mislead no one.I understand the anguish of Cleveland fans.By the way I live in Chicago,misleading is misleading.

  21. Marcus - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:33 AM

    and people should not be mad with Lebron. If anyone they should be mad a Bosh for not wanting to join James in Cleveland. cavs need that other superstar.and u cleveland fans are all mad w/ lebron when he was tring to put himself in the best situation. CAN U REALLY BLAME HIM

  22. jeremyp - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:41 AM

    look everybody…lbj was someone for cleveland fans to have hope in.. to bring the cavs a championship. thats a major hill to climb.. especially in cleveland… he is a great player. look at the way he just played the cavs.. he couldnt climb the hill so he picked a new one.. which ultimately makes him a quitter. i really cant wait to watch him get boooed out of cleveland when they play the heat next season. he’ll deserve it. for the rest of his career for that matter. he gave up on being the perfect nba superstar. he sold out for a fast chance at a ring. josh cribbs is the man around cleveland now. aaand j.j. hickson (dont lose him, gilbert)

  23. Dirk Simmons - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:45 AM

    Hmmmm….All this talk about how grateful Cleveland fans should be for what Lebron gave them these past seven years is short-sighted. Yes, they reached incredible heights. But for what? To have him spit in their face when it was all over? The owner said what he did in a moment of passion and frustration. You’re so quick to forgive Lebron, even though it’s clear as day that this whole thing was a charade for his own self benefit and took months to orchestrate. Yeah, I’d be grateful, but equally pissed if the guy walks out without saying a word. He literally didn’t say anything to them until 5 minutes before it aired. I read a great article about his roster in 2007. It’s worse than it is now. And then he hamstrung the organization into a “win-now” mentality. Now he gets to walk away with no accountability and no remorse? I don’t think so. These past 7 years are on him as much as it is the Cavs front office. I don’t care how good he is. He doesn’t have the right to take a dump on people like this. I’ll defend his right to pick whatever team he wants, but he can’t go through this entire process like a buffoon and come out clean on the other side. He’s getting some heat for this, no pun intended. Stop defending his decision to leave without acknowledging all the different aspects of that decision. He just made a spectacle of all this. Going on TV and telling everyone you’re leaving a team and a town that has idolized you is bad enough…But to do it like this is downright egotistical. I’m quick to judge though…I should probably wait to let this process, but I’m not okay with his handling of the situation.

  24. Ms. Mocha - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:47 AM

    Dan Gilbert & the so called Cavs fans are really showing their true colors….so sad. So who’s beening disloyal, selfish,etc.. Is he wrong for wanting to better himself ? He gave the Cavs 7 years……..

  25. jeremyp - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:49 AM

    FYI PEOPLE. CAVS fans are Cavs fans. not just lbj fans (ex-lbj fans). you hurt the team, you hurt the fans. cleveland ROCKS lbj sucks c*cks

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