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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. Big D - Jul 26, 2010 at 3:01 PM

    Is this guy for real? Seriously, LeBron gave 7 years to Cleveland and they didn’t put the puzzle pieces together for him after all that time. In today’s NBA, even if you are a LeBron, you need a powerhouse Lieutenant – MJ had Pippen, Magic had Kareem, Bird had McHale (or DJ even) and Kobe had Shaq 1st, and now Gasol. Bottom line is every Superstar needs that power 2nd, and then a good cast of role players. The guy wants rings & he knows that with this move it sets him up for that – period. How can you hate on a guy who makes a solid decision to set himself up for success?

  2. TobiE - Jul 27, 2010 at 7:52 AM

    leave lebron alone he aint quit he just found out his teamate was foolin round wit his ma how wuld u feel the cavaliers franchise and all the people writin s*** bout him need to grow a pair
    just grow a pair cavs

  3. Sephy Hambaz - Jul 27, 2010 at 12:56 PM

    LA vs MIA will be the highest rated regular season game in US Sports history. I would bet the first meeting will be on Xmas day.
    Sephy Hambaz

  4. Seven - Jul 27, 2010 at 10:23 PM

    Put yourself on Lebrons shoes. You are an MVP for 2 consecutive year but your team is not the champ what do you feel? Does Kobe has a pressure like what Lebron has? I don’t think so. A lot of talents all over NBA jump from one backyard to another, are they quitters as well? This is ridiculous! Is his transfer legal? Of course it is! Does he have the responsibility in Cavalier. No! Why? Hello! He is a free agent already and he has right to make his own decision legally. I don’t think that any other team has a term and conditions in their contract saying,”You must win Championship or else you will be fine or will not be release from this team”. Hahaha! Just saying my thoughts.

  5. mr bryant the great - Jul 27, 2010 at 11:43 PM

    i 100 percent agree, even the greatest, Kobe, went through his share of losing and now look at where hes at…on TOP of the world

  6. Aquahollic - Jul 28, 2010 at 3:36 AM

    Simply put this is a retarded argument. The only wrong way to win is to cheat. Every team wants to build the best team they can, every player want to win a ring (and make a nice check). The cav’s couldn’t do it with “all the right tools” as the writer states, so what’s the issue with him trying elsewhere? what it all boils down to is people who are fans of the cav’s and wanted them to get a championship are gonna be pissed cause now they never will and everyone else who’s upset is so only because they know playing his new team is going to suck hard core. In the words of snotty mmo players everywhere QQ more.

  7. aquahollic - Jul 28, 2010 at 3:41 AM

    Maybe the best currently in the game now but not the greatest.

  8. G - Jul 31, 2010 at 5:55 AM

    Ryan:
    The expectations for Lebron –set by him, his team and Nike– are much higher than that of Shaq (back in the Orlando days), Malone and Garnett. Malone gave it all and as he approached retirement made a move to join a championship team, it didn’t work out and he was the joke of the town. Garnett gave Minnesota his youth and did leave. No, the media didn’t go after him like they did Lebron but “the kid” never brought that kind of attention to him. Besides he wasn’t as good as Lebron, not even close.
    We were supposed to ‘witness’ something big, remember? A campaign that makes the King one of the richest athletes, good for him btw. I was ready to witness the person who was supposed to be better than my idol: Jordan.
    Now I’m left to “witness” Lebron as a supporting cast to Wade. And for that, I agree with some of the things the author says.
    I do know that when he starts winning championships, many people will give him a break. But may God have mercy on his reputation if he doesn’t. History will tell… until then let’s just agree to disagree.
    G.

  9. BallerIQ - Aug 1, 2010 at 12:03 PM

    This is getting ridiculous, seriously, the golden boy no more? You could argue that the rings that he could’ve won in Cleveland would mean more than those he could potentially win in Miami, but are you serious, the way they were running things, i doubt a championship would’ve been in the near future. First off the Cavs management suck, proven by the classless letter written by Dan Gilbert, second, it took them this long to realize that Mike Brown couldnt coach offense to a high school team, let alone in the NBA.
    Athletes are remembered not only for their individual accomplishments, but how many championship rings they own. You hear it all the time from former superstars, Barkley, Cwebb, Reggie, Ewing, how badly they wanted one, Lebron is no fool, he knows this. You’re gonna talk about loyalty to a team? Kevin Garnett has said publicly that he regrets the loyalty he showed to
    Minnesota all those years ago. Bottom line is, someone was gonna get screwed whatever his decision was, be it Lebron himself, or the city of Cleveland.

  10. steve - Aug 3, 2010 at 3:11 PM

    why should we get off him. the guy is a total ass. thinks he is god and above everybody.has always been a selfish brat. tried to hide it but it is so evident in his behavior on and off the court.until he grows up, no more free ride from anybody.he did not mind when people thought he was a great person and player, all the praise and attention he got.nobody owes him anything. he is just another low class spoiled athlete from ghetto that now has money.i am from l.a. not cleveland

  11. Test - Sep 7, 2010 at 11:06 AM

    Kevin Garnett left and no one called him a quitter. And would you stay in a team where someone just **** your mothe?

  12. Test - Sep 7, 2010 at 11:20 AM

    He plays good and without him, Cleveland whoulda never been heard of

  13. Dan - Sep 14, 2010 at 10:26 AM

    Ya obviously a disgrunted cavs fan that wrote this article. Do you blame Lebron for leaving? seriously he had no help on that team if anything staying in cleveland would have shortened his career. The editor talks about Kobe but guess who carried Kobe in their game 7 win over the celtics? HIS TEAM. Lebron never had that luxury and now they want to boo him? Cleveland fans are a bunch of whiners period!

  14. soannoyed - Oct 14, 2010 at 10:59 PM

    Who ever brought up KG’s name needs to remember that KG was with Minn. for for a decade, and he didn’t come to the Celts until he was in his 30’s. He also didn’t take an hour on ESPN to announce where he was going. Most people don’t have a problem with Lebron wanting to be with a better team, it’s the way he did it. Who cares about Dan Glibert, he showed no class, but he was pissed, Lebron gave him, and Cleveland a slap in the face on ESPN. Lebron is one of the greatest players in the world, but he handled the “decision” in the worst way. I’m not a Cavs fan, and you don’t have to be to understand that it comes down to respect, and responsibility that Lebron lacks.

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