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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. Rob - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:54 AM

    Hey don’t say all of Ohio. I’m from Cincy and a Lebron fan. I’m pumped that he’s teaming up with Wade and Bosh!

  2. jeremyp - Jul 9, 2010 at 4:01 AM

    for the record.. lebron looked like absolute crap against the celtics this year in the playoffs. he dint get a ring this year on his own accord..

  3. Marcus - Jul 9, 2010 at 4:02 AM

    I agree if the decision wasn’t the cavs maybe shouldn’t been aired.I’m sure u were nervous and excited. maybe more nervous. If I was a cavs fan I would be pissed too. Must feel like you lost a loved one but other than that me being from boston and having no chance to get Lebron. I feel bad again for the fans in Cleveland but look at the roster.we is going to step up

  4. Dirk Simmons - Jul 9, 2010 at 4:02 AM

    The next wave will come…and it will be a wave of apathy. They’ll say, “Can’t we just move on? He’s made his decision, now let him be.” But that’s not good enough. The game has the right to be protected from things like this. It hurts the integrity of the game by allowing players to display themselves like this. Where were you David Stern when the Decision was made? I bet you can tell us all, just like someone knowing where they were when Kennedy was shot. This is great for the NBA, right? Build up those stars…Lebron, and his two cohorts, have just trashed the NBA. If this was any other line of business it would be called collusion. If you didn’t know, that’s illegal. This was totally orchestrated from day one, but we’re supposed to forget about it because they’ll win championships. Screw Apathy. And Dan Gilbert spoke from the heart. Will he regret it? Probably, but that doesn’t excuse Lebron. You’re not allowed to say, “I can see why Lebron left. Good for him.” Well maybe it is good, but not like this. This is extremely disappointing.

  5. Ms. Mocha - Jul 9, 2010 at 4:06 AM

    LeBron is still KING………

  6. marcus - Jul 9, 2010 at 4:16 AM

    i know he made his decision and i’m sure he is having mixed emotions…show love

  7. marcus - Jul 9, 2010 at 4:22 AM

    I’m just now getting over the nba finals..its going to take a longer time for cleveland fans. I remember when lenny died Reggie’s death and the 21 years of failure.every team in sports go thru a transition (accept Yankees) agin 1 day the city of Cleveland will be back on the map. and free agency may be different

  8. George - Jul 9, 2010 at 4:36 AM

    Hey Dirk, do u have facebook? My real name is George. You seem real cool.look me up on facebook if u are on there. cribb@comcast.net

  9. ernest - Jul 9, 2010 at 4:39 AM

    LBJ’s World Tour was classless? You DON”T SAY!!!
    Um, LBJ has been classless from the beginning. From day 1. From the first instance where he referred to himself in the THIRD PERSON. Who talks like that?
    He has always been classless, however, Ohioans were blind to that fact, or were able to push it away, or ignore it completely.
    In fact, when LBJ was asked where would he go next year, he told everybody what they wanted to hear, that there might be a chance LBJ would be coming to your city. Was this classless? Yes. Was this excused? Yes.
    So, now, Cleveland lost the LBJ race. They are upset, and unhappy, and now they have been betrayed.
    Even though LBJ has been doing the same thing he has been doing his WHOLE life. However, now that he’s no longer doing it Ohio, it is no longer acceptable.
    How silly.

  10. Byron - Jul 9, 2010 at 5:29 AM

    You will eat all your words when Lebron wins and you will hail him again for it.
    You writers are fickle minded and just write stupid articles to join the bandwagon.
    If Lebron thinks we will win with Miami then let him be. Judge him after the fact not before!

  11. Eric - Jul 9, 2010 at 6:44 AM

    Lebron had the tools to win a championship? really? You mean to tell me that championships are won with old washed up players and wannabes that will never be? No, the Cavs management and ownership failed. They didn’t do what the organizations that Magi/Bird/Jordan and now Kobe have done. That is, bring quality front of the draft talent to the Cavs. Dan Gilbert has only himself to blame.
    Lebron will never know the joy of winning a championship for his home town? So what? 99.9% of the NBA will never know that.

  12. The Real Deal - Jul 9, 2010 at 9:06 AM

    First off, that special last night was ridiculous. But is it LBJ’s fault that fans made this a lot bigger deal than it needed to be and he played into it? I’m a Bulls fan and I wish he would have signed there. But I don’t see why the Cavs think they have “rights” to LBJ. Is it because he is from Ohio? If that’s the reason, Cavs fans have a lot of growing up to do. Lastly, quit making the case that LBJ “failed” this year because he didn’t win a title. In his mind, he fails everytime he doesn’t win a title. In my opinion, the Cavs were not even close to putting a championship team on the floor. Someone said it best earlier, Mo Williams is not a #2(not to mention the fact that he didn’t guard a soul in the playoffs). He’s gone Cleveland. Time to move on.

  13. Nick - Jul 9, 2010 at 10:22 AM

    I’m a Cavs fan and a basketball fan in general.
    That being said I am not upset LeBron left because that’s his choice and he can make his own decisions. We all live in the USA and have the freedom to do that. I felt Gilbert put the money into the organization and did his part as an owner. I thought Ferry, Brown and the players (Lebron included) could have done more to be successful.
    The only thing I dislike is the way he did it. His 1hr special was ridiculous and I would feel that way if he stayed with the Cavs or not. He owes it to the game and owners of the six teams that were putting millions of dollars on the table to do it with some class. I thought he should have left the Cleveland organization a better way instead of on national TV the way he did. He grew up in the Cleveland area and knows Cleveland sports history. He had to know how this would be taken and should have tried to do it better.

  14. Dirk - Jul 9, 2010 at 10:37 AM

    I was born & raised in northeast Ohio & cannot agree with you more. Been reading your blog for about a year now, and am proud to say you and I are part of the same generation of Cavs fans. Keep on bloggin, I’ll keep on readin. Follow me on twitter? @DerekQuinn

  15. docflor - Jul 9, 2010 at 10:54 AM

    I’ve been a Cavs fans for many years now and I admit that is mostly due to Lebron though. However, I am not blind to his faults. I totally agree with all your points. Lebron wanted to please everybody and be everybody’s golden boy…but as we all know, the good guys don’t always win championship. I wish we live in a more ideal world where an athlete’s greatness is measured by his body of work both in the court and outside of it, not on the number of rings he has has on his hand at the end of his hands. Rings that are mostly not only the product of talent, determination and hard work but also of chance, fate and sometimes sheer luck (see Kobe). I think Lebron really took to heart what Kevin Garnett said that loyalty can only take you so far in life. I kinda admired him in a way because he had enough courage to break the mold and for once not try to be the goody-two-shoes. He will be a villian in most people’s eyes. Could he have handled the situation more politely and less crassly ? Sure he can. He just chose not to because if he can’t be everybody’s golden boy then he will be their favorite villian (and win multiple rings). He will still be in the limelight and may be this will be enough to feed his humongous ego.

  16. pjmjfan - Jul 9, 2010 at 10:56 AM

    Bring on another round of “deep” Nike commercials….it’s once again time for damamge control.

  17. Hmmm - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:11 AM

    Wow – What a lousy article. Sounds like you have a severe case of sour grapes and trying to justify it.

  18. MK - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:13 AM

    Bottom line – making a decision to align with 2 other stars to win a title will definitely diminish any future accomplishments ie rings. Lebnron will never get the Michael Jordon/Koby Bryant/Magic Johnson/Larry Bird status. he may be able to get the Isiah Thomas stautrus – but do you really want that?

  19. Bill - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:14 AM

    I think both sides have some solid arguments here. My one request is everyone stop referring to Bosh as a Superstar. An All Star, yes 5 times. But a superstar? He was only named one time to the All NBA Team and that was the 2nd team. Along with that the title of Superstar accompanies winning. He has won 3 total playoff games in 7 years. Even better he has not won a playoff series.
    The title superstar though subjective, needs to be reserved for the absolute best and elite players. And no offense, Chris Bosh is no Superstar. Miami has itself 2 superstars and another All Star caliber player. They will need the right pieces around them including a center to unseat LA or even beat Boston or Orlando this next season in a 7 game series.

  20. SFWA - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:17 AM

    LeBron is still single dude…maybe you can ask him out since you love him so much.

  21. Rob - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:22 AM

    I’m from Pittsburgh and actually feel sorry for Cleveland. LeBron went about this in a very bad way. Selfish and cold. He doesn’t give a rat’s @$$ about where he came from.
    That would almost be like Sid the Kid leaving the Pens for another team. Even worse for Cleveland because LeBron is from that area. At least Crosby could win a Stanley Cup for the Pens. LeBron failed.

  22. Monster - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:22 AM

    I agree with the author. Going to Miami is a lose-lose for him. If he doesn’t get a championship, he’ll be a huge loser. If he gets a championship, he took the easy route and he gets an asterisk.

  23. Sy Friedman - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:24 AM

    LeBron said the following ““This fall, I’m going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.”
    He doesn’t even know that South Beach is in Miami Beach, which is a separate city from Miami, and that the Heat play in Miami.

  24. director101 - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:26 AM

    I’m just glad that he didn’t end up going to the Suns. I’d rather have another non-contention season than have that whining, won’t-shake-hands, throws-his-warmups-at-the-towel-boy, overrated doofus on the team. I strongly suspect that win or lose, he won’t be with the Heat for long ….

  25. Anonymous - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:26 AM

    You are a hater.

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