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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. EVH - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:28 AM

    I watched the decision show last night and up until the time LBJ declared his decision, I believed that he was going to stay with the Cavs. I have a quick analogy. LBJ reminded me of a man that was announcing the dirorce of a wife that he still loved for a more glamorous, shallow woman that seemed to make him feel better. It was a marriage that his friends told him would be better for him. Over time, he realizes that he made a mistake and he still loves his first wife. Too late. The grass is not always greener on the other side. Lets see how it all plays out.

  2. dwaynewade1 - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:29 AM

    I love what Charles Barkley said about this whole situation because in between his trash talking he says the truth. LeBron’s legacy as a player who is able to will his team to an NBA championship in a city that desperately needs it is completely tarnished. He can never be compared to a Michael Jordan or Larry Bird because he gave up when the going gets tough while these guys had faith in their teams to fulfill their roles. No matter what role players you placed around Jordan, the Bull still ended up winning. What this says is that LeBron is acknowledging in essence is doesn’t matter HOW he wins a championship or for what team, but rather he just wants to win it. He will be in the conversation in the end as won of the best players to ever play, but will be tarnished by the fact that he needed so much help to win it. Look at Kobe, everyone said Kobe needed Shaq to win until he won 2 championships on his own. LeBron will receive the same criticism and at the end of the day will be a considered one of the great players who won NBA championships with lots of help diminishing his legacy. This is speaking from a Miami Heat fan’s perspective who has been watching this game for the past 25 years and has seen everything from the 1992 Dream Team to Jordan with 6 rings on his finger and Kobe dominate the last couple of years. Ultimately, King James will have to settle for being a Prince, but nonetheless I have to say its the best time ever to be a Miami Heat fan. We will win over the next 5 to 6 years a couple of championships IF we get a couple of good role players, shooters and big 7 footers down the middle. I feel sorry for the city of Cleveland, but lets remember that Sports is a business, its not personal regardless of how many ties which is why so many are turned off, but in this case they malign a player who took less money to win, I thought that is what mattered in sports, I guess its HOW you win that matters.

  3. jay - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:29 AM

    this writier is a bitter person…write about something besides your own biases….

  4. nick - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:30 AM

    Why didn’t everyone complain like this when Boston was put together?

  5. glc - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:34 AM

    It’s just basketball…only the lamest of all sports, except for maybe Curling. There are people losing their livelihood and animals dying in the Gulf of Mexico. Who CARES about this kind of crap.

  6. ron - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:34 AM

    bill is right on. i dont understand how bosh is being talked about like he is hall of famer. not even close.9 rebounds a game, not a shot blocker, shoots jumpers. gasol much more skilled and better player. just because he was free agent does not meen he is a superstar. miami is not a lock to go to finals. trust me boston is not afraid and proved you win playoff games as a team and being very physical.

  7. Roro - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:36 AM

    Barkley put it best that at age 25 he would never go to team where he isn’t “the guy”. Legacy of greatness can never happen with basketball purests for Lebron. No matter how you analyze it, this is the easy way out. Especially after he rolled over on Celtics. He will win rings now, but not in the same way of the true legends like Jordan, Magic, Bird, etc.

  8. guyy - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:37 AM

    Another sore Cleveland loser,Lebron is a class act.

  9. Sam77 - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:37 AM

    It’s just business. What ball players do you see writing paragraphs maligning the team after they’ve been traded? That owner sounded like a jilted woman. LeBron was free to go to the team he felt was the best fit. How many of you would leave your current job if something better came along? I would in a heartbeat. Business is not about friendship.

  10. king of siam - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:38 AM

    His star power will diminish and he will be just another dumb jock. The egos will clash and then the finger pointing will start. Heat will have to peddle each of the has beens in short order.

  11. Brian - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:39 AM

    Holy Cow!!! Let’s get real. Lebron is not a God!!! Lebron was not the Messiah sent to “Save” Cleveland! He is a basketball player with two things on his mind; earning a living (he wouldn’t be playing if he was not getting paid), and winning an NBA championship. He’s got the earning a living thing down. Now he needs the championship. He will get that in Miami!

  12. junD - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:39 AM

    Lebron will never win an NBA championship if he stayed in Cleveland, he made the right choice. You’re just a disgruntled Cavs fan, history will prove you wrong!!!

  13. Duke - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:40 AM

    Please get off the Cavaliers. The Cavaliers were in the NBA Finals last year, and for the last two years had the best record in the NBA. Cleveland built a team around Lebron. MJ stuck with Chicago until they could get’er done. He lost alot before he won a title…you can’t get to heavan without dying…great statement. It was insensitive to the Cavalier fans to have one hour special that focused on the decision to leave. If you were leaving you should have done it quickly, and without ego. Never was on the Lebron bandwagon.

  14. Art Modell - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:40 AM

    Hello LeBron
    On behalf of the internets I must regretfully inform you to gtfo and take your fail with you.

  15. Sharla - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:41 AM

    “Today, Kobe Bryant is more respected and beloved than he ever has been before”
    That comment says it all about the NBA. Kobe Bryant deserves no respect. If the sports icons dont get a grip on the fact that they are HUMANS pretty soon, all the kids will be running around behaving like their idols and thinking its ok.
    If I’m not mistaken, there are 5 guys on the court for a basketball game. I’m not the most well versed basketball fan, but when I watched the Chicago Bulls’ games in the ninties, you could depend on the marvelous talent of MJ to be very very constant. It used to seem to me, though, that the game rose or fell on my second idol of the team, Scotty Pippen (and others but my attention was always on him). I’m not a statistician, so dont fry me if I’m wrong.
    So LeBron James is to be considered a failure. Maybe he should commit some kind of act/go on trial/get acquitted and THEN the Sports world will respect and love him.

  16. JMC - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:41 AM

    It will be interesting to see how Bosh, Wade and The King will mesh. We have the makings of a genuine soap opera. Maybe ESPN will broadcast that “show” each week once the season starts. Don’t know who would sponsor it though.

  17. think4yourself - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:42 AM

    Lebron just became AROD. No matter what he does he will be despised!
    Heat has 4 players under contract and no money left, so basically
    you will fill the roster with stuffed jerseys. Unless DW, LBJ, BOSH
    except even less money this team will not win a championship.
    Last night’s 1 hour special is the single worst production ever and it got a 7.4 rating. SHEEP BAH BAH BAH

  18. Drew - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:44 AM

    I agree and disagree. While it it a team effort, LeBron played TERRIBLY during the playoffs. He may have physically been in Cleveland during those games, but his heart was elsewhere. How can a two-time, straight-from-high-school MVP play so lousy? The fact of the matter is, that when the pressure is on, James NEVER delivers. Does he think going to another team will change that? He can’t handle the pressure of a championship. I don’t care if he is in Cleveland or Miami or Chicago or L.A. He murdered his legacy last night, and if he chokes again, there is no recovery. I agree with this article 100%. He is arrogant. He is the only NBA star to have a one-hour special regarding his decision. I don’t remember M.J. ever doing that. He says that Akron will always be his home, but he is no longer welcome. (I live 20 minutes away from him and have seen him hanging out around town.) He will never again be able to hang out in the Valley with his boys, because no bar in this town will serve him. He will never be able to come back because he burned thousands and thousands of fans. Akron will never be his home again. It will simply be the place he once lived. I really hope he is happy with his decision and that a Championship is worth more than his integrity. In Miami, he will be expected to win. In Cleveland, he didn’t need to win to be loved. The reign of the King has ended and now he is just a basketball player. Seems like a major demotion to me. When he packs up and leaves, it better be in the dead of night or else he runs the risk of being chased out by torch-carrying former fans. I knew he was going to leave weeks ago, I was just hoping that he was classier than that and would prove the fans wrong. Nope. He’s like every other super-star. Self serving with a “winning is the most important thing” mentality. I hope his jewelry is worth sacrificing his legacy.

  19. JMC - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:44 AM

    It will be interesting to see how Bosh, Wade and The King will mesh. We have the makings of a genuine soap opera. Maybe ESPN will broadcast that “show” each week once the season starts. Don’t know who would sponsor it though.

  20. steve - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:44 AM

    lebron is certainly not a class act. a class act would have talked to cavs owner. give some respect. he could have done a sign and trade with miami and not killed the franchise. a complete selfish act of arrogance and ego. he will never be jordan or kobe, bird or magic.

  21. Phaedruskali - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:45 AM

    Mr. James is a great player, no doubt about it, but he is not a great sportsman. He demonstrated that when he walked off the court, after losing to the Magic and didn’t shake hands. Very declasse.

  22. bebi - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:46 AM

    why is no one upset with the cleveland cavaliers and dan gilbert? if they truly valued lebron james, they would have put some key players around him. he stayed for seven years and they did nothing to show that they really took his championship quest seriously. people are saying kobe and jordan never abandoned their teams, uh maybe cause they had help. if i had scottie pippen and shaq i could stay with my team too. please compare apples with apples. i think the more accurate comparision is with kevin garnett. he was loyal to minnesota and they never invested in him, he had to wait to the latter part of his career to finally win a championship and it wasn’t a guarantee. he could have gotten seriously injured and never had the chance. people need to keep everything in perspective. first and foremost, its a game and its entertainment. no one’s life is at stake. he made a personal choice that’s best for him. when people complain about him ditching the city and hurting the people and diminishing their hopes, where were you when all the industries left and took all the jobs away. if you had complained and protested this much about that maybe things would be different. people should be upset about the disgusting display made by the owner- no class whatsoever. no matter how poorly lebron handled things, there was no need to go where dan gilbert went. so tacky.

  23. Marchell - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:47 AM

    I agree with most of these comments regarding what a ridiculous ‘story’ this is! R U kidding? You actually get PAID to write this trash?

  24. Edgar - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:48 AM

    LeBron put the Cavs on his shoulders for several years. His supporting cast was terrible and the coach was lousy. Now he finally has a great coach and a worthy cast in Miami. No great player can do it alone. Jordan needed Pippen, Grant, Kerr, even Rodman. Bryant needed Shaq, Fisher, and Gasol. Garnett needed to get the heck out of Minnesota because he ws in the same boat as LeBron was, and he got a great team and a championship out of it. Why be loyal to a team that continuously makes poor decisions? LeBron exhausted himself trying to carry the Cavs for all these years. Sometimes the best thing is to leave, especially if you have a history of sucking in sports like Cleveland does.

  25. irishshamrock - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:50 AM

    Article-totally all wrong–how could we watch the same thing and conclude completely different positions?–the man is uniquely awesome in so many ways, completely actualized, focused, disciplined, and actually quite humble-to move on and take another challenge makes him a real man, and knowing the risks, we can only enjoy watching him succeed again and again-we have few heroes amongst us-let’s enjoy the excellent traits, try to emulate some of them ourselves, and wish him the BEST–THAT IS ENTERTAINMENT, not god-awful GAGA on new york streets screaming wildly–get educated america and most of all, get a LIFE! It’s a great world out there-

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