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LeBron James: The Golden Boy No More

Jul 9, 2010, 12:16 AM EDT


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 11:51 AM

    Shaq’s situation is different than Lebron’s. When Shaq and the Magic went to the finals and lost, Shaq asked the question to the Magic franchise, “Is this my team? Or is it Penny’s team?”. The Magic said it was Penny’s, so he left. He went to Lakers, won rings and when his contract was up he asked “Is this my team? Or is it Kobe’s team?”. The Lakers said it was Kobe’s, so he left. He went to Miami, won another ring, but this time didn’t ask that question as he knew his prime was basically over… This is based on a radio show interview he did in Florida.
    Cavs never picked anyone else over Lebron. Maybe the team they built around him wasn’t the best, but as a team they had the best regular season record. Lebron is as much to blame for their loss in the playoffs as the Cavs themselves. But the bottom line is, the Cavs did not abandon Lebron. He ultimately abandoned them.

  2. J - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:53 AM

    I’m not sure I agree with you. He’s a failure because he left the Cavs, just when they were starting to build a championship franchise. Why does it all have to be about Championships? How about loyalty? Take a look at Reggie Miller. Played his whole career with the Pacers, never won a championship. But I’d argue he had as much sucess as anybody else.

  3. Mr. Mike - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:54 AM

    What a joke! I can see all of his worshipers tearing off their home team jerseys so the can buy this fools and parade around as if they were his best freinds. Same idiots who will spend $200 and more for this clowns shoes. FOOLS!

  4. SallyB - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:55 AM

    LeBron is going to find that in Miami, he is no longer going to be The Man. Dwayne Wade will see to that. At best, he’s going to be Robin to Wade’s Batman, a second banana at best. And someone like LeBron, with his outsized ego, is going to have a hard time swallowing the second banana role. He wants to be The Man, and he would have been had he stayed in Cleveland. Now he’s just going to be a supporting actor instead of in the lead role. He’s going to have to swallow the very hard reality that there is no “I” in Team.
    He has just shown a glaring lack of integrity by what he’s done. His glory days are over. No more LeBron The Man. Now he’s just LeBron The Traitor. But then, he’s 25 years old, and it’s a known fact that men mature slower than women, so he’s acting out of pure immaturity by his actions. He’s still got a good amount of growing up to do, and in a few years when he realizes that he’s no longer The Man, he’s going to pine for his days in Cleveland when he was The Chosen One. Sadly, he’s burned his bridges behind him and he’s never going to be able to return. He’s now an exile, a stranger in a strange land, by his own hand, no longer welcome in NE Ohio. What a stupid thing to do at this juncture in his career!

  5. david - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:55 AM

    dumbest thing ever said. Its like cheating to make it work. So instead of them all being money hungry greedy where I make the most money is where I will go players they decided winning was more important and took as much as 30 mill less to win. If only more players werent after all the money and were willing to take less to win. The sports world would be a better place. You must be a cavs fan

  6. david - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:57 AM

    dumbest thing ever said. Its like cheating to make it work. So instead of them all being money hungry greedy where I make the most money is where I will go players they decided winning was more important and took as much as 30 mill less to win. If only more players werent after all the money and were willing to take less to win. The sports world would be a better place. You must be a cavs fan

  7. Sour Grapes - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:57 AM

    Front Runner? He played for Cleveland, which was an NBA wasteland before he was drafted by the Cavs. How is that a frontrunner? He re-signed 4 seasons ago (instead of a long-term max deal)when he could have left for a “front runner”.
    I know Cav fans are in mourning now, it’s understandable. No one cared before 2003 and no one will care after 2011 (you’ll get some sympathy interest this upcoming season). That’s OK, you can go back to being the Bucks, Golden State, and all the other mediocre franchises in the league.

  8. james T - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:58 AM

    “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” WTF does this even mean? “The right way” as long as he isn’t cheating there is no “right way” Sheesh. These guys are in it to win – who cares how they get it done and that part about taking the easy way – who says, “Yeah I could do accomplish my goals by working harder or I could do it by working smarter. Hmmm, nah I’ll keep doing it the stupid way.

  9. james T - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:59 AM

    “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” WTF does this even mean? “The right way” as long as he isn’t cheating there is no “right way” Sheesh. These guys are in it to win – who cares how they get it done and that part about taking the easy way – who says, “Yeah I could do accomplish my goals by working harder or I could do it by working smarter. Hmmm, nah I’ll keep doing it the stupid way.

  10. Stomsover - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:59 AM

    Sports is an amazing cornerstone of America. But I believe it has totally gotten away from what it represents as sports. The money, championship rings, fans, internet, and the tabloids… I don’t watch sports as most people do, but I do truly understand the game know matter which game it is. I do understand that everyone has removed themselves away from what it truly is supposed to be. Unfound, but lost. A man’s decision is his own regardless of the choice we feel is good bad or indifferent. Its his choice. Had he stayed someone would be writing something bad, now that he is leaving something is written bad about him. Just wish him good luck instead of beating him down. Grow up people….. Let him be the decision of happiness is his own.

  11. Azucar - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:59 AM

    The ESPN program was the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen. I don’t know what was worse….the DRAMA over the “decision” or the three on the panel having to say the same thing over and over again about why Chicago (Barry) and why Miami (the other two) while Mr. One Eye tries to keep it interesting. You talk about being patronized!
    Who cares about some over priced wounded and abandoned victim. Money does not solve his father leaving or his mother’s mistakes with Delonte West. He sold out his home, his fans, and himself. He betrayed all involved which is something he will have to live with for the rest of his life.
    Jordan, Magic, Bird, and Kobe just kicked him out of the club. Maybe now the NBA will finally drug test for Marijuana for “real” since Miami will be playing with only 4 players. We will now have no 4 man (power forward) in the league to coddle Miami so that all teams will play with the same amount of players. Testing for the cannibus will eliminate about half the players. The NBA just got a little “darker”…nuf said….

  12. DaTruthBeTold - Jul 9, 2010 at 12:00 PM

    About time something said that actually makes sense.
    Didn’t Lebron (King James) made it to the NBA Finals 2007 and lost…sweep by the Spurs!!!
    which means he had the talent and the Coach (Mike Brown), but couldn’t get over the hump!!
    Didn’t Lebron’s Cav’s team the past two years, had the best record in the NBA…I guess he didn’t have the talent or the best Coach in the League.
    Oh yeah he did, Coach Brown, was named Coach of the Year in 08/09 season.
    So excused me..all u Lebron fans…he’s had the talent around him; he’s had a coach that took him to the playoffs…what’s missing is Lebron making his team better not his stats!!!
    GO LAKERS, 3-PEAT Champions 2010/2011
    oh…get Rid of the ‘King James’ title…never earned it and doesn’t deserve it. Call him Cowardly James or D-Wade’s boy…

  13. IronSchef - Jul 9, 2010 at 12:00 PM

    LeBron is trying to place himself in the “Michael” or “Kobe” rarified air, but his career thus far looks a whole lot more like “Marbury”, and I predict he will follow that same path when its all said and done – awesome HS player, big time scorer in the NBA, no titles.

  14. mri - Jul 9, 2010 at 12:00 PM

    For everyone who’s commenting that people who are pissed must be disgruntled Clevelanders, get over yourself. Can you really believe that you wouldn’t have responded in the same manner if Lebron put his decision out there the way he did?
    Let me assure you that the people of Cleveland this morning, although a bit weary, are not hanging their heads in shame about Lebron James’ decision to play for the Heat. We will prevail, as we always have, and rise up stronger than before. While Dan Gilbert’s letter may have been overly harsh in tone, it conveyed the spirit that everyone, including many who live outside of Cleveland, feel about the situation. Emotional responses will soon subside, replaced by clear, rational thought – most people accept that Lebron was free to make any decision he felt was best for him. People do it everyday and agonize over it, much like, I’m sure, Lebron did.
    My issues are this: don’t do it in such a public manner – have a little respect for the city who, in essence, paid your salary for 7 years, and let them know privately and with a little grace; secondly, what kind of message did he send for the hundreds of thousands of kids nationally who looked up to him as a role model when, in his words, he said it’s all about winning? Lebron completely undermined all of us who are trying to teach our children that it ISN’T about winning – it’s all about doing your best and making sure that, at the end of a game, you can hold your head up high knowing you put your best effort (since 99% of our kids are NOT going to end up playing professional sports). It is clear to anyone who watched the Celtic series that he wasn’t putting in his best effort that his salary (not a sense of hometown loyalty) REQUIRED him to do – just like your employer or mine requires me to put my best effort forward everyday for a significantly smaller salary. Thanks, Lebron, for clearing it all up for us and letting us know we had it all wrong.

  15. kjo - Jul 9, 2010 at 12:01 PM

    I’d like to know why the hatred? He was a free agent. I don’t see the media or anyone ragging on Buttas Favre. He was under contract with GB..he faked retirement (twice) and cried and whined to orchestrate his own form of free agency to get to wheer he wanted to be so he could run the show. Of course hes worhsipped, yet Lebron is vilified? Why?

  16. Sports Analyst - Jul 9, 2010 at 12:02 PM

    okay—enough already. Look, alot of y’all are trashing the Cavs for not surrounding James with the right talent. They couldn’t. Le Bron sewed this up in 2007-08 with the 3-year deal. Wade and Bosh did the same thing. This plot was hatched at the OLympics, pure and simple. No one was going to come to the Cavs because, hey, you sign a 5-6 year deal in 08 or 09, and the main cog is GONE in 2010!! So there you are, strung out on a team with no James and empty promises, and 3-4 years left on your deal. I am a Cavs fan—second. Boston—first. Grew up watching Russell, Sam Jones, Hondo, Bailey Howell, Bird, Nate, etc. I do not blame James for wanting to form a champion. A TEAM needs parts. I’m fine with that. The part that STINKS and SUCKS is the way he did it. CLeveland is a great town—grew up not far from there. Blue collar, hard working, passionate about sports. Alot of bad luck—the sports bad luck is secondary. This area is one of the most economically depressed areas in the country. The retailers, the city, and the town took a major financial and emotional hit when he did this THE WAY HE DID IT…He stuck it to Cleveland. They did not deserve this. Yes, Dan Gilbert was a little over the top, but he’s passionate about the city. James is only passionate about himself. He embarrassed a city on national TV, because HE IS arrogant and full of himself, and he planned it 3 years ago.

  17. Jonathan - Jul 9, 2010 at 12:03 PM

    Well, “Crash” before you go declaring any one a fool, consider this: LaBron has 10 fingers and not one of them has a NBA championship ring on them. I doubt LaBron has the emotional, mental or intellectual ability to be a champion. He lacks the psychology to be a REAL champion. I’ll give Wade, Bosh and James credit for this; they are on their way to becoming the new Harlem Globe Trotters — an exhibition team.

  18. stevello - Jul 9, 2010 at 12:04 PM

    Get over it. Lebron is not a slave. Players get traded all the time from teams they love. Does that make the owners disloyal. Lebron is the modern era businessman. It’s just business. He did what was best for him. The owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers needs to be chastised and scrutinized by the media and the league for his vile immature comments — talk about stooping to a new low. There is no loyalty in this league. It is about winning and Lebron made a logical decision. The owner of the Cavaliers needs to be dissapointed at himself. He had seven years to surround Lebron with a championship caliber team and he didn’t get it done. Moe Williams is not a legitimate second option. When Kobe doesn’t play his team still wins. Lets see if this happens in Cleveland. So to all the nay sayers and haters, i.e. arrogant sports writers and disgruntled fans get over it. This is a business and Lebron don’t owe you sh*t. If it wasn’t for him giving Cleveland seven years of greatness they wouldn’t have bought his jersey to burn. Go Lebron and do your thing, you are not a slave. And all this talk about doing it the right and wrong way is pathetic. Lebron get as many rings as you possibly can and let the haters and nay sayers wallow pitifully in your glory. Peace!

  19. kadub239 - Jul 9, 2010 at 12:05 PM

    Whose idea was that hour-long special?! That was the most ridiculous thing ever conceived!!! If it was ESPN’s, then LBJ should have refused to do it, citing that it would be in unmeasurably poor taste to announce his decision in such a manner. Any boorish idiot would know that.

  20. JH - Jul 9, 2010 at 12:05 PM

    Um, I can’t believe someone wrote this crap.

  21. judyjudyjudy - Jul 9, 2010 at 12:06 PM

    i forget…isn’t kobie that rapist who paid off his victim?

  22. stevello - Jul 9, 2010 at 12:06 PM

    You are a hater. Lebron don’t owe you sh*t. Are you in his shoes, no. So stop hating.

  23. champigny78 - Jul 9, 2010 at 12:07 PM

    I am really really confused, I am a celtics fan through and through. What I saw last night was a man who came into this league as a team player who had to be the one man team on the Cavs. He takes less, money, gives up admiration, to play with a team on a team sport. He is the best palyer in the league who has not raped, cheated, stolen, taken drugs, or killed anybody but he is a failure. MMMM here is where we will see how good Clevland really is, because without the “King” they are deceased. So this tells me they had nobody but the king in the first place. When will you writers look at what this man is doing and why he is doing it. To win as a team in a team sport. He has giving cleveland a way to win by leaving the money on the table, who else would do this in todays money hungry world?

  24. Steve - Jul 9, 2010 at 12:08 PM

    Thank God this guy announced where he is going to play. This was so hyped up and really ridicilous how much coverage this story received. Who the hell cares but basketball fans…I really could care less. Totally insignificant.

  25. Azucar - Jul 9, 2010 at 12:08 PM

    I am from the West Coast and will now buy a Cleveland Cavs jersey in support of Mr. Gilbert. I will buy a number 23 jersey with another name on it. And I am an Oakland Warriors faithful. Go Dan…say what you want…let it out….he sold you out! I totally respect the Cleveland area and all its fans.
    Lebron James is a victim, a baby, and a coward.

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