Just a word of explanation, if you’ll allow it. I’ve got a right to my opinion, just as you do yours and just as LeBron James has the right to take his talents wherever he wants.
But I don’t have to like it.
It’s been less than two months since James announced that he’d be rejoining the Cavaliers. Given that James was still booed in Cleveland last season – four years after signing with Miami – any reaction by Heat fans is still relatively new.
The impact has varied for this oft-maligned group, ranging from anger to indifference. And while I would never assume I can speak on everyone’s behalf, I can give you my take on the situation and have the forum to do it.
Let’s look at James’ first departure, when he originally left Cleveland in 2010, and the shocking reaction by Cavs fans and the general basketball world. He made a decision to leave a city and to pursue a professional opportunity elsewhere. The organization he joined was well-established, experienced with success and was, across the board, much more stable that the one he left behind. Sounds pretty benign, doesn’t it?
He rightly understood that announcing where he wanted to work – not just play, or live but grind through a long regular season in the hope of winning a championship – would be of interest to basketball fans. In turn, he made the announcement in a very public way that generated millions of dollars for charity.
The Decision wasn’t a bad thing. It wasn’t. There’s no way anyone can justify that it was a mistake for James to do what he did. The televised event was attacked for being self-serving, yet everyone watched because they wanted to. It was selfish, yet resulted in a charitable act.
Compare this to how well-received his recent announcement was. Then consider that as many or more people waited for the news to break and the only organization that benefitted is a multi-million dollar private entity – Sports Illustrated – as opposed to the Boys and Girls Club.
Still feel justified?
So let’s look at the immediate negative reaction to James’ broadcast. The most public outcry came from Cleveland fans, the team he just left. Just below that were protests in New York and Chicago, teams that felt they had a legitimate chance at stealing LeBron away from the Cavs and failed in the attempt. And then, a general disapproval stemmed from 26 opposing fanbases that saw their windows of success close because James joined Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami.
Where’s that outrage now? News has just broken that a deal between Minnesota and Cleveland will happen and that James will be joined by All-Star Kevin Love, as well as Kyrie Irving. It seems unlikely that this new “Big 3” will be booed in Dallas, San Antonio or Oklahoma City, cities with title-contending teams that will have significantly harder chance to win it all. Will fans in Boston and Philadelphia curse at this team from the stands, like they did in 2010, even if they don’t have any hope of a championship?
Probably not and the hypocrisy is overwhelming.
And herein lies the crux of why Miami Heat fans are deservedly upset at James departure. When the Heat pulled off the greatest free agency coup in sports (not just NBA) history, the city threw a party. Who wouldn’t want to celebrate a future that appeared to be so bright?
When images of Cavs fans crying and cursing and burning jerseys were splashed across the news, LeBron James was welcomed as one of Miami’s own, sheltered from the negativity outside of South Florida.
As people attacked his family, questioned his manhood and urinated on images on his face, he was made to feel heroic and special every time he stepped onto the AmericanAirlines Arena floor.
People looked for weaknesses in his game, questioning his every move. They ignored the sacrifices that he and other Heat players made, giving up millions to build a better team. They hoped that he would suffer a career-ending injury rather than enjoy success in Miami.
And Heat fans just cheered louder, hoping to drown out the ignorant noise.
For four years, Miami supported James through countless attacks. When he noticeably crumbled in the 2011 NBA Finals – and as the country laughed and rejoiced in his failure – Heat fans looked past that and said, We’ll get ‘em next year.
The franchise gave LeBron every opportunity to win a championship, retooling the team in each of the next three off-seasons. They would have done it again this summer, if given the chance.
Instead he decided to leave, and as more and more evidence becomes public, it seems that James had been planning his departure for quite some time. He stalled to make a public announcement and therefore crippled the Heat’s chance (now a competitor) of moving on to a “Plan B,” like Carmelo Anthony. It was a sensible, and perhaps ruthless, move to string along the team and fans that provided James shelter from the angry storm in 2010.
So while the entire country gets swept up in a false narrative of James returning home, don’t forget that he left the home he had for four years. That while Miami was attacked for tampering and circumventing the rules, the Cavs have agreed to a long-term deal with a player that is currently part of the Timberwolves’ roster. And that while he active recruits players that he considers friends, he forces the Cleveland front office to trade away young, fragile players to keep them from either personal or team success.
I don’t begrudge James for leaving – like I said, it was his right – but I don’t like the conniving, scheming aspect of how it happened or how gleefully fans accept today what they hated so much four years ago. And for all of his individual greatness, the two titles he won couldn’t have been achieved without the team that was built for him and supported by the fans of South Florida.
James will return to Miami with his new team, probably on Christmas Day to satisfy the NBA’s thirst for sexy storylines to maintain interest throughout a long season. And I hope that Miami fans will remember the incredible achievements of the past four years and applaud their former superstar. They should cheer for him and remind him of what he’s missing, not justify his leaving. Maybe he’ll feel just a bit guilty and, months too late, acknowledge the fans that had supported him through his most trying times.
After all, he may not owe them anything but a simple thanks would have been nice.