“Man, this is very tough. In this fall, I’m going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.”
Twenty-two words that forever altered the landscape of professional basketball. I remember where I was and what I was doing as they were unconfidently uttered, and I know with a high degree of certainty that I always will. There are certain memories you hold on to; moments that get etched in your memory like marble; so engrained that a thousand years of waves couldn’t wash them away, and THIS was one of those moments.
Such memory space is usually reserved for important personal moments; big moments, like your location when you were told of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, or the first few seconds after being informed of the passing of a close family member or friend. The relocation of a sports superstar doesn’t seem deserving of sharing a plane with such emotional events, but this was big, and the significance wasn’t lost on a sports fanatic such as myself.
“Yo kid! Yo! Your phones ringing, pick that shit up!” I slowly sat up in my bed, slightly confused, and began fumbling around the hotel nightstand, searching for my cell. Although I tried not to elevate my eyes toward Jason, my best friend who was occupying the other single bed in the small and stuffy Virginia Beach hotel room, I could tell that he was staring daggers in my direction, angered that I allowed my cell to disturb his slumber. I located the phone in time to pick it up before the last ring, and quickly found myself in a conversation with Carey, the head of a basketball-based website for which I regularly write. I was unaware of the time, although I knew it was early because I could not hear the common beach commotion that one is afforded with an ocean-front room.
“The internet’s going crazy today,” Carey exclaimed excitedly, “we need a LeBron piece!”
“What kinda piece,” I mumbled back, expressing about an eighth of Carey’s excitement.
“Anything; an opinion, an idea, what you think he should do, or what you think he will do,” Carey explained, obviously eager to have any LeBron-related article up on the site in order to attract some of this extra traffic due to LeBron James’s highly anticipated ‘Decision’ which was scheduled to air on ESPN that evening.
I accepted, somewhat unenthusiastically, and hung up. It’s not that I wasn’t excited about the opportunity, but getting up early to write an unremunerated sports piece wasn’t how I was planning on spending my already-truncated vacation on Virginia’s Beach.
Regardless, I began to write, hoping that I could complete an article before Jason awoke, inevitably around eleven, ready to conquer a day full of beach and beer.
I was still unaware of the time, although the sharpness on the pain pounding against the inside of my skull, a residual reminder of last night’s liquor, told me that I couldn’t have been sleeping for more than a few hours.
That morning I penned a piece imploring LeBron to stay in Cleveland, which was reflective of not only my wishes, but what I actually thought was going to happen. I didn’t really allow myself to consider the fact that the self-proclaimed “King” could leave Cleveland; his home town; the town that he held in the palm of his hand, without providing its long suffering fans with at least once Championship parade.
People like loyalty, I explained to my computer screen, selling myself on the impossibility of his departure.
I finished the article before Jason awoke, sent it in, and prepared to embrace a day full of beach-related debauchery, amplified by the anticipation of the night’s big announcement.
To say that I’m still shocked almost six months later is an understatement, as I can recall having felt such extreme sports-related devastation only one other time. It wasn’t merely the fact that he left, but more the way in which he left, and who he would be teaming with in Miami that made the move so unsettling. The basketball historian in me forced me to ponder any previous precedent that was set that could potentially account for LeBron’s seemingly strong desire to play with other superstars, which led to his migration to Miami. LeBron’s decision to trade the Cleveland cold for South Beach sunshine was a direct result of his desire to be a part of a so-called super-team, made up of several stars and a roster of role players, a team which could contend for seasons to come. This precedent, and its resulting effect on the landscape of the League, I can pin like a shamrock ribbon, squarely on the shoulders of the success of the Boston Celtics.
Maybe they didn’t consider the repercussions. It’s likely that they were just far more concerned with championships than consequences; the Larry O’Brien trophy can be blinding. Surely when Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined Paul Pierce in Boston in 2007 to collectively chase a championship, they did not anticipate the massive effect their movement, and resulting success, would have on the structure of the League.
Had they lost that year maybe things would be different. Failure in the Finals would have led to a multitude of concerns about the ability of three superstars to coexist, regardless of how “dedicated” they claimed they were to winning. Falling short could have served as a warning sign to future players to not attempt to construct such a union; a warning that three superstars are not meant to be united. Yes, it’s safe to assume that the NBA landscape would be vastly different had the Lakers bested Boston. Instead, the Celtics were successful, and their 2008 banner hangs as a blueprint for all championship-hungry superstars searching for immediate gratification.
At the time I was happy for Boston’s Big Three. Each one had dominated individually for the better part of a decade, leaving everything on the floor for their respective franchises. They had all piled up massive miles on their NBA odometers and had begun to see the window of opportunity slowly shutting. So when they decided to collaborate to chase a championship, their decision was met with support rather than cynicism and second-guessing. It seemed that each was individually deserving of a championship and in order to put themselves into the best possible position to achieve that goal, each had to sacrifice, at least stats if not stacks, making the whole thing seem acceptable.
Three years later however, with a potential perennial powerhouse stationed in Miami, and rumblings from several other marquee superstars about forming similar alliances, the initial Big Three’s union is looked at in quite a different light. LeBron led the charge, and now it seems that other franchise players interested in developing their own “super team,” and from a competitive standpoint, who could blame them? Does Carmelo really think that himself, J.R. Smith, and Kenyon Martin can contend with the stars in South Beach?
Of course not, but what happened to winning on your own accord; bringing a title to your team, rather than following one to another franchise?
Doesn’t anyone in the current crop (Kobe excluded) have that alpha-dog gene; that killer instinct that makes you want to be the best, and beat the best? Mike had it, and that’s why we loved him. He was embraced because he brought championships to Chicago, rather than going championship chasing. Not that Mike had the same opportunities available to him, as today’s players wield much more power, but him teaming up with a rival like Larry Bird seems almost unimaginable.
If this Miami Heat mega-team attains even a sliver of the success that is expected of them, expect the stacking team trend to continue, a scary sign for anyone who likes their stars spread across the NBA landscape rather than stacked on a few super squads. Thanks Boston
“Damn, he looks nervous, that can’t be good,” I remarked to Jason, who was sitting next to me at the otherwise unoccupied hotel bar.
“Yeah he does, I hope Clevelanders can hold their breath for an hour,” Jason joked, referring to the fact that ESPN had turned LeBron’s decision into an absurd hour-long spectacle, as he sipped on what was likely his seventieth Bud Light of the day.
“I wonder where he’s gunna go,” Jason continued, “the Bulls could be a good fit.”
“Yeah, I guess I could see him in Chicago,” I agreed, having already conceded the fact that he was clearly not going to return to Cleveland.
The hour dragged on as Jason and I kept the bartender busy, preparing for the disappointment of the Decision. As the show neared its conclusion, I searched for some logic to lessen the let-down, although by that time, I confess, my sense of reasoning had started to fall victim to that very bartender’s service.
“Maybe the change will be good for the League,” I offered, not fully believing my own words.
“Yeah maybe,” nodded an increasingly intoxicated Jason, “but I’ll always wonder what would have been.”
I sat in silence for a minute, letting what Jason just said sink in; it’s amazing the wisdom that gets unearthed by alcohol. I quickly realized that I will always wonder what would have been as well; a train of thought that was quickly derailed by the announcement of the Decision. Jason, the bartender, and I fell silent, as I imagined that the entire sports nation was equally transfixed on their televisions.
“Man, this is very tough,” LeBron began, but I didn’t need to hear the rest, as I quickly ordered two shots of Soco with lime, hoping to escape the inevitable frenzy of feedback that would immediately follow the program.
All I kept thinking was how LeBron, our generation’s Jordan, just lacerated his legacy.
“Wow man.” Those were the only words I could muster as we made our way into the breezy Virginia Beach night, ready for a lifetime full of wondering what if.
Jason charged ahead of me up the sandy sidewalk, as I slowed my pace considering what I perceived as a loss of loyalty in sports, and how the Cleveland’s of the world may never get a chance again.
Jason had slowed his pace to meet that of mine, as he caught the look of confusion in my eyes.
“Yeah man, it’s pretty crazy,” he slurred, before putting it all into perspective, “but at least we’re not in Cleveland.”