In the end, the summer of 2010 turned out to be a teachable moment for all of us.
The Knicks learned not to sign a guy with an uninsured bad back and knees. The Chicago Bulls learned that Carlos Boozer was not quite the low post scorer that central casting seemed to suggest. The Miami Heat learned that signing perhaps the three best players at their respective positions does not always guarantee championship success, and the Cleveland Cavaliers learned not to post whiny letters online, promise an upcoming Finals win, prior to only adding Ramon Sessions to a lacking roster in anticipation of that run to the ring.
LeBron James? He learned that while going to Miami may have been the best idea, hunkering down for an embarrassing and tacky nationally-televised "Decision" was certainly not the smartest of ideas. He nearly made up for it this summer, returning to Cleveland following a muted announcement after Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert met with LeBron with hat firmly placed in hand, but not before LBJ took in nearly two years’ worth of criticism for his decision to run with The Decision.
In a recent question and answer session with former NBA Commissioner David Stern, David Aldridge of NBA.com managed to sneak an anecdote regarding James’ Decision and the subsequent fallout from the new Hall of Fame inductee:
DS: I told LeBron, I thought that regardless of how poorly executed The Decision was, I thought the world was being horribly unfair to him. He was entitled to make that decision and he was entitled to make the decision he made. If it makes him happy, then I'm happy. I think it's great. The additional dividend being, apparently, he has been much appreciated by the fans of the world for his decision to return to Cleveland. And I think that's wonderful. And I think that it demonstrates how embedded the NBA is into the psyche of not just America, but maybe even the world. That during the World Cup, the second-most talked about issue was where would LeBron go? There was a baseball season going on, but everyone wanted to talk about LeBron. I thought that was a very positive development. And it sort of demonstrated something we've said over the years, that the drama that's on and off the court provides fodder for our fans to think about, talk about, and get involved in some discussions about.
You’ll recall that, at the time, David Stern said he didn’t “think that this particular production showcased him to the best of our abilities," and that “the advice that he received on this was poor.” Hard to argue with that, and one can probably deduce that the former commissioner still has the same feelings about James’ televised spectacle.
Stern makes a sound distinction here. Heading to Miami was absolutely the right decision for LeBron James to make in the summer of 2010. His supporting cast in Cleveland was weak and aging (that roster minus James and, we’re not joking, with Sessions went on to win 19 games the following year as the Cavaliers stubbornly refused to start over and rebuild). The franchise had just hired a new general manager (Chris Grant) and coach (Byron Scott) that would move on to lead the Cavs through four terrible seasons, and Miami was a ready-made winner that would go on to four straight Finals appearances.
Piling on James for The Decision, though, and the free-agent celebration that took place a few days later was absolutely the right thing to do.
If “the world” was being unfair to LeBron James because people didn’t like him stacking the deck in Miami, sure. Those critics were always going to be wrong, and the proof is in the championship pudding – even a loaded Heat roster couldn’t beat the Mavericks and Spurs in 2011 and 2014, two-ably constructed teams that outplayed Miami’s top-heavy roster on their way toward deserved titles.
If “the world” was being unfair to James because of its reaction to the tawdry display that was The Decision, in Stern’s estimation? That’s a little unfair.
The Decision was brutal. James and interviewer Jim Gray came off as boasting absolutely no self-awareness, and the entire display was the absolute peak of James’ representatives and cronies running his particular show. I’ve sat through some eye-rolling stuff at this job, but well before James confirmed that he was taking his “talents to South Beach” I recall typing that having to cover that show felt like an absolute career low point. I hated myself for even watching it, and I wasn’t alone.
The move to go to Miami? Not a bad move, shouldn’t be criticized for it. Failing to top the Dallas Mavericks the next June? Only hacks without a soul would criticize LeBron James ahead of crediting a fantastic Mavericks squad. These sorts of lower-case decisions have no place in the crosshairs.
Luckily, we’ve all learned a lot in four years.
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