The Championship of Me comes crashing into a primetime cable infomercial that LeBron James(notes) and his cronies have been working to make happen for months, a slow, cynical churning of manufactured drama that sports has never witnessed. As historic monuments go, this is the Rushmore of basketball hubris and narcissism. The vacuous star for our vacuous times. All about 'Bron and all about nothing.
James is throwing a few foosball tables at Boys & Girls Clubs, an empty gesture out of the empty superstar. He's turned free agency into the title of our times, a preening pageant of fawning, begging and pleading. Hard-working people are dragged into municipalities and told to hold signs, chant scripted slogans and beg a diva who doesn't care about them to accept a $100 million contract.
Privately, Dwyane Wade(notes) and Chris Bosh(notes) weren't pleased on Wednesday morning with the belief that James' camp was responsible for leaking their plans to a television partner, but then again it makes perfect sense: This isn't about Wade and Bosh choosing the Heat. It's about LeBron getting the stage to himself on Thursday night.
One front-office executive whose team made a presentation to LeBron James told Yahoo! Sports that he believes James is choosing between Miami and Cleveland. And yet, if James wants to deliver the biggest kick in the gut to his hometown, he'll pick the flat-lined New York Knicks. Whatever the decision, he's made clear that the teasing and tormenting of the loser isn't his concern.
Team LeBron is having the time of its life, but has no idea the repercussions of what it's done here. All that comes to James now is the biggest burden to win a championship that sports has ever seen. They aren't making James a bigger star with this big-top, but a bigger target. All those teams that marched into the presentations and listened to some of the foolish and naive questions asked of them believed these kids had no idea what they were doing, or what they had gotten themselves into. They're all feeling more validated every day. From beginning to end, this process has been a farce.
[Photos: See images of the coveted NBA superstar]
On James' new website, under the headline dubbing this TV debacle "The Decision," there come these words: "Maverick Carter, CEO of LRMR Marketing said…" This explains everything. Carter's marketing company isn't doing so well trying to get its one client Jonny Flynn(notes) a used-car dealership endorsement in the Twin Cities, and now Carter's going to try to justify all that plush office space, staff attorneys, private planes and resort hotels by translating the Championship of Me into the making of his reputation.
Carter's pushed one agent – Aaron Goodwin – and one advisor – William Wesley – aside because he wanted to be the voice in James' ear and the one getting credit on the masthead. So far, Carter's been a superstar at spending James' money on LRMR, but now he's getting the company name out there and turning LeBron into Mr. July after LeBron didn't have the stomach to be Mr. June.
Team LeBron had discussed a documentary on the free-agent process, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported, but the narrative changed after James' Game 5 meltdown in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Carter says there was never a plan for a free-agent tour, but this is what he means: There was never a plan for James to get held accountable, to have his motivations and priorities called into doubt. There was never a plan for the blame to shift from Danny Ferry, Mike Brown and his Cavaliers teammates. There was never a plan that real-world rules applied to the self-proclaimed King.
They scrapped the tour, the documentary and set sights on hijacking the network for an unprecedented special they believe will elevate James' brand. Only, James has never looked smaller, never more insecure and unsure of who he is and what he wants to be. He won't look so much like Kobe Bryant(notes) and David Beckham, but rather a three-star linebacker from Shaker Heights picking Bowling Green over Kent and Ohio U. on local access television.
Team LeBron has known all along it was going to do this, and the cushy, protective relationship with that television network culminates with a basketball player commandeering his own coverage on his own terms. Now James and his buddies spoon out misdirection plays on his possible destination – feeding everyone for days and weeks that the Knicks were dead, only to say now, "Well…who knows?" – to build back drama for the infomercial.
This is some plan they've hatched and some game they're playing with those Cleveland fans who've been so relentlessly loyal to James. First, he marched the biggest suitors in the sport to come court him in downtown Cleveland with those pointless presentations. He wanted those people out there creating a visual public push-and-pull for him, and because James needed to be told something that probably isn't completely true anymore: Cleveland loves him.
Well, Cleveland craves him. Love is a strong word, and it ought to be unconditional, but loving a sports hero is the most conditional kind of love there is. Only, it was different with Cleveland. He's one of them, but you still have to wonder: Are they one of him?
James never shared that town's angst with the Browns and Indians. He wanted winners in his life, and rooted for the Dallas Cowboys and New York Yankees. He doesn't feel the pain of a city's broken heart. Shaquille O'Neal(notes) leaving the Orlando Magic for the Los Angeles Lakers 14 years ago was a hard hit, but LeBron bailing on Cleveland is far more devastating on a different level.
Everyone ridicules Cleveland, makes it a butt of jokes, but LeBron James has the chance to change all of that. And even then, it has to crush Cleveland's sporting psyche that James could still walk out. If one of our own won't stay, what does that say to the rest of the country?
That's the hardest part here, and that makes the possibility that James would go on national television – with those split-screen shots of stunned fans in Akron and Cleveland – and completely crush those people so impossible to believe. He couldn't be that cold, that callous, that cunning? Or perhaps, maybe this is all a rollout – the website, the Twitter page and the infomercial – to introduce a new LeBron, a new city, to the world.
Whatever happens, James and the television network will hide behind some money going to the Boys & Girls Clubs. But this isn't about kids and sports, and it sure isn't about the credibility that comes with winning championships. Something's changed here, and LeBron James has gone a long way to devaluing winning and losing in the NBA. David Stern has long pushed the individual over team, marketed showy over substance, and LeBron James represents the manifestation of it all.
Greatest talent to ever walk into this league, the self-proclaimed King, and now everyone gets a front-row, primetime seat for how it means to live without self-awareness, without restraint. The vacuous star for our vacuous times, live on Thursday night and fitting himself for a ring as the undisputed Champion of Me. All about 'Bron and all about nothing.
- LeBron James