If LeBron James bailed on Cleveland in the least classy way possible (as he ultimately did) I was all set to use "LeBron James is a selfish, clueless dickhead" as my column header, but Deadspin's Drew Magary beat me to the punch earlier this morning with a much more succinct, articulate and humorous diatribe than anything I'd have come up with. But regardless of what name-calling you want to deploy in reference to LeBron (and trust me, they're all warranted at this point), it doesn't change the fact that his signing by the Miami Heat is bad for everyone involved and the NBA in general.
First off, I feel awful for the city of Cleveland and Cavaliers fans everywhere. Like Denver, Cleveland is a small market city by professional sports standards and, also like Denver, its basketball franchise did whatever it could (read: spend gazillions of dollars, fire two coaches, fire two GMs and make countless deals to get "the King" a ring) to build a team around its superstar in hopes of keeping him there. Therefore, I don't begrudge Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert one bit for his post-announcement comments referring to LeBron's "shocking lack of disloyalty" among other much more colorful statements. Gilbert and the Cavaliers did more for LeBron than Glen Taylor and the Timberwolves ever did for Kevin Garnett and yet LeBron didn't have the courtesy of talking to Gilbert face-to-face about his decision, opting instead to string Gilbert and Cavaliers fans alongside the rest of the world.
Second, I regret re-upping my season tickets for the 2010-11 Denver Nuggets season, because I don't want to support the NBA with my dollars right now. The system is broken. Two franchises - Toronto and Cleveland - died this week, meaning as a Nuggets season ticket holder I'm stuck with two more worthless games that combined will cost me about $600 to sit through. And while I appreciate Gilbert's comments guaranteeing that Cleveland will win a championship before Miami does, the Cavaliers effectively have to start over (just as Denver might next year...more on that shortly). By LeBron, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade effectively colluding to play together in Miami, they've ruined the competitive balance of the NBA in one week. Suffice to say I'll be rooting boisterously for the Celtics, Bulls and Magic to kick the Heat's ass in the Eastern Conference next season.
Third, if LeBron truly only cares about winning, he has made a horrible basketball decision. The Bulls (with Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer), the Nets (with Devin Harris, Brook Lopez, ample cap space and Avery Johnson as head coach) or his previous team - the Cavaliers (who lest we forget had the NBA's best regular season record before LeBron took a dive in the playoffs) - all provided him with the deepest and most well-rounded rosters with which to win a championship. Last I checked the Heat are missing decent players at two of the most important positions on a basketball floor - point guard and center - and have only Mario Chalmers signed for next season. And why should any decent player settle for the league minimum just to help "King" James get his first ring, especially with a lockout looming?
Fourth, even if LeBron somehow wins a championship by gravy-training with Wade and Bosh, it will be a tainted championship. LeBron will never be the man in Miami as he could have been (check that, already was) in Cleveland. Instead of being John Elway, Magic Johnson or Derek Jeter, LeBron has opted to be - at best - Scottie Pippen or James Worthy. Great players to be sure, but not the heart and soul of their respective teams. That honor in Miami will always belong to Wade, who didn't need LeBron to win his first NBA Championship.
Fifth, LeBron's signing in Miami could potentially mean the end of the Carmelo Anthony Era in Denver. As detailed recently by Fanhouse's Chris Tomasson, Melo faces a tough decision: re-up with the Nuggets now for about $65 million guaranteed dollars over three seasons, or hold out for next summer, sign with the Knicks, become the king of New York but risk - again, according to Tomasson - losing almost $35 million in salary should the owners hammer the players in the next collective bargaining agreement as expected.
Under the current system that just destroyed two NBA franchises for next season and cost several others two seasons worth of basketball, Melo would be as good as gone and the Nuggets would need to work on a sign-and-trade deal for David Lee this weekend. But given that the presumed 2011 owners' lockout will commence before Melo can sign with anyone, it likely behooves Melo to take his $65 million now. Of course, just because the owners lockout the players doesn't mean Melo can't still get his hands on $65 million. We just don't know how the new system is going to work out and neither does Melo. But I have to believe that with the Knicks losing out on LeBron means they're already hot after Melo. And playing for Mike D'Antoni alongside Amare Stoudemire would be a great fit for the no-defense-playing Melo.
Fortunately for Nuggets fans, the lockout might be our savior in terms of keeping Melo in powder blue and gold for a few more seasons. But the lockout didn't come soon enough for Cleveland, Toronto or the many franchises - including the Knicks, Bulls, Nets and Clippers - that threw away the last few seasons just for a shot at signing LeBron. When the owners sit down next summer, something must be done to change this system. No fan base should have to endure what Cavaliers, Raptors, Knicks, Bulls and all three Nets fans just went through.
To be clear, LeBron James has every right to jettison Cleveland for another franchise. If he feels Miami gives him a better chance to win a ring (while I might vehemently disagree), he has the freedom to make that decision. But it can't be said enough about how poorly LeBron handled his decision and how his "marketing team" grossly miscalculated the PR side of his free agency. Based on the reaction I've seen in the blogosphere and elsewhere, LeBron has alienated anyone who's an NBA fan outside of Miami. Ever since the news broke that LeBron would be partaking in a one-hour TV special to announce his decision - while not being man enough to notify the Cavaliers or other suitors beforehand in person - I've been deluged with emails and texts denouncing "King" James.
Five years ago, my Benedict Arnold Lakers fan of a little brother boldly stated to me: "LeBron is a bad guy. I don't know have any specific examples for why I'm saying this, but I just know it. He's a bad guy and everyone will see it someday." I hate giving Lakers fans any credit, but today LeBron proved that my brother was 100% right.
I will never root for LeBron James. I hope he and his Heat teammates never taste NBA Finals champagne together. "King" James doesn't deserve to wear a crown and certainly doesn't deserve to wear any championship jewelry, either.
But the NBA is bigger than the narcissistic and self-centered likes of LeBron James. The NBA must look itself in the mirror and fix a broken free agency system before more defections ruin more small market franchises. Otherwise, the Nuggets could be next.
Is it too late to get a refund on my season tickets?
Photo courtesy of Getty Images: Doug Pensinger