[NOTE: Of course, everything in this column might be completely moot by 10:00 EDT tonight. The author reserves the right to say "I told you so" but also to backtrack 100% in case of something completely unforeseen.]
By Ryan McGowan
There’s only one word to describe tonight’s “The Decision”—embarrassing.
It was bad enough that the NBA Finals—indeed, the entire NBA playoffs—were overshadowed by the ridiculous sycophantic circus surrounding the impending NBA free agents. If you are one of those soulless creatures who actually cares what LeBron says tonight in his apocalyptic one-hour ESPN infomercial, the kind of miscreant who is going to sit there among the King James posters in your mom’s basement glued to the TV, wearing your #23 James jersey, Nike Air Zoom LeBron sneakers, and of course jorts, reciting Stuart Scott’s idiotic catchphrases right after they come out of your mouth I have news from Planet Earth: you missed a damn good NBA Finals while you were slobbering over what your Messiah’s future plans are going to be.
More importantly, you missed a Finals that featured some of the most selfless, classy basketball players on the planet—and a rapist, yes, but still one that is all about winning more than selling his “brand.”
Tonight’s special might well be the most important hour in the history of our species. Please, President Obama… you need to stop whatever you’re doing and watch this. The future of the planet depends on the verdict of tonight’s made-for-cable publicity stunt. Curious humans from Bangkok to Budapest to Bora Bora will put aside their ethnic, religious, and political differences and will bow towards the One True King, seeking guidance and life wisdom with the utterance of a single proper noun, the name of an American city and a sports franchise nickname which will undoubtedly save us all, like Wyld Stallyns music certainly will as well by the 27th century.
Maybe this is what the writers of LOST teased us with in season five with the cryptic password, “What lies in the shadow of the statue?” The answer: Ille qui nos omnes servabit. Rough translation: “It doesn’t matter, as long as LeBron’s brand grows throughout fiscal year 2018.”
“King James,” indeed. As ridiculously narcissistic and self-deifying as tonight’s “The Decision” is sure to be, nothing can be more insulting to real fans of NBA basketball than the canonization of a player who, for all intents and purposes, isn’t a winner.
No one is arguing that LeBron James isn’t supremely talented. No one is arguing that he is not a mystifying physical specimen, blessed with the physicality of Barkley, the agility of Jordan, the strength of Chamberlain. He sees the floor like Magic and he threads the needle like Bird. He is the best pure talent in the game today.
But he is still a loser.
Let’s look at the choices that King James has laid out for himself in this all-encompassing, earth-shattering “Decision.”
1. Stay in Cleveland. He could have been a Cavaliers lifer, the hometown kid who lived a lifelong dream of playing for the Cavs and bringing them to the glory that eluded Mark Price and Brad Dougherty. He could have been the one to win Cleveland’s first championship since the 1964 Browns won in the pre-Super Bowl era.
He could have signed an extremely lucrative extension last offseason, or sometime during this season, but the King wanted to have his ego massaged. He wanted to hear how awesome he was. He wanted every general manager, head coach, and forlorn second-rate players lick the insides of his toes and polish his already massive self-love.
He can’t go back to Cleveland now. If he does, he will be admitting that this whole three-week courtship was just a dog-and-pony show, a charade for the world so he could get the verbal affirmation he needs to make himself feel better in the morning. Jesus, how insecure can one person be? Odds of option 1 happening: 20-1
2. Go to Miami. As for right now, various sources are reporting that this is where LeBron is headed, joining Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to form a slightly younger version of Boston’s “Big Three.” This might appear to be the safe bet right now, but I disagree.
LeBron is bigger than anything right now, at least in the minds of himself, David Stern, and ESPN. Only the NBA and ESPN would relentlessly promote a career underachieving athlete in a team sport who has never come close to winning a championship and hype him as the biggest athlete on the planet. More power to them. I’m sure the Celtics, Lakers, Spurs, Heat, and Pistons would rather have their rings.
Since LeBron is, to paraphrase John Lennon, “more popular than Jesus right now,” there is no way he is going to join up on someone else’s team, notably Wade’s, and share the spotlight with him. Wade, let’s not forget, has already won a title in Miami; it’s his town. I just don’t see LeBron going down this path. If he’s enough of a narcissistic egomaniac to host this outlandish “The Decision” special, then there’s no way he is going to play second fiddle, or even be stars A1 and A1A, in Miami. Odds of option 2 happening: 4-1
3. Jump to Chicago. This one, as of a few days ago, seemed like a lock to me. He can go to Chicago and play with Derrick Rose, who is a stud, but not quite at the caliber of LeBron. He can play in the House that Michael Jordan built. Sure, the specter of Jordan hovers over everything that goes on with the Bulls franchise. But is that a serious reason for not going to Chicago? Did Pau Gasol not want to play for the Lakers because Kareem and Shaq won a bunch of titles in LA? Was Kevin Garnett shying away from the Celtics because he didn’t want to have to walk through Quincy Market and constantly see a reminder of, literally, walking in Larry Bird’s shoes?
I thought this was his best option, but now I am starting to rethink my logic here. A few developments have emerged to lead me to think that another option is still in play here. Odds of option 3 happening: 3-1
4. Wild card, bitches! Let’s get this straight: LeBron is ONLY having this outrageous spectacle to promote himself and his “brand.” (Which, by the way, makes me want to vomit any time I hear an athlete or celebrity refer to his or her “brand.”) Don’t give me any of this bullshit that he wants to help the Boys and Girls Club. Creating a ridiculously self-serving event and then very publicly donating the advertising proceeds to charity so everyone can marvel about how great a person you are is not charity; it’s more selfish than just giving the money yourself. So spare me the “LeBron James is a great humanitarian” argument.
He would not have even considered putting on such a farce if he didn’t truly believe that he is the greatest, most transcendent athlete in the NBA, and probably of all professional sports, today. Hell, he probably thinks he is the biggest celebrity in the world, more famous and universally adored than even Obama himself.
So there is no doubt in my mind that the self-proclaimed biggest deal on the planet has to place himself in the middle of the self-proclaimed biggest deal among cities in America, New York City. No other city, probably in the world, thinks of itself as more LeBron-like than the Big Apple. “The Decision” is going to be broadcast from Greenwich, Connecticut, which I am sure LeBron is going to announce as his new hometown, although he will of course keep a Midtown condo for postgame refreshments with his role-playing buddies with the Knicks. Odds of option 4 happening: 1-5.
More importantly, signing with the Knicks will help the LeBron brand to grow exponentially. The Knicks will be HIS team. He will be the savior. One million LeBron jerseys will be sold tomorrow in the Tri-State area. He will sell tickets, shoes, socks, posters, and will be the face of the city. He instantly becomes the most popular athlete in town, eclipsing even the great Derek Jeter (ironically, the complete opposite of LeBron in terms of being a winner).
And when the Knicks inevitably fail to make the playoffs, and when Mike D’Antoni gets replaced with a more LeBron-friendly coach who can be easily manipulated by the King and his entourage, and when James predictably lashes out at the front office for failing to provide His Greatness with enough of a supporting cast to lift him to a championship, we can go through his whole song-and-dance four or five years from now, and LeBron can give us another speech on how much he values winning and how much he wants to bring a championship to long-suffering fans, which is why he is signing across town with the Brooklyn Nets.
Until then, let’s enjoy the spectacle that LeBron hath wrought tonight. Never before in my lifetime have I ever seen an event orchestrated to promote and glorify exactly the things that are wrong with the NBA in particular and professional sports in general in 2010. My condolences go out to whichever fan base is unlucky enough to be saddled with this pompous, conceited narcissist for the next few years. Let’s all raise our glasses to a future of watching LeBron sulk off to the golf course season after season—and it will be all the more sweet if the Knicks are indeed the team that he plunges into a decade of mediocrity and decrepitude. Good riddance.