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Revisiting LeBron's Decision and Jesse Jackson's Comments

July 12, 2010

I already unloaded my thoughts the night it happened over at The Faster Times, and I still have yet to hear anyone defend The Decision; but opinions do vary heavily on the decision.  I even got into an argument with a woman yesterday about it and she left the room crying when I said loyalty went out the window the moment Dan Gilbert fired his GM and coach who had won 120 plus games the last two years, which, in my mind, opens up all sorts of floodgates.  She was neither from Cleveland, nor was she a basketball fan, and in her frustration, she said to hell with pro sports and that all their greed and disloyalty is why she watches only college sports, to which I responded "Lane Kiffin."  But the point I think both she and I and everyone everyone else are missing and are afraid to discuss is that this decision by James is much more complicated than a matter of loyalty.  In fact, what it has to say about loyalty may be a marginal matter in terms of this decision's importance.


The actions of the past half week have put into motion a course of events that will not only demonstrate how history is written but that all that has past in the NBA is indeed just that--history.  LeBron may think about his legacy a whole lot less than we think, or he may think about it a great deal; but it's pretty much become clear that twelve years since Michael Jordan last one a title no one player will ever replace him on top of the game's pedestal, that even if a player matches, or even surpasses his accomplishments, then our own unwillingness to let go of what our eyes have seen will cause us to view Michael and that other player, whoever it is, like some Gordian knot that can not be untied.  The Jordan legacy is a heavy load for any player to carry.  It's also a load that NBA fans have decided can only go to a player who scores at the end of games, making it so that a big man can not carry this load, that a point guard like Steve Nash or Jason Kidd can not carry this load, that perhaps even a 6'8," 280 pound point forward can not carry.  Jordan did not do it intentionally, but he left us with a very narrow definition of a dominant basketball player, or maybe even dominance period.

In my initial reaction to LeBron's signing I wrote that despite all the immediate dismissals of LeBron's legacy due to his signing "this decision still boils down to an old fashioned face off between Jordan's killer instinct and LeBron's ability to facilitate."  Let me explain that.  By Jordan's "killer instinct" what I mean is his ability to score and win no matter what and his ability to convince us that he won entirely by himself, despite the fact he played with another top fifty player, perhaps the best rebounder and defender of his era, a laundry list of clutch shooters, one of the best sixth men ever, and for the best coach of all-time.  Jordan was good.  Jordan was great.  But Jordan was not alone.  Yet the paradigm that was born out of his greatness is one that erodes the accomplishments and dismisses the talents of players like Scottie Pippen, Kareem, James Worthy, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Oscar Robertson, Kobe, Shaq and the list goes on. Every player who's led a team to a championship had a sidekick (some had multiple sidekicks), and some players have been the alpha dog as well as a member of the pack; but Jordan made us define greatness as if it was a boxing match, a marathon, or a game of solitaire.  Pardon my language, but this paradigm is bullshit, and it's not just the "you have to go it alone crap" that makes it so.

Basketball games are not just won with scoring and they definitely are not won with just last second shots.  A big part of this "LeBron's legacy is going to take a hit" comes from people pointing to the fact that Wade will probably lead the team in scoring, because he led the Olympic team in scoring, and that Wade might be the more clutch player.  Okay, whatever.  If scoring is the only thing that matters, then let's just stop tracking rebounds, assists, turnovers, blocks, steals, all of it.  Let's just keep score, and while we're at it, let's also not even keep track of field goal percentages.  Wade probably will lead the Heat in scoring, but LeBron will probably lead the team in every other statistical category except for steals and rebounds.  I think we're forgetting just all that LeBron can do on the court when we say that playing with Wade will decrease his legacy, when in reality, now that he doesn't have to score so much, we may see a better all-around LeBron.

And to the point of clutch shooting, why do we remember Steve Kerr, Jon Paxson, or Robert Horry?  Is it because they made a few big shots or because great players passed them the ball?  There will be plenty of moments for both Wade and LeBron to appear clutch and take over games scoring wise and as playmakers, just how growing up my sister and I alternated days setting the table and days washing the dishes; and I guarantee that how much our parents loved us did not fluctuate between which of us completed which chore, that would be
ridiculous.

The open shot needs the pass, and the pass needs the open shot.  The silverware can not be cleaned if they were not first placed on the table to become dirty, and the silverware can not be placed on the table unless it has been cleaned.  One of the go to arguments for all Jordan fans is to point out the times he did not take the game winning shot but passed the ball; it makes him appear gracious, so how can not always taking the game winning shot diminish the authority of other players, especially if they were the one to create the opportunity for the open shot?  Legacies are not made on clutch shooting alone--nicknames are, but even the nicknames given for clutch shooting do little to boost a player's legacy.  Chauncey Billups never appears on an all-time list, and Jerry West, Mr. Clutch and the Logo himself, rarely appears on anyone's all-time, top ten list.  And neither does Reggie Miller, despite what he did in the garden.  This idea that legacies are built solely on clutch shooting holds little to no water.  It's like walking through the desert with a forked stick, not being able to see from the sand in one's eyes, and stumbling upon a well, which pretty much sums up what being clutch often is--a matter of placement and timing and luck, just ask Ron's psychiatrist.

The last trait that defines dominance in the Jordan paradigm is the ring count, which would place Bill Russell as the greatest-all time and lowers Michael into a tie with Kareem, that is if Kareem's rings still count because he played with Magic Johnson and James Worthy.  The ring qualifier also boosts Tim Duncan ahead of Larry Bird, but prevents Duncan from being as good as George Mikan.  Ben Wallace is his generation's Wilt Chamberlain, and Glenn Robinson is better than Jason Kidd and Grant Hill could ever dream of being, but he's only just as good as Julius Erving.  In other words, we've got to stop carrying out these guidelines for greatness to their extremes.  They don't hold up.  They never will.

The LeBron decision, if it is to be celebrated, should be celebrated because it flew in the face of all these rules without merit.  He chose to play with other great players because unlike Magic and Larry he wasn't drafted to teams that were already loaded, and while Jordan got in with Chicago on the ground floor, it wasn't too many floors up before Scottie Pippen waltzed in through the elevator doors.  If Luke Jackson, Ejike Ugboaja, Daniel Gibson, Shannon Brown, J.J. Hickson, or Danny Green had been top fifty talent, then South Beach might not even register on LeBron's radar, unfortunately for Cleveland only three of those guys are still in a Cleveland uniform, one has yet to play in the NBA, and the remaining two are journeymen.

Now, in that previous article, I labelled LeBron's role as that of facilitator.  What makes LeBron a truly exceptional player is his ability to pass and handle the ball with the size that he has; it allows him, when surrounded by players who can shoot, to take over games without even scoring.  Not just anyone can do that but the fact that it relies on other players doing something somehow makes it weak in our eyes, but there are still those that hope that the sight of a man LeBron's size conducting an orchestra will make the pass appear as deadly as the shot.  He many not even be aware of it, but LeBron's move to Miami is a chance for what we perceive dominant play as to reverse a revolution that started the moment Dr. J took off from the foul line and begot Air Jordan.  This is a chance for all the other facets of this beautiful game outside of scoring to step back into the light.  

But the main reason that LeBron's role in this epic quest of climbing atop the NBA's pedestal and wrestling with Jordan's legacy as if it were God is that this decision swung the balance of power almost entirely into the hands of the players, and no one knows what that means.  Big threes have been seen before.  This decade has seen two great ones.  The Spurs' big three of Manu, Tony, and Timmy was built entirely through the draft, from the ground up, organically.  The Celtics' big three of Pierce, Allen, and KG came by way of trade.  Weren't we inching towards the day when the pendulum swung the other way and the players decided how to align their own constellations?  Are we in an age where super continents, like Pangaea, are formed on the whims of uneducated (and dare we say it) black men?  Is that why this is so scary?  Because LeBron James did not make the move Michael would have made, we now see that he's something Michael never was and that's entirely, and utterly--free.  Because everyone is right, Michael would not have gone to Miami, but isn't part of that because Gatorade and Nike would not have let him?  I mean, aren't all those people criticizing LeBron doing so because they now think he's less cool, less marketable off the court?


LeBron may not have made this decision knowing all its repercussions.  He may even have been cocky enough to think that all of America would line up and greet him, like a President of old, as he passed through the country whistle stop to whistle stop, by train, but so what if he stumbled into the New World like Columbus, America still got discovered.  And that's the thing, if Miami wins--if ships return to Florida--, then LeBron and his brethren will earn themselves a holiday because for the victors write the pens of history, and if they lose, well, then LeBron is Nat Turner or John Brown, as seen from a southern perspective, and he will not have facilitated anything but bloodshed.  Regardless of how history comes to view this, we are on the brink of something; after all, Jesse Jackson only rambles when there's something at stake and it's almost always how we perceive our reality.

Ladies and gentlemen, LeBron, Wade, and Bosh just pulled off the NBA equivalent of splitting the atom, ushering in an age where widespread devastation and sudden victory appear to be one and the same.

19 comments:

Deckfight said...

i liked scoop jackson's comment about moses malone joining julius erving in philadelphia in '82 or something like that. seems to be similar.

July 13, 2010 at 10:06 AM
Teach said...

read that piece too and agreed with most of it. great players have moved before. i guess one could argue if moving boosted or hindered moses' "legacy," but that's the thing i don't know if players of the past had to play and make decisions in a manner that kept up their reputation in the annals of history. It feels like a new product of the last fifteen years.

July 13, 2010 at 10:31 AM
Anonymous said...

Forget that LeBron is a basketball player, if you had a job that you worked winters and had summers off, would you rather be working in Miami or Cleveland? In the off-season you can live wherever you want. You also get to work with two of your close friends and would have "less stress" (which a lot of people criticize because apparently LeBron should want a high stress job because Jordan did). Miami isn't a great sports town. If you win, great. If you don't win, don't worry about it. A lot of people in Cleveland are upset because a 25 year old decided that he would enjoy being in Miami more than Cleveland (where he just spent 7 years and lived in the area his entire life). I don't read minds, nor would I consider LeBron and myself good friends, but it seems that he made a personal decision rather than a business decision. I say good for him. You can't let your job control your life. And because of LeBron's success at work this opportunity became available. He gave the city of Cleveland 7 years of his life. I don't feel that he owes the city anything, nor would I say that by going to Miami he's not "loyal". Wade could have gone to Chicago. Does that mean he's not "loyal" to his hometown? Wade has never even played a day for his hometown team. LeBron just played 7 years for his, but since he didn't commit to play 5 more years he's not "loyal".

July 13, 2010 at 1:20 PM
Russ said...

Just a riveting story with so many intriguing angles (except the Jesse Jackson one). I can't wait to read the book (probably written by Bill Simmons) that comes out in 10 years about this whole saga.

After thinking about this for a few days, I understand why he chose Miami for many of the reasons stated above by Anonymous, plus he has a great chance to a multiple time champion, and Herman Edwards always told me "you play to win the game." The problem I have Bryan is sure Jordan, Magic, Larry Bird, Tim Duncan and even Bill Russell had help and had sidekicks to win their championships. But those guys were also the unquestioned leaders of their teams and when Lebron made this decision, he basically became the "sidekick" to Dwayne Wade. Now I'm not saying Wade is the better player, Lebron is better but the difference between Wade and Lebron as players is much smaller than the difference in leadership and intangibles. Lebron will be the best player, but Wade will be the leader, and the best of the best are both, and this decision hurts Lebron when comparing to the league's greats. This doesn't even factor in the complete mismanagement of the "decision" which hurt his credibility in the eyes of casual fans everywhere.

July 13, 2010 at 7:36 PM
Langston said...

The thing that really needs to happen, is the end of the Jordan comparisons for players not in his mold. You're not going to compare Shaq, Nash, or KG to Jordan, so why do it with Lebron? If we have to compare him to anyone, which isn't a necessity, he needs to be compared to Magic. They both are tall otherly worldy guards with the ability to handle the ball better than almost any other pg's.

July 13, 2010 at 8:10 PM
Teach said...

What I'm saying, and I feel Mike picked up on, is that we're using archaic rules that didn't make sense in the first place to determine who's the best. A person can be the leader of a team without being its leading scorer or the guy who puts it in the basket at the end of the game. Magic is a good example, and there are others as well. We still don't know who the leader of the Heat will be. They could wind up being like a lot of the championship teams of the '70s that were more ensemble casts of future Hall of Famers than teams led by one driving personality. All I'm saying is wait to see how this team plays in the coming years before judging their inner workings, and a player can be a sidekick one day and the leading role the next. We've seen that occur before as well.

It also doesn't matter what casual fans think now as long as they win. Casual fans are like independents that alternate between parties every election.

And Jesse Jackson may have used hyperbole but that gets to my point even more. This decision is all about perceptions, which are determined by personal experience. White people saw Dan Gilbert as the jilted lover, while some African-Americans clearly saw him as a jilted slave owner. If that's what they saw, then to them that's what happened. Either way it was a huge power shift that scares the crap out of sports fans, especially, who can remember a time before free agency or when players entered free agency in a timid manner, so while we can't say that Gilbert's actions are race motivated they are motivated by a loss of power that frightens owners and fans looking for stability in the teams they root and pay for. The aftermath of this is already being seen in actions like Chris Paul's toast at 'Melo's wedding.

July 13, 2010 at 8:25 PM
Teach said...

Plus, Big Z is clearly the leader of the Heat.

July 13, 2010 at 8:59 PM
Russ said...

I just don't see how you can question Wade as the leader right now. He managed to convince Lebron to uproot his life, abandon Cleveland, and join Wade's team. Wade is the only one who knows how to win a championship. In fact I would say that Wade has to be the leader if Miami wants to win a championship next year.

July 13, 2010 at 9:19 PM
Teach said...

Miami had a lot more than Wade going in its favor. They have the beaches and the lights. Right now, in terms of pop culture, unless you're a writer, Miami is as big of a draw as New York. They had the cap space to do this, and they have Pat Riley who is the new Jerry West, meaning that he's creating the "Miami Way" in South Beach. If loyalty had anything to do with LeBron's decision, then I think it was a force he saw in Riley, Alonzo, Hardaway, etc that pulled him to Florida. LeBron's run to the Finals in 2007 is also enough for me to say, yes, this guy can lead a team. The real question isn't can he but does he want to; they're not one and the same. It's also something that is not set in stone. Duncan and Kobe both spent time as the one in the wings, whether it was statistically or in terms of leadership, which brings up another stupid creed we hold too dear, that leadership has to be in your face a la MJ or KG. A guy can be intense without fist pumping etc.

July 13, 2010 at 9:31 PM
Teach said...

It's funny also how in basketball we need the best player to also be the best leader, where in almost every other sport those terms aren't mutually exclusive.

July 13, 2010 at 9:33 PM
Langston said...

Agreed on the last comment. The only other comparison would be at the quarterback position, and then again it's only a select few that it rings true for.

July 13, 2010 at 9:38 PM
Teach said...

Last thing, I feel like they've almost got to be co-dependents like Vince and Eric on Entourage, where, yes, Vince is the talent, but Eric is the brains, and neither can function without the other because I think there are enough egos here where both have to think they are in some way the leader and that was in LeBron's "everyone will get their spotlight" comment. A lot of people aren't talking about it, but all of these guys do have an out in four years. They've got their parachutes packed.

July 13, 2010 at 9:40 PM
Teach said...

should have said mutually inclusive above

July 13, 2010 at 9:42 PM
Langston said...

So any thoughts on the Jazz landing another talented big man with injury issues?

July 13, 2010 at 9:50 PM
Teach said...

i think Utah's either the perfect state or the worst state for al jefferson to get over his DUI

July 13, 2010 at 9:54 PM
Russ said...

To me its obvious Lebron didn't want to be a leader when he chose Miami. He wanted to play with friends, chill on South Beach, and win championships as a wingman. Good for him I guess. I think I'm just a massive Lebron hater. He will have to win me back after his sissy performances in the playoffs the past two seasons and the crap ESPN just show just put me over the top. I blame all of this on Coach K.

July 13, 2010 at 11:13 PM
Teach said...

Russ: I guess I'm kind of with you at the moment, but I really think history will wind up redeeming these guys if they win. If they lose, then they all lose. In my initial article about it where I compared them to the characters in Blood Meridian, I compared them to rapists and scalpers that helped to "settle" the west. If the Heat win, LeBron and Wade could be Moses Malone and Dr. J. I also think that if they win it's going to change how we view legacies in the same sense that Jordan changed that. It's also going to change, if they are successful, how teams are put together, which like the nuclear age will cause the conveniency of the microwave with the constant threat of nuclear war.

But my main point is just that all of this is uncertain and that I have trouble understanding how this automatically decreases LeBron's legacy, when he's only 25. It could go either way, and you're right for blaming Coach K, if he'd done a worse job at the Olympics this would not have happened.

July 13, 2010 at 11:33 PM
Russ said...

I'm rooting for utter failure. Unless Scheyer is a major contributor.

Someone explain to me how David Kahn is still employed. My God. This link pretty much sums it up.

http://nba.fanhouse.com/2010/07/13/david-kahn-at-it-again-ships-jefferson-away/?synd=1

July 13, 2010 at 11:46 PM
Teach said...

Russ: Kahn gets worse from there. After that yesterday, he also offered another pg--Luke Ridnour. They've already got Sessions and Flynn. Man's ridiculous. There was an article at The Baseline yesterday pleading for people to quit treating him like a punchline and like an actual villain.

July 14, 2010 at 9:35 AM

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