LeBron James: NBA Star or WWE Heel?

Michael IelpiCorrespondent IJuly 9, 2010

370880 07: Vince K. McMahon, Co-Founder of World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc., gives the thumbs-up as he addresses the media June 13, 2000 in Chicago. WWF Entertainment officials were in Chicago to confirm that Chicago will be one of eight charter cities to be part of the new XFL football league, which begins play on February 3, 2001. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Newsmakers)
Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Over the last week, we have read about people saying we have never seen anything like what has happened with LeBron James, and those people are half-right. In the world of professional sports, having someone go from to hero to villain in a media showcase has not really happened.

But I think we all have seen this scene in our past. For a good number of us, it was as kids watching professional wrestling. It was the moment that your favorite wrestler went over to the dark side. Professional wrestling aficionados call this going from being a face to a heel.

The moments from wrestling are iconic. There was the moment Hulk Hogan joined the New World Order and became Hollywood Hogan, when Shawn Michaels formed D-Generation X, the Rock turning from heel to face, Ric Flair going from face to heel and back to face.

There were few basketball fans who did not like LeBron James before he was a free agent. He is the biggest star in the NBA, and in a week he became the association's biggest villian. 

Does anyone know why he picked a Boys & Girls Club in Greenwich? There is a Boys & Girls Club in LeBron’s hometown of Akron, Ohio.

The per capita income in Greenwich is about $75,000; in LeBron’s hometown of Akron, Ohio, it is around $31,000.

Greenwich, Connecticut, is about a ten-minute drive to Stamford, Connecticut, which is home to the headquarters of World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. Vince McMahon was not at the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich, but his presence was very much in the building.

LeBron James was free to go wherever he chose. He fulfilled his contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers and earned the chance to see what offers were on the table. That is his right as a free agent. He had no obligation to stay in Cleveland, to join his buddy Jay-Z in New Jersey, or to become the next dynasty in Chicago.

When it was announced that one of the most controversial interviewers in sports history, Jim Gray would be sitting beside him during his decision, we should have known. ESPN made this night out to be as big as a presidential election complete with polls, pundits, and multi-state camera coverage.

Blame ESPN all you want, but if it weren't ESPN, it would have been another network showing this. ESPN should not be blamed for not airing the actual moment of truth until around 9:30. The network knows they have your attention and will try to milk it for all it is worth. We should be thankful they did not wait until 9:59 to let the cat out of the bag.

We saw a 25 year-old kid who was nervous, spoke awkwardly, and probably could not believe this was happening either. LeBron did not embrace his first night as the role of the heel. Did anyone believe that he made the decision to go to Miami yesterday morning? A good number of writers in the media had him in Miami long before yesterday.

He chose Miami. Or at least I think he did. He said he was taking his skills to South Beach. That line will follow him forever. He did not say he was going to Miami or to play for the Heat.

Does LeBron know that there is a South Beach in Staten Island? 

He chose Miami. Who could blame him? He chose a city where he could share the spotlight instead of be the city’s one and only king.

A huge reason Miami is a great choice for him is that there is hardly any pressure from the media. Miami is a city that is way more relaxed than most. In Miami, you do not really get the urgency of winning a title. Few in Miami have the passion that the fans in so many other places have.

The Heat won a title in 2006. The Dolphins do not sell out anymore, the Marlins have been the biggest joke in baseball since their existence, and the Panthers exist to a select few and are in the bottom five in terms of NHL attendance. The University of Miami was known for football excellent over the last two decades, but at their last national championship game against Ohio State in Arizona, you could barely spot a Hurricanes fan in the crowd.

Miami’s most famous athlete is still Dan Marino. Marino is still known as "Danny Boy" to the locals in South Florida. There is a hospital that bears his name. In most other places, Marino is known as the great quarterback who never won the Super Bowl.

If LeBron stayed in Cleveland, he would have to carry the hopes of a city that has lacked a professional sports championship for more than 45 years. If he went to New York, he would have to win a championship, or he would have been just a financial windfall for the city. If he went to Chicago, he would have to live up to a legacy of basketball’s true monarch, Michael Jordan, and win multiple titles.

In Miami, he can be treated like a king at his own villa on the water, go to all the clubs with their velvet ropes and bottle service, and he could do this outside every day of the year, unlike in a northern city.

Cleveland likes to proclaim itself as the most crestfallen of all sports cities, but a good portion of those failures by the Browns and the Indians came via play on the field

The famous Red Right 88 play was a result of a terrible kicking game in 1980. John Elway’s drive was a stroke of brilliance by one of the greatest clutch quarterbacks to ever play the game. Earnest Byner’s fumble was because of a great defensive play by Jeremiah Castille. The 1997 World Series was a heartbreaker for the Indians, but that was due to the team’s failures of losing two games at home and dropping that painful game seven to the Marlins.

This is the second time that this was a fate the city’s sports fans did not truly deserve. The first time is when Art Modell hijacked the Browns to Baltimore. LeBron’s rejection to return to Cleveland is now second.

LeBron had a chance to do this right way. He could have done this rather privately. He could have held a press conference in Miami. He made it a spectacle. He made himself appear bigger than the game.

The biggest fools in all of this may have been the City of New York. The major newspapers in New York had LeBron on the front cover just about every day for the past week. The City of New York even created a website for fans to appeal for him to come to Manhattan. Even the mayor held his own plea. The Knicks cleared cap space to try and convince their loyal fan base that they could swing the King to NYC. The Knicks still sold out most of their season ticket plans by selling hope and not actually delivering much to their customers.

Today, the New York Daily News had the audacity to write, “Who Cares” on the cover of its paper. Obviously, they cared enough to put every other significant news story somewhere else in the paper.

It was LeBron that looked like a man who could not care about the cities he turned aside. We did not need any phony tears, but for a show that looked like a reality show, we deserved to see a little bit of real emotion from the man.

He will mostly likely receive poor receptions anywhere he goes, but these boos are boos for a different reason.

Michael Jordan and other superstars get that reception, but they get that response more out of respect, than they do out of ill feelings. LeBron’s reception in New York and especially Cleveland will not be respectful boos.

In professional wrestling you can come back and be the face again and just about all is forgiven. I am not sure if LeBron can ever become the face he was before he took his skills to South Beach. He may want to talk to Vince McMahon about how one goes about doing that about face.