LeBron James' Betrayal of the Cavaliers and Why NBA Should Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

Marc FreshmanContributor IDecember 8, 2011

It’s a major mistake to think the disgust with James begins and ends in Cleveland. I’ve never been to Cleveland myself, so his decision to leave didn’t smack me upside the head with any sort of betrayal whatsoever.

As a diehard Celtics fan, the only other team I always have my attention on are the Lakers. When Los Angeles makes a move, I’m required by New England law to take notice. No other team is on our butt with title wins, so LeBron’s “Decision” was initially pretty irrelevant to me.

But in the thick of that gloomy summer, “The Decision” became relevant to everyone. It was forced down all of our throats. It didn’t even matter if you cared or not; LeBron’s indecision was a phenomenon larger than Team Edward, Team Jacob, health care, Paris Hilton and the Kardashian chick all combined. Like the great Tim Tebow debate, it became a situation that you were forced to take a side on.

LeBron made so many miscalculations, it’s truly unbelievable. You almost have to believe he purposely tanked this thing to properly explain his actions. I’m not a PR person, but my guess is he had such a person. What exactly was that person getting paid for? He must have had a manager, an agent, a this, a that and they all get paid millions of dollars—but for what?

The Summer of LeBron was such an extraordinary debacle, it remains the source of immense hatred for people in all states of the country; not just Ohio.

Cleveland is a place that doesn’t have a lot. Similar to New Orleans, Detroit and Oklahoma City, Cleveland is a struggling part of America that just seems constantly weighed down with bad luck. That’s partially why Drew Brees, Justin Verlander and Kevin Durant are such national heroes; they give purpose, prestige and esteem to those cities.

New Orleans may not have the glitz and glamour of New York City, and they may not have the legacy and championship banners of Boston, but they have Who Dat, and that makes them just as relevant.

Well, for a while, that’s what LeBron James did for Cleveland. As long as LeBron played for the Cavs, every team in the league had to mentally prepare for a game against Cleveland. You couldn’t just show up and play. You had to walk through the tunnel knowing that a lion was waiting on the other side. It didn’t scare Paul Pierce and the Celtics, but it sure did scare everyone else.

And although I know next to nothing about Cleveland, I know the people of Cleveland loved that. They loved being feared and respected. They loved being a somebody. Outside of the Celtics, every team feared playing at “the Q,” and the city soaked that up like a big fat piece of sourdough bread in a bath of sloppy turkey gravy.

And you know what? The rest of us were sort of OK with that. Let Cleveland have a big-time player. Every city needs to feel proud of something, and LeBron was a great talent to have. It felt good knowing that LeBron was holding up a city on his shoulders. It gave James a purpose that went a lot deeper than basketball. He was their mascot, their mayor, their King, their representative, their spokesman, their heart, their soul, their everything.

And then he left. OK, he’s allowed to leave. He’s a grown man; he can do what he wants. But the way he left was simply unbelievable. Even for someone like me who couldn’t possibly care less about the Cavaliers, I was shocked. I didn’t know LeBron was capable of that sort of malevolent indifference. I really didn’t. He always seemed like a gentleman who valued pride over all other things.

To draw out the decision, to do it so publicly, to phrase it the inane way he did and the “villian commercial” he did for Nike, it was all so incredibly unlike the guy everyone thought they knew. Could you envision Kevin Durant doing a “villian” commercial? Of course not. Durant’s not a villain; he’s a role model. I was never a fan of LeBron, but I sort of saw him as a similar type to a lot of other people. So when he dropped the bomb of taking his talents to South Beach, it was shocking.

LeBron could’ve left Cleveland and averted a PR disaster with a few simple steps. First of all, he should’ve held a press conference exclusively with the Cleveland newspapers, reporters and citizens. It would’ve taken 20 freaking minutes to make it more personal and to speak to the people directly.

Be straight with them: “Look, this is my home, I played my best for you, I love you, but it’s time to move on, blah blah blah.”

Boom. Crisis averted. Sure, they would’ve been sad, but they wouldn’t have been hurt. Everyone gets broken up with at some point, but it’s another thing to get dumped. By dragging the whole nation through it with “The Decision,” he basically stripped Cleveland naked and told them to wait in the bedroom. He put the city under a spotlight that they really didn’t need to be put under. It was the utter indifference to his home, his roots and the unbelievable excess of his ego that startled me and continues to startle every basketball fan outside of Miami.

There was another way to avert the entire crisis. LeBron had multiple teams to choose from: the New York Knicks, the New Jersey Nets, the Miami Heat, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Chicago Bulls. It doesn’t take a genius to see that Miami is the tackiest choice on the menu.

For one thing, Miami sucks. It really, really sucks. It’s sludgy, gaudy, garish and ostentatious. It’s the home of house music, drunks, douchebags and people who wear Ed Hardy. It’s like playing for a team called The Las Vegas Prostitutes. And in addition to those scientific reasons, it should also be noted that Miami isn’t a historically significant basketball city. Their fans care little to nothing about the sport, and basketball fans generally repay them the favor. If anything, it’s a mutual dislike. So there was simply no honorable reason for LeBron to choose Miami.

And when he finally did choose Miami, he made it even worse by claiming it was because they have a good school system. Things like this add up, and eventually, you find yourself the most hated man in sports. 

LeBron could’ve easily gone to the Knicks and been fine. The Knicks are a legendary team in a legendary city with a legendary arena, but they are historically awful. They have everything except championships. Plus, New York is a basketball city. Hands down, they’re the most basketball-adoring city in America. Every kid from New York knows how to play basketball. It’s a mecca for basketball lovers.

So, had LeBron chosen the Knicks, it would’ve made sense. He would’ve been the savior of a team that really, truly, badly wants to win for the fans. He could’ve held the press conference in Cleveland with his hometown fans and reporters, given them the news personally, then gone to the Knicks and he would’ve been on easy street. No problems.

And you know what? He probably could’ve had a similar situation by choosing the Bulls. In essence, he would’ve been choosing to play with a great point guard in another legendary basketball town.

He also could’ve averted disaster by choosing the Clippers, who are even more historically awful than the Knicks, and he could’ve signed on as the guy to leap that team past the Lakers.

He could’ve even been OK with the Nets, because they’re the Mets of New York and he easily could’ve lifted that struggling club to prominence. And people would’ve rooted for him in all these situations.

He said it wasn’t about the money. In some sense, I actually believe him because he took a bit of a paycut to go to Miami. But if it truly wasn’t about the money but about championships, then why not Memphis? Or Golden State? Or Dallas? Or Boston? Or New Orleans? Or Philly? Or San Antonio? Or Milwaukee? If money wasn’t of real value in the decision, he could’ve gone to any of those ball clubs I just mentioned and won a championship last year.

Those are all teams that were “one LeBron away” from winning it all. He could’ve said, “Pay me a hundred bucks,” and won a ring. Problem solved.

But instead of taking a hundred dollars and a championship ring, he took millions and hooked-up with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, a slap in the face to the very word “teamwork.” It was a lesson to kids everywhere that shortcuts exist, and you should most definitely take them.

So when the Heat lost to an actual team, it felt pretty good. I was still disappointed because it wasn’t the Celtics, but at least Dallas was a real team. It was a reminder to kids everywhere that even though some professional athletes tower up to almost seven feet in the air, they’re not all necessarily people to look up to.