I’m not going to bury the lede: LeBron James, in a basketball sense, is dead to me. He’s the greatest basketball player on the planet, the best to grace the hardwood since Jordan, but I don’t ever want to see him ever again in a Cleveland Cavaliers uniform. Never.
And, you know what? It’s not even because of “The Decision.” Sure, that was a classless hourlong display of ego-driven rubbish never before seen in today’s media-saturated world of professional sports. I think most Cavs fans knew, far before that ESPN special, that the greatest player on the planet, one born and bred in Northeast Ohio who promised (and delivered, mind you) great things to the city of Cleveland, was gone. A city whose economy was tumbling beneath its feet, with one man, LeBron James, its greatest (and only) hope for success — one man ready to peace out.
LeBron surrendered. In the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals, against a talented but inferior Boston Celtics team, the greatest player on the planet wanted nothing to do with playing basketball. A guy who straight up gave up on his teammates in front of The Quicken Loans Arena fans, twice.
I remember about every moment of that series vividly; it’s the most discouraged I’ve ever felt watching a game in my entire life, because not only did you know the Celtics, a team that had knocked LeBron and Co. out of the playoffs once before, were stealing what was yours, but also that the Cavs’ structure, one that Dan Gilbert spent tens of millions in luxury taxes out of pocket to pay bloated salaries of veterans like a Shaquille O’Neal, an Antawn Jamison, a Zydrunas Ilgauskas, to help the kid from Akron bring home the dream, was crumbling. That kid gave up, when it was all there for the taking.
Watching LeBron walk off the floor into the locker room in the deciding Game 6 (I mean, we all knew it was over after Game 5, though, right?), shaking hands with the Celtics players — all I can remember, sitting there alone in my basement, was where was the LeBron from the year before? The LeBron that left everything on the floor in six hard-fought games with the hot-shooting Orlando Magic, then stormed off the Amway Arena court after Game 6 and didn’t talk to the media. So pissed he had lost, even though nobody, in their right minds, would blame him. I wanted that LeBron back, the guy who would give everything to win, to bring glory to Cleveland.
Fast forward two months. I didn’t even plan to watch “The Decision.” ESPN’s Chris Broussard had reported that morning LeBron was poised to join a super-team in Miami with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, changing the way rosters were assembled for years to come. I had fallen asleep on the couch with ESPN on earlier that night, and awoke minutes before LeBron announced his decision. Shocked, I wasn’t.
But I can tell you, that night, I was proud to be a Cavs fan, even as I watched the best player in basketball, the kind of guy who comes around once a decade, leave my team for Miami, a place where, by and large, nobody gives two shits about professional basketball. I was happy, however foolishly, to field a group of guys who wanted to win, and cherished the role of underdog going into the 2010-11 season.
I didn’t hate LeBron for leaving in free agency — that’s his right as a player, and I, or no other Cavs fan, can take that away from him. But I hated the way he gave up on his team, on a guy like Big Z who had fought his whole career, through foot surgery after foot surgery, to be in this moment — a guy he had embraced seconds after winning the Eastern Conference Finals in 2007, knowing full well how special it was. I hated the way he looked completely disinterested in lopsided Game 2 and Game 6 losses at The Q, especially after he showed in the blowout Game 3 win in Boston just how much better we were than the Celtics.
Now, almost three years after he left, all the talk in Cleveland is how LeBron can opt out of his six-year deal in 2014, and the Cavs are supposedly saving up cap space to make a run at a high-end free agent (or two) that very same summer. Now that James has a ring, maybe he would want to return home, with that additional confidence, and score another where he spent the first 7 years of his career. He is, after all, friends with Tristan Thompson and Kyrie Irving, who’s a more valuable piece than the Cavs ever possessed during the James Era.
But I am just not interested. Championship teams, after all, shouldn’t employ players ready to give up at the slightest bit of adversity. For that, not “The Decision,” I’ll never forgive LeBron James.
LeBron, do us all a favor, and stay in South Beach.
Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.