I begin this post with a preface: I do not follow the NBA. I love baseball and football, have a passing fancy for hockey, and will even watch college basketball if one of my alma maters is playing. Like every white kid growing up in the 80s and 90s, I wanted to be Larry Bird. My room at my old house still has posters of Larry Bird and Ken Griffey Jr. I seem to recall the latter poster being a free prize from a box of Frosted Flakes. Dominique Wilkens and Bo Jackson were also options, I think, but I went with Ken Griffey because baseball was (and is) my favorite sport. Also, his poster had flames on it. Yet I don’t like the modern NBA much. Even as a kid, I didn’t watch it. There’s one simple reason:
The first three quarters of any NBA game and most of the fourth quarter are completely meaningless. Scoring is so easy in pro basketball that once one team has a substantial lead (we’ll say 15+ points) the game is generally over, no matter what the clock says. The only really interesting games are close throughout, which means that you can just turn on the game in the fourth quarter and you’ll only have missed a couple of awesome dunks — that’s what SportsCenter is for anyway.
All that being said, I am a Cleveland sports fan. Logically, Cleveland’s best shot for a championship is the Cavaliers. That may not be true five years from now, but it’s true now. Recognizing that, when I did turn on Game Five of the playoffs between Boston and Cleveland, saw the differential was less than nine points, but that nobody on the Cavs was trying in the last five minutes, I immediately panicked. I knew we were doomed. LeBron would leave, the Cavs would suck again, and Cleveland would be championship-less, barring an Indians resurgence.
Yet, upon further reflection, I have reached a somewhat surprising position — I honestly don’t care if LeBron leaves.
Explaining this also requires a bit of a retreat to my childhood.
I was wildly inept at every athletic activity conceivable except baseball and floor hockey as a pre-teen. I played basketball for four years in a city recreational league. My teams usually did very well. I was not the reason; or rather, my skill was not decisive. My greatest ability was to recognize talent in others. I would then feed them the ball like Pac-Man, only they would score baskets and not eat the ball. I rarely took a shot if any one else was open — I knew that the chances of my making a shot approached zero — since I did make one basket in a game, I knew it wasn’t actually zero. Anything that happened once can happen again. If you can score baskets, hog the ball. If you can’t score baskets, you should pass it to someone who can. It’s better for the team that way.
When I learned this great truth, I knew I had achieved perfect Zen — if there was a victory, I took my small slice and quietly celebrated. If there was a loss, the chances I would be responsible were nearly zero. I was irreplaceable, not because I was good, but because my impact on the game would either be neutral or positive; you can’t say that about every player.
Now I return to my point on LeBron and the Cavs. Here is why I am largely ambivalent about LeBron’s decision: he will either increase the Cavs’ chances of a championship or they will be the same as they are now. His impact will either be positive (staying with the Cavs) or neutral (going somewhere else).
Why? Because LeBron can’t really affect any other team’s championship changes (except one), because as the Cavs have proven, just LeBron isn’t enough. Thus, my catharsis.
There are roughly six destinations: Cleveland, Knicks, Bulls, Nets, Heat, and possibly the Clippers.
The Knicks are not one player away. Yes, he’d play in New York, but New Yorkers only like winners, so there’s no guarantees that he’d be as popular in say, five years, as he is now. If it were strictly about cash, I’d be somewhat worried, but I don’t think it is.
He might be able to win championships in Chicago. In fact, his chances there are probably better than his chances here. However, he would NEVER touch Jordan in that city — he’d always be second best. If he cares mostly about his legacy, Chicago is a bad choice because he can’t leave as big a footprint there as he could elsewhere.
The Heat and Nets leave him worse off in terms of championship likelihood and legacy. I cannot see the Heat making Dwayne Wade and LeBron play nice together. Two massive egos simply cannot get along on the same basketball team — the locker rooms don’t have enough people. The Nets have a decent nucleus, but they won 12 games last year. 12! LeBron couldn’t make that much of an impact.
The Clippers would probably end up being career suicide for him — I think LeBron being on the Clippers would probably just enrage Kobe Bryant more than he already is.
If he stays in Cleveland, he’ll get respect and a team that was really very close but not entirely successful — a good position to be in. He’s practically untouchable because he’s a local boy — people only freak out about his performance in Cleveland because he might leave.
Only three destinations really make sense, and it depends on what he cares about most. If it’s legacy and impact on a city, it’s Cleveland. If it’s money, the Knicks. If it’s championships, the Bulls. The only thing he could possibly do to make me hate him is for him to switch sports and then play for the Yankees, Steelers, or Ravens. As long as he stays in the NBA, he either wins a title with the Cavs (positive impact on the city) or he doesn’t (neutral impact on the city). We expect our teams to lose, in our heart of hearts, we just haven’t abandoned ourselves to it like Cubs fans. We mock Bills fans for losing the Super Bowl four times — yet we desperately wish the Browns would get there once. If LeBron left the Cavs, the city would probably just stop caring about the Cavs.
Honestly, he’s done way better than my expectations — I predicted he’d either be a huge bust or get hit by a bus. Neither of these have happened, so it’s all good from here.