There's a song on Drake's debut album called "Light Up", in which a young rapper who once played a wheelchair-bound shooting victim on a Canadian soap opera croons and raps about his rise to fame and about how unexpected all of this was. In the second verse, rap legend/Nets minority owner Jay-Z, gives Drake advice on how to avoid the pitfalls of the game that befell Young Hov when he was on his way to becoming hip-hop royalty. Including the following:
I once was, cool as the Fonz was
But these bright lights turned me to a monster
Sorry, mama, I promised it wouldn't change me
But I would've went insane had I remained the same me
Even if you are annoyed, pissed off, feel betrayed by, would like to murder, or want to never spend another dime on LeBron James, admit that you can read that verse and see a little bit into his decision. It was clear that things were not going to work out with him in Cleveland, and that he would likely never win a championship there. I'm no basketball expert, but it seems that when the Cavs were unable to obtain any of the other big names on the market, there was nothing else LeBron could see but year after year of second- or third-round disappointment. It would've turned him into a monster, driven him insane, and made him a bitter, bitter (but beloved in Cleveland!) millionaire instead of what he is now: a wealthy, but likely soon-to-be fulfilled villain.
That's OK. When's the last time a basketball player became a legitimate villain for something that happened on the court? For gosh sakes, Kobe's become a standard of NBA stability ever since his troubles (both on and off the playing surface). What was LeBron going to do once Bosh and Wade committed to the Heat? He said it himself, and it screamed out as one of the few genuine moments of the entire hogwash episode of television, that the only reason you play the game is to win. If he's going to take less money to go to a team with a better chance of winning an NBA title than he did in Cleveland, then there's nothing we can do but to take him at his word.
Now, was the way he did it not one of the cruelest exercises in humiliation for a city in American sports history? Clevelanders, over the next days, weeks, and months, will likely try and pin this as LeBron becoming the new Art Modell. In fact, one columnist already has. It isn't in any way similar. Cleveland still has their basketball team, and one day it will be able to compete for a championship again, and they'll have spite for LeBron to make it all the sweeter. This isn't taking something that was a beloved community institution and moving it to Baltimore, and if you're from Cleveland and believe you own LeBron as much as you owned the Browns, well, there's just no hope for you.
To the Nets, Knicks and other teams involved in this stairway to nowhere, as well as your fans ... let it go. Boo LeBron all you want, whatever, but don't try and give me any rationale for it. Don't be that guy who calls a girl a whore because she doesn't wanna be with you. Realistically, you stood no chance with her, and you shouldn't have gotten your hopes up. Bitterness doesn't suit you well, especially when you've spent the last half-decade wearing it on your faces already. You will be fine in years to come without him. Besides, there's always Carmelo Anthony in 2011 (The Decision 2: Even Decision-ier!)
As for the show itself ... well that's a different story. It was maybe the most bloated, self-serving, self-aggrandizing, pompous and unintentionally hilarious display of ESPN excess in the history of the network. Chris Berman was probably watching this and thinking it was too much. The people who thought up "Who's Now?" and "SportsNation" and "Around the Horn" are likely to bring "The Decision" to ridicule. It has tarnished the reputations of every broadcaster involved with it whose reputation wasn't lower than a limbo stick before this (So, you know, Stuart Scott's gonna get ignored, yo).
Jim Gray ... why the hell were you even involved in this? You haven't covered an event for ESPN since 2007, and you haven't been on a major network since. Who at ESPN thought having the already questionable Gray (who may have never recovered for from his baiting interview of Pete Rose years ago) give LeBron the anti-Spanish Inquisition is beyond me. His questions ranged from irrelevant (Gee LeBron, do 'ya still bite those fingernails? While you're at it, have you stopped wetting the bed too?) to downright stupid and he should take whatever money he got paid from this and either give it to charity or throw it into the trash. Where this broadcast belonged.
Speaking of charity, to sum this up, that's where this all ended up backfiring on LeBron, despite our defense of him today. They (ESPN, LBJ's camp, anyone with half a brain) should have known that anything LeBron did to try and make him look sympathetic would completely backfire. I mean, does he really understand how dumb he looks giving out scholarship money to the University of Phoenix? Why doesn't he match the money earned from commercials going to charity himself? Or even double it, with all the money he's getting. Oh wait, he's not earning as much because he wants to win a ring.
You see, LeBron, there's no going back from this point. You're the bad guy. Might as well carve a smile onto that face, embrace it, and make it the most convincing performance in all of history...
... Or at least give a better one than you tried to give tonight.