LeBron James may have his fun on ESPN, but lose his legacy on court

LeBron James ended nearly two years of speculation by choosing to sign with the Miami Heat, causing heartbreak in Cleveland and hoopla in Miami.
By Mike Wise
Friday, July 9, 2010

He made the right basketball decision, plain and simple. Let's not even argue that one. But LeBron James's poor choice of medium, of grand spectacle -- of really not having the common decency to break up with his first love in person rather than by prime-time, prearranged, Jim Gray-as-paternal-figure special, hundreds of miles away in Greenwich, Conn. -- ultimately is why Cleveland and much of the country can't stand him today.

But give King Fame this: On the night the NBA's No. 1 free agent proposed to Miami and dumped northeastern Ohio, at least the showman was smart enough to know that if he ever wanted to hoist a championship trophy, he needed a genuine leader such as Dwyane Wade to get him there.

Oh, and he can't be Magic now. Or Bird. Or Michael. Or Isiah Thomas, Tim Duncan or Bill Russell or any other NBA supernova who stuck around long enough to win championships for a town and its people.

LeBron can be Shaquille O'Neal, who left Orlando amid hard feelings to become a basketball mercenary in many more glorious pastures. He can be Kevin Garnett, who had to leave Minnesota to win it all.

As a legacy guy, he needs to know: His decision to spurn the Cavaliers for more talent and hope in Miami forbids LeBron from ever being one of those all-time greats who persevered through coaching changes, roster changes and wrenching playoff losses to lift a trophy to the rafters for the team who drafted him.

He didn't quit on Cleveland with his made-for-ESPN finale. But he did give up on the belief that the Cavaliers could surround him with the pieces he needed to stay on a championship path.

And amid a torched No. 23 Cavs jersey on the crestfallen streets of Cleveland, there, left in ashes, was the homespun story of an impoverished Akron kid who grew up to spin a whole region on his fingertips -- simultaneously bailing out a pro basketball franchise and an ailing city's economy.

Crushed, smashed to pieces the moment the words "South Beach" left his mouth Thursday night in Greenwich.

Poor Cleveland. Pity its burned-out graveyard of a heart today. Pity Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who sounded more scorned than Elin Nordegren in a warped letter to fans Thursday night:

"You simply don't deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal," an actual NBA owner penned in a statement posted on the Cavaliers Web site. He called LeBron's decision "a shameful display of selfishness and betrayal by one of our very own," and added, "Some people think they should go to heaven but NOT have to die to get there."

Oh, it embarrassingly goes on. Curses, bad karma, championship guarantees. It's the kind of psycho, ex-girlfriend letter that certifies LeBron made the right decision.

He might have been more self-absorbed, shameless and out of touch during the process. But next to the owner and people he left, LeBron actually came across as the adult.

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