An Open Letter To LeBron James

With the 2010-11 NBA season wrapped up and with the 2011-12 season in danger as a lockout looms, we have some time to look back and analyze the undeniable significance of the impact that LeBron James had on not only this past season, but the future of the sport as a whole. We all knew that when James joined the league as a rookie, heralded at an almost unprecedented level, he was going to be a living spectacle. Maybe the purists had a better idea, but as an admitted Johnny-come-lately type of fan (read: last 10 years), I didn’t really expect what has become of this man who calls himself the “Chosen One” and “King”.

What James has shown us over the last year is that he’s a magician. Better yet, he’s an illusionist, Michael. He directs our attention to the stage – in this case the basketball court – and makes us focus on his play, and he tells us to keep watching because soon we’ll see the payoff, which is the NBA Championship that he desperately craves. But if you look away from the focal point for just a second, you’ll see his stagehands and assistants pulling strings, spinning mirrors and blowing smoke, because his actual goal is to be the biggest brand in the world.

That was the problem for James this season – too many of us looked away from the court. We saw “The Decision”, the commercials, the VIP birthday parties, and everything else that came with the Barnum & Bailey parade, and we started walking away because it was too big for us. Maybe James’ timing was wrong, with a poor economy making people shy away from the golden gods they’d once revered. After all, James said it best when he pointed out that we’re all back to dealing with our problems while he’s living the life of luxury. Perhaps we have 99 problems, and LeBron James’ championship quest isn’t one anymore.

James will win a NBA Championship before his career is over, probably more than one, and the millions of people who have been cheering against him will lose this euphoric buzz that they’ve enjoyed since the Dallas Mavericks defeated James’ Miami Heat on Sunday. But even as I admitted and ranted my hatred of James yesterday, I want the guy to win a title. I want him to win many titles. Because deep down in my soul, as a basketball fan, I want him to do it right and I want him to fulfill the promise that was made the day he was selected first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers. You know, except for that whole winning in Cleveland part.

As I assume James reads this site, like every professional athlete does and should, I’d like to help him, by giving him this personal letter of advice and inspiration.

The Decision

Dear LeBron,

As we near the one-year anniversary of your “Decision” special, I can’t help but wonder if you understand the impact that it really had. Sure, “you” have talked about it. You sort of called it a bad idea only after you had already played the race card as a reason for the hate-laced response from your former fans in Cleveland. But YOU have never actually talked about it.

We’re a little smarter than you give us credit for. We know that you have your team of handlers, yes-men, ass-kissers, childhood friends and other random associates and they’re constantly whispering ideas, thoughts, and suggestions into your ears. You’re a fool for thinking we don’t see this happening with every move that you make. If you scratch your nuts, we assume it’s to wake Maverick Carter from a nap.

When you disappeared for an entire month leading up to the Decision, all we could picture was you, Carter and a team of 1960s Batman villain henchmen with Zorro masks and crowbars hiding in a fortress on the side of a mountain as you plotted your next move. There’s very little secrecy anymore with Twitter, Facebook, blogs, TMZ, and GPS devices implanted into every child, so a refreshing take – we’ll get to an example in a bit – would be some honesty.

There’s not a soul on Earth that feels bad for Dan Gilbert after the way he handled the Decision, but you could have at least gained sympathy votes by throwing him under the bus before you openly stabbed Cleveland in the heart. Instead, you responded with the “What Should I Do?” Nike commercial that earned a collective groan, if not a gigantic fart noise. Poor form the whole way.

The Accusations

Dearer LeBron,

Even more seriously than the Decision, which raised $2 million for the Boys and Girls Club and still seemed like a consolation prize for the selfish arrogance you showed in the month leading up to the show, you were accused by media personalities of giving up in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals last year. I mean, if someone told me that I was giving up ¾ of the way into one of my blog posts, I’d defend myself. After all, I see my bad jokes through 100% of the way.

But you’ve now been called out twice for quitting, after you let CBS columnist Gregg Doyel make a fool out of you during the NBA Finals this year. How does the supposed greatest athlete in the world not stand up for himself by taking his game to the next level to prove that he’s not giving up? Bill Simmons accused you of quitting against the Celtics last year and this year you cried on the floor after defeating them in the semifinals. Then Doyel boasted that you shrank against the Mavericks and he looks right because you’ve done nothing to prove him wrong. Do you have no balls, man? Or did they shrink with your scoring average in the Finals?

Doyel even asked you point blank in a postgame conference if you were shrinking in big moments and you stood your ground and made him look foolish. We all sat back and collectively thought, “Oh man, he is going to dry hump the Mavs up and down the court in Game 5.” You scored 8 points. In the entire game. Is it because Doyel got under your skin? Is it because Rashard Lewis allegedly slept with your girlfriend a year after Delonte West allegedly slept with your mom? Is it because you’re tired of people comparing you to Michael Jordan when all you want to be is yourself?

Talk to us, man. Be a human being and stop offering up pissy, defensive remarks every time someone rubs you the wrong way. You come off as cold and whiny when we want you to be a dominating-but-friendly giant. Instead, you promise your fans 6 NBA titles and proclaim to own the NBA and you set yourself up to be the biggest fool when you fail to provide.

The Postgame Conference

Even Dearer LeBron,

Speaking of being human, do you really have to be such a d*ck about losing? We all lose at times, such is life. The difference between you and I is that if I screw up and underperform at my job tomorrow, I could be fired and never get another chance at my preferred occupation. When you lose, you get another chance and you don’t lose money or have to go home and put your head in your hands and wonder where the next rent check is coming from.

So why on Earth would you make such an insensitive comment after Game 6? Yes, you are right that we all went back to our own daily problems. Like yesterday, I was walking my dog and realized I didn’t bring any poop bags with me and I thought, “Damn that LeBron, he was right!” But you have fans who love and adore you no matter what and they buy your jerseys with what little money they have and they pay for nosebleed seats with money they set aside to be able to afford to go to one game during a season. Those fans can’t appreciate you boasting about your grandiose lifestyle as a retort to why you screwed the pooch.

But you were talking about the haters, right? Guys like me who cheered against you because we didn’t appreciate the way that you, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh raised yourself on a ramp into an arena of screaming fans, wearing their brand new Heat jerseys to match their brand new Heat allegiance. Are we supposed to like you more because you put us in our places? I ask because I’ve always been taught that the best way to defeat your enemies is to win them over with charm. I just assume someone is telling you otherwise.

The Brand

Even Dearerer LeBron,

Speaking of the way you joined the Heat, let’s focus on your status as a celebrity. You are indeed larger than life, and I think that you’ve even already toppled Jordan in terms of being a global icon, simply because you’ve risen to prominence in the Social Networking Age. We see you at the clubs, partying with Jay Z, Beyonce, Lil Wayne, Drake, and a bevy of other young celebrities. You’re like a modern Rat Pack but you’re younger, stronger, wealthier and more capable of immortality in a cultural sense. But you’re doing it all wrong.

During the season, as your birthday approached, your people announced that you’d be hosting a huge birthday party at one of South Beach’s hottest night clubs. You charged people as little as $15,000 to attend, and as much as $500,000 to meet you for a brief moment. Your team – not the Heat, but your personal brand’s team – released a Power Point presentation straight out of Tom Haverford’s and Jean-Ralphio’s playbook. And from that one party, a series of parties was born, as you and your posse of detached dimwits traveled the nation as if to sound the horns and announce, “Your King has arrived!”

The problem is that your team – your actual basketball team – was playing at the same time, and defeating all of our teams, which makes us not like you very much, so celebrating yourself in our towns is a lot like saying, “I came, I saw, I conquered, and I played a little basketball, too.” Meanwhile, other stars have come through and eaten in our restaurants, shopped in our malls, and stopped to take a few pictures. You know, winning us over with charm and kindness.

The Comparisons

Dearest LeBron,

The biggest problem with your rise to prominence is that you face so many comparisons. For starters, as I’ve mentioned, you’re compared to Jordan for the title of Greatest of All Time. By joining the Heat, you’ve been constantly compared to Wade, because you’re both alpha dogs and probably the greatest in the game right now. You’ll always be compared to someone else because you’ve done nothing to set yourself apart from the other superstars, from hiding from your Cavs teammates and fans to hiding the Jordan Crawford video footage of him dunking on you.

Take a look at your teammates, specifically Wade and Bosh, after the Heat lost to the Mavs. Wade shook hands and congratulated his opponents. Bosh momentarily broke down crying, presumably from the intensity of his desire to win, but I believe it was also because of the pressure from the criticisms we’ve subjected him to. You walked away, shaking no hands as usual, shedding no tears, and offering us nothing more than rubbing our noses in the mistakes of our own lives.

I’ll make another comparison, more relevant than ever, because even Carmelo Anthony escaped the scrutiny you faced with the Decision. Dwight Howard announced yesterday that he will not sign his two-year extension and will test free agency at the end of the 11-12 season. He’s saying the right things to the media (“I want to have my own path, and I want to start that here in Orlando.”) and he’s hosting events in Orlando and speaking to his fans, telling them that he wants to stay. You’re right if you’re telling me that he’s conducting a smoke and mirrors act, too. But he’s not pulling the same disappearing act that you pulled by hiding from the media, fans, coaches and ownership. And even though he can’t hide because he still has one year left on his contract, he’s still pointing his finger at Rich DeVos and Otis Smith and telling everyone, “They’re the people responsible for my future.” And that’s all you ever had to do.

Is Howard selfish? Possibly. Is he throwing someone under the bus? Of course. But is Howard preparing his fans for his departure if his team cannot give him what he’s asked for? Indeed he is, and some of his fans are going to hate him for leaving, but most are going to respect him for leaving with honesty and class. Many people may never see you as honest or classy, but the least you can do for once is try.