LeBron James played his first NBA game in October 2003 against the Sacramento Kings at Arco Arena, and before the player dubbed “King James” ever logged his first official minute, the photographers and reporters swarmed around him, eager to capture a piece of the budding basketball star’s magic. Even from my nosebleed seats, it was easy to see why.
The Kings took the W that night, but it was James, who recorded 25 points, nine assists, six rebounds and four steals, who really scored the win. The man, then just 18, was impressive—easily polishing the gleam on his newly minted King James crown.
Now, seven years later, James is not just a basketball All-Star; he’s an international megastar, a universal brand name whose every move is followed by fans and scrutinized by the media.
As far as superstars go, they don’t get much bigger.
The hoopla surrounding James’ career decision last week, however, was downright ridiculous—almost as cringe-inducing as his choice to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers to team with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat and, essentially, nab his first NBA championship ring.
James called a prime-time press conference in association with ESPN—which, in theory, operates as a news organization and not a special media catering service for superstar players—if that isn’t an egotistical move, then I don’t know what is. It’s one thing to know that the entire sporting world is waiting with bated breath on your decision; it’s another to actually acknowledge it by holding an hour-long press conference, during which you take pre-approved questions from a carefully vetted reporter.
Then again, an estimated 10 million people tuned into watch the circus sideshow—so who’s the chump now?
Certainly the attention—the topic dominated the news and social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook—just served to feed into the monster hype. But if you thought James had too big of an ego to share the spotlight with Wade and Bosh, both of whom are reportedly not just taking a pay cut, but at the time of James’ announcement didn’t even know the actual dollar figures of their salaries, then think again.
LeBron James’ ultimate goal is winning a championship—at whatever cost.
And it’s a total cop-out. In past interviews, James professed his love for teams that had inspired him as a youth, so at least if he’d joined the New York Knicks, one could buy the whole “I’ve always wanted to play for them” story line that he once made part of his ongoing narrative.
But Miami? That’s just screaming “I’m going to build a dream team and win a title,” and it’s the kind of hard-core championship mentality that undercuts the actual love of the sport.
Maybe this is an old-school theory, but real championship teams are built, not bought, and James’ quest cheapens the value of his eventual win.
Should he have stayed in Cleveland? Not necessarily—he gave that team seven good seasons and he doesn’t owe them anything.
But he owes himself more than a team so carefully designed it might as well have been concocted in a laboratory.
LeBron James is a great basketball player—the stuff of legends, certainly—and there’s no doubt he will one day win the ultimate basketball prize. But winning comes not from the power to manipulate your team, the media and other players. Victory exists in the pursuit of the game, the desire to get even better and the thrill of the sport that’s wrung out of every last shot—missed or otherwise.