You may have heard that last week Lebron James made a hugely public decision about where to play basketball for the next half-decade. Like a lot of sports fans, I was initially repulsed by how James handled his free-agency meditations. One would think somebody so adept at navigating the media would have realized that buying up an hour of primetime on the largest sports network in North America makes you look like a dick. (And during the World Cup! And there were kids ranged behind him!) Then, during the proclamation itself, I felt more sympathetic: Bron-bron looked worried and exhausted as he announced he’s going to play for the Miami Heat, and while the sentimentalist in me would have liked to have heard a bit more treacle about how “the fans in Cleveland are great and stuff, etc.” (Dan Gilbert, the Cavs’ owner, went hilariously bonkers over James’ apparent indifference), the guy was clearly agonized about something.
The sports commentariat has been yelling about The Decision for a week now. As you might suspect, the debate is suffused with plenty of sentiment and practiced, pious outrage; a Google search and some reading will remind you that most sportswriters are sanctimonious wangs. But there have been some good off-the-cuff pieces on James. This one, published by Deadspin, argues that The King is not, in fact, a selfish vampire, that for all his obnoxious celebrations of himself (including that stupid nickname) he still gave seven years of marvelous on-court work to a consistently mundane team based in a cold, depressing Rust-Belt city before deciding he’d rather make less money and live in Miami and win a championship than spend the rest of his prime in the same shitty area he grew up in. Imagine being yoked to whatever dull, corny town you were raised in . . . . Centered on James—a grown-ass man who can make his own decisions—the article is nonetheless primarily about how most of us have learned to evaluate public figures based on how they market themselves rather than on whatever real merits or skills they possess, even when we are evaluating someone as obviously, amazingly gifted as Lebron James.
Look to Bill Simmons (nom de plume The Sports Guy) for a more critical—and also typically sententious—reaction to James’ tactics. Before turning things over to the otiose comments of his boring readers (it’s one of his lame “mailbag” posts), TSG asserts that James doesn’t have the necessary competitive psychopathology to win a championship like Jordan, et al. did. We’ll see. King is only 25.
After that you’ll probably want to wash up with some Charles Pierce, the splendid Boston-based writer who is always articulate and sane about sports even though he’s passionate about most of them, and who has the touch for acid skepticism that never becomes cynicism. Scroll down through his blog and catch the thoughts on Lebron. Really, you should be reading this guy every morning. You’ll feel better.