What follows is an e-mail exchange between Blake Murphy and Trevor Smith on Friday and Saturday, following The Decision on Thursday. It was extremely painful to edit due to the e-mailing format, so please be forgiving. We also probably left out a dozen thoughts we each have, so please also share your thoughts, as everyone seems to have a pretty strong opinion on this, one way or another.
On Fri, Jul 9, 2010 at 12:11 PM, Blake Murphy wrote:
Alright Trev so we texted about this very briefly and crudely last night, but The Saga of The Decision has reached The Conclusion, and The King will join The Avatar and D-Wade (no The) in Miami. Your initial thoughts were not fit to print…care to elaborate in a more cleanly manner today?
Date: Fri, 9 Jul 2010 12:57:30 -0400
Subject: Re: LeBron thread
If by not fit to print, you mean I made reference to an old G-Unit song that outline Curtis Jackson potent sense of smell, then I stand guilty as charged… (Also, for what its worth, we can stay with your “The” theme and apply “The Flash” to Mr. Wade just for consistency)
As for The Decision…well, where do we begin. Mase and Diddy always liked me, as I am not the type to rep a Ph.D (Player Hating Degree – “We don’t even know how to stop”). For this reason, I have always been on Team LeBron, as it were. I drove to Cleveland to watch him play live twice over the last five years, and in his seven years with the Cavs have seen him every season at least once in Toronto. I have been a “Witness”.
The sheer excellence of his basketball artistry demanded as much of me. He is a player whose raw ability and physical dominance is unmatched in the game’s history. To not revel in the grace that is his basketball talent is foolish. When he is on the court, he represents both what is, and what is possible.
That did not change last night. My view of LeBron the Basketball Genius is the same. What has changed though is the way I view LeBron the Competitor, LeBron the Brand, and LeBron the Person.
First, addressing The Competitor – simply put, he can no longer be viewed as one, at least not one with any real credibility. Do I think LeBron wants to win? Of course. But I also think he is scared to do it himself. A real competitor – and I am not talking on the level of a Jordan or a Kobe, men whose drive to win at all costs borders on sociopathic – does not want to team up with Dwyane Wade. He wants to beat him. He wants his legacy to be stamped, sealed and approved by virture of taking on the biggest challenge he could face and defeating it. LeBron isn’t interested in that apparently. Is is possible to be both the most egotistical player in the league, and still insecure in your own ability to win? Somehow he pulled this off. I don’t have a problem with him leaving the Cavs – they were clearly the worst basketball option out there. What concerns me is that he is willing to go to someone else’s city, someone else’s team, and ride shotgun. Just know that Kobe would never have done that. Neither would Kevin Durant. It is not about ego, but about pride as a competitor.
As for the Brand – it took a MAJOR hit last night. You can’t be a “global icon” if you show the sort of arrogance LeBron displayed throughout this process, if only because people will not embrace you. He essentially took the entire NBA, and ESPN, hostage over the last few weeks in the name of elevating his name awareness for those outside of basketball. And the idea that he would be willing do have a 60 minute “Eff You” to Cleveland is as sad as it is baffling. When news of the special came out, I thought for sure he was going back. It didn’t make sense that he would use that forum and that platform to publicly destory the state of Ohio and its fan…and yet, he did. He can’t recover from that as far as I’m concerned. Further there is news that he is taking August off to film a movie in Vegas in lieu of playing at the FIBA World Championships, which is another example of hubris that suggests he and his team have lost touch with public perception. Jordan became a global icon, yes, but he won first. Everything was on the back of winning. With LeBron, its the other way around.
Finally, on LeBron the person, I have never met him, and I believe he is a fun-loving, happy, friendly teammate. What worried me was how rattled he looke last night. In the eight to nine years he has been in the public eye, I have never seen him as shook up as he was at the start of the interview – stumbling over his words at every turn and seeming totally uncomfortable. I worry that he is too sensitive to be a real winner, that his personality isn’t built to be as ruthless as it has to be for him to win on his own. Now we will never know, because he backed away from the challenge that was New York, or Chicago (which I still think may have been a better basketball option).
Now, what say you sir? We still need to address Dan Gilbert’s amazingness, as well as a host of other issues.
On Fri, Jul 9, 2010 at 1:59 PM, Blake Murphy wrote:
I’m with you on a lot of this. The decision smacks of cowardice through and through, and while he will still be the best the league has to offer on the floor, I find myself seriously wondering if his off-the-floor self is a large enough problem to take him off the path to immortality he believes he is on. Your point about matching a huge ego with insecurity is valid, but that’s to be expected – throughout history, sports and otherwise, those with the biggest egos have also been the most insecure. It’s no coincidence, really – the bigger the ego, the more it needs to be fed.
But I don’t think it’s just arrogance and insecurity that hamper LeBron. For all we have heard about how self-aware LeBron is with his brand and image, he seems wildly unaware of himself. Oscar Wilde said that only the shallow know themselves, so maybe LBJ is just too deep, but he seemed wishy-washy through the entire process, awkwardly letting his team and the media control the situation up until last night. And last night, as you pointed out, he looked extremely rattled and unsure. I’ve believed the entire time that he hadn’t made up his mind until yesterday, and he confirmed as much, but made it seem like he had buyer’s remorse immediately, so to speak. Yesterday was the FIRST day he could sign, he didn’t have to make the decision if he wasn’t ready, and he either wasn’t, or he’s an incredibly awkward interview and he’s just hid it for seven years.
Moreso than the basketball cowardice and his uncertainty, though, I have a major problem with the forum. This was ridiculous. As you said, I thought for sure he was staying in Cleveland when they announced this special. While it wasn’t the best “basketball” decision, it was certainly one I could understand and respect – loyalty, hometown, the desire to win with “your team,” etc, there were a lot of reasons to stay in Cleveland. He didn’t, and that’s fine, nobody can blame him, and he structured his contract so that he’d have that option. Like he reminded us redundantly, this is a business.
The business of crushing souls, as it is. The reaction has been fair, even from Dan Gilbert (we’ll get to it, I’m sure), and Clevelanders have a right to be upset. I…ughh, I honestly can’t explain how disgusting I found the whole ordeal.
Oh, and the basketball aspect…well…I guess I should touch on that, too. It was the most interesting basketball decision on the table, and we’ll see if it was the best soon enough, I guess. There aren’t going to be enough basketballs to go around, but Hollinger wants us to expect only a 5-10% decrease in Usage Rate for each. It’ll be more pronounced than that, for sure, just peruse the year-by-year stats of Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett. At the very least, the team will kill opponents with foul trouble, as these three should play a style that is essentially a parade to the free throw line. There games are going to be excruciatingly long, and, most likely, excruciatingly annoying.
Seems like a good time to digress. Take it away man.
Date: Fri, 9 Jul 2010 14:33:42 -0400
Subject: Re: LeBron thread
I absolutely love that, as you were pointing out that the biggest egos have the most insecurity, I was immediately reminded that Kanye was there, in person, with LeBron last night. And honestly, it felt like James was living out the words to “All Falls Down” –
It seems we living the American Dream
But the people highest up got the lowest self esteem
The prettiest people do the ugliest things
For the road to riches and diamond rings
LeBron has always told us he is a brand builder. But what does the brand of LeBron James stand for after last night? Being a follower. This man has been exposed to not be the leader he claimed to be, but just a supreme talent. He is not a “King”, but a prince, in need of the spoils and love and adoration, but not ready to bare the responsibility to go with the crown. The prince might be younger, better looking, better liked, and more exciting than the king, but he is not a ruler. Not yet anyway. A king, a real king at least, has seen many winters and been hardened by battle fought and lost. That is not to say he rules without help – he can have allies, who may be extremely powerful. But he does not coward behind those allies. Every great leader should insist on himself. LeBron has just passed the torch.
Because make no mistake, there is a responsibility inherit to saying you are The Chosen One (and having it tattooed on your back) – you have to be The Man, double underlined and bolded. This move promises that can never be. If he wins a few titles in South Beach, is it really an accomplishment?
Accomplishments matter more if you have to overcome something to achieve them. “Every flower needs rain to grow” sort of thing. You have to risk failure for victory matter.
This Miami trio is taking the easy way out. Those who defend the move by saying it is unselfish and it proves James is all about winning are getting it wrong. Yes, it says that he knows winning matters. What it also says though is that he doesn’t have faith in himself to push himself there. He doesn’t have to carry the Cavs to a title by himself without help. That is why no one would have cared if he had went to Chicago or New York – they were challenges, but ones where he stood front and centre. James wants it both ways: adore me as king and tell me I am The Light, let me have a hour long special about my choice, but also don’t ask be to carry my team as a leader and allow me to rely on others to get there. This is so wrong because it is path of least resistance. It is about LeBron avoiding pressure. And avoiding responsibility.
I will get into what it means on the court (because after all, there is still basketball to play) in my next correspondence, but before I tag you back in, let’s just address Dan Gilbert and The Letter. This was probably my favorite NBA front office moment ever. The levels on which this was amazing is limitless. To call it emotional and childish doesn’t even scratch the surface, but I love him for writing it. It is probably piety, and ex-girlfriend-ish, and perhaps even a little stalker-esque, but I will be damned if that is not entertainment. I truly think he believes he will bring a title to Cleveland, and I admire that blind, baseless optimism. He is dead wrong of course, but I love that he is so destroyed by LeBron’s actions that he complete lost sense of what was appropriate for a man in his position. For that, I can’t fault him. The idea that James didn’t communicate with the Cavs all day, and that the team found out the same time as the rest of us, is stupefying. It is beyond unprofessional – it is classless. And so was Gilbert’s letter probably, but that doesn’t make James look any better.
Your reply has to be in a typeface that is funnier than Comic Sans MS…
On Fri, Jul 9, 2010 at 2:51 PM, Blake Murphy wrote:
Great Kanye reference, first of all. You’re well in the lead for relevant pop culture references so far. I won’t scramble though…these things aren’t like ketchup, they don’t come flowing out if you keep forcing it.
I think the titles, if they come, will certainly be an accomplishment still. He feels rings are the best way to build a legacy, and while we dislike how he’s going about it, his resume is more than likely going to include a few championships. So there are still accomplishments, but they are not even close to the same level now. He’s definitely tarnished his brand, his reputation, and, most importantly, his upside in terms of his basketball legacy. By signing with Wade and Bosh, he gave up a shot at immortality for, as you and Woj have phrased it, the easy way out. If he’s truly the King, he stormed no castles, won no land, etc. Instead, this particular King chose to be absorbed into another kingdom and take co-King duties – he may still get to lay with the Queen, but there’s always the risk of swords crossing…is this analogy too weird at this point? K.
The path of least resistance is right, too. It’s kind of ironic. LeBron only deserved the special last night if he stayed in Cleveland or took a challenge in New York or New Jersey, to build (or rebuild, for New York) something from nothing and make it his own great accomplishment. If he made one of those choices, he was worthy of that kind of treatment (well, as worthy as anyone can be, because nobody truly deserves that treatment). As it is, choosing Miami, he basically told us all he wasn’t special, and therefore didn’t deserve to have his own.
Woj was right in what he wrote about Gilbert, though I disagree LeBron would have stayed if they hadn’t given him the keys to the castle (the only thing that could have kept him, it seems, is a title in his first seven years). The analogy that LeBron and the Cavs were essentially in a bad relationship, where LeBron had the power because he cared less, and the Cavs did everything they could to keep him happy so he wouldn’t leave, but then he did anyways because those relationships never work, doesn’t work. It lines up as far as I’ve explained it, but this type of relationship doesn’t exist when people are girl-and-boy-next-door types who are predestined to be together, as it seemed LeBron and the Cavs were. Instead, I’m left reaching for a relationship analogy, because there is no Hollywood precedent for this kind of heartbreak.
Dan Gilbert’s letter was awesome, agreed, but I hope that nobody takes it at face value as the truth. Entertainment value only, unless you’re from Ohio, in which case this is now Gospel.
So…about the actual sport of basketball…
Date: Fri, 9 Jul 2010 15:40:30 -0400
Subject: Re: LeBron thread
I actually laughed out loud at your ‘crossing swords’ reference – not in the “LOL” sense, but rather in the “my coworker gave me a dirty look as they realized I wasn’t working on Yield reports” sense.
So, the actual game itself…what do we make of this from an in-game perspective. First, I appreciate how the temptation to pair with Bosh and Wade was too strong to ignore, but I truly do not believe it was the best basketball option he had available to him. The Bulls pieces seem far more tailor-made for LeBron to start stacking championships than this Trinity squad does.
In Rose, LeBron would have had a perennial All-Star running mate, but he also would have had someone with younger legs and less of an established ego than he does now. James would have been the unquestioned leader of the Bulls; now, it looks like he is D-Wade’s “Ultra Pippen” if you will.
Beyond that, the Bulls lead the league in rebounding last year. So what did they do to improve but go out and get Carlos Boozer, who averaged 11.2 rebounds a contest in Utah. Boozer is not as heralded as Bosh or Amare, with good reason, but having someone who just averaged 19.2 points a game as your team’s fourth best option is nothing to scuff at.
Moreover, the cliché to end all clichés is that defense wins championship. There is a reason we still say this after 3000 years…because it is true. And with defensive mastermind Tom Thibodeau designing the blueprint, Noah, Boozer, James himself, and whoever else came onboard would have been perhaps the most imposing defensive team in basketball. In Miami, he is paired with Chris Bosh, someone who you and I can say from watching first-hand for seven years does not play one ounce of defense, and Dwyane Wade, who is a flashy defender, in that he gets steals and blocks, but is not a consistent lockdown ball-hawk (All Stats All-Star, the Anti-Battier).
That isn’t to say the pairing in Miami won’t be special, because offensively the triplets should outscore most teams by themselves. The same wouldn’t have been true in New York, where Amare and the Rooster were the only real selling points, but I can’t help but think the Knicks will successfully turn Eddie Curry’s cap figure into something by the deadline (look at the heist they just pulled on Golden State for evidence that the front-office isn’t as incompetent as it seems).
The Heat should win, early and often, and on paper, even without knowing how they fill in the rest of their roster spots, they will be the favorite in the East. They have to be unless the Magic steal Chris Paul.
But an Eastern Conference Championship does not get you a ring and a meeting with Barack. So they will have to take down the NBA’s reigning power from Los Angeles. Of course I have a horse in this race as a Lakers fan, so my vote probably shouldn’t matter, but I don’t see Miami besting Kobe and Friends next season. Maybe in 2012, but not on Phil’s Last-Last Dance. Not when Kobe is one ring away from a second three-peat. Not when Ron-Ron has a whole summer to shout out his doctors….forget that last point actually.
In all earnestness, I think this is Kobe’s last challenge. He has bested the Celtics (6-24 be damned), moved ahead of Shaq in terms of rings, and defined himself as probably the best player on the best franchise ever. What’s left? Defeat the Cerberus that just showed up in South Beach. He suddenly is the underdog again, and will have the majority of NBA fans hoping he can deny the punk trio a ring, at least for now. I wouldn’t be shocked if word from the OC Register last night said that his response to ‘The Decision’ was to head to the gym to get 1000 shots up.
Also, some folks on The Twitter pointed this out already I believe, but were I a betting man I would take all the money I had to go to Vegas to bet on Durant as MVP next season, with Kobe as a close second. I simply cannot believe that James and Wade won’t have their usage stats driven down considerably by their partnership (look at Kobe’s numbers when Malone and Payton were added to the LA mix for a comparison).
Do I think this season will be more fun as result of this mess? Yes. We now have a superteam to follow and to hate. We have the NBA version of The U (fitting that they will play in Miami) and a former Face turned Heel in LeBron that will make every moment compelling if not actually enjoyable. I still miss he had gone to New York, and believe he ruined his legacy via this decision and the presentation style he chose for it. This is Maverick’s E moment, where he realizes he just ruined his best friend’s career. Only the NBA doesn’t have script writers as lazy as Entourage – the King will actually have to suffer some consequences and live in conflict that Vinny Chase never did.
Unlike Vin, this boy does not have principles…and he ain’t Queen’s Blvd.
On Fri, Jul 9, 2010 at 4:03 PM, Blake Murphy wrote:
Damn, I would have bet all my money on you getting to the Lakers point by Email #2, then I’d have none left to put on Durant and/or Kobe for MVP. It’s a solid point, and maybe the only guys who can give them a run are CP3 (with an extremely unlikely Hornets revival), Dwight Howard (if the Magic hold it down in the East), and Nash (in an even more unlikely scenario where the Suns don’t lose a step or four this year). I had thought a lot about the impact this has on Kobe, but I feel bad for not considering Durant here, too, since he is without question my favorite player – LeBron and Wade just opened the door for Durant to grab the title of Best Player in the NBA when Kobe moves on. Yes, LeBron is more talented and better defensively, but voters are going to take years to cut him slack for this move, and you could simply never justify giving LeBron or Wade an MVP playing together. Durant could be looking at a half dozen scoring titles and MVPs in the next few years now, and I honestly believe he is now the NBA’s most likable star. Everything about this situation, including Durant’s classy and understated handling of his own contract situation, has set a foundation for Durant to plant his flag.
In terms of Kobe, I agree wholeheartedly he’s taking this as a personal challenge. With their roster largely unchanged and no teams in the West making huge strides (the opposite, if anything), the Lakers are a near shoe-in to make the West Finals at the very least. You’re right that he will have toppled the Celtics, surpassed Shaq, etc, etc, and another ring against the Heat could be the final test, in his mind. To me, his legacy has already been solidified, but he could then claim he toppled every giant that the NBA put together to take him down, and rest assured knowing he did it in a similar situation to these guys (with Shaq, though as Kobe was still developing), and as the unquestionable Alpha Dog on his squad (right now). It’s really too bad the Lakers paid Steve Blake instead of aggressively pursuing Mike Miller with their MLE.
I don’t think the Heat win the title this year. Next year, when they’ve added some vets, picks, and players with their cap exceptions, probably. But this year, the free agent crop willing to take the minimum is extremely thin, the Heat have no assets (three 2nd round picks and Joel Anthony), and the free agent market is too lucrative right now for any impact player to take what would amount to a massive pay cut. They’ll get a couple low-end vets, a mid-season buy out or two, and maybe a D-League find to round it out, but this team is going to be three-deep. It’s a damn good “three” but an injury could too easily derail them, and there’s just too much that can happen in a playoff series with no D, no bigs, and no point guard.
Chicago was definitely a better fit in basketball terms, and maybe my affiliation with the Roc is blinding me, but I thought New Jersey was the best situation for him overall. The Nets have an owner willing to spend, had a high-profile offseason, have a high-profile move coming in 2012, he’d still get to be in the New York market eventually, they have a decent roster to start from (Harris, Favors, Lopez, cap flexibility), and finally, it’d be a challenge to essentially raise a new team up from the ashes of the turnpike to the Mecca of Basketball. And he’d get to chill with Hova, like, 24/7.
But LeBron didn’t want a challenge, of course. Why throw down a dunk when you can lay it in off window, right?
Date: Fri, 9 Jul 2010 17:05:54 -0400
Subject: Re: LeBron thread
Thank you for delving more into Durantula’s stake in all this as only you can. I am a huge supporter of KD, primarily because he knows that the brand success as a result of the basketball success, not before it. He is the one young gun who is not skipping any steps, who is learning from the example of others, and who seems ready be Jim Gordon’s favorite…that is, to step up as the hero not that we deserve, but the one we need right now.
I obviously agree that Kobe’s legacy is secure – 5 titles will do that– but it is fun to think about all the narratives that come into play should take down the Trinity. As you mentioned, the Suns took several steps backward, the Nuggets seem like they are ready to fall apart at the seams (hopefully opening the door for Melo to become the King of NY next summer) and the fast-closing Thunder are still one more year away in my eyes.
One thing we can’t overlook is the number of vets that will try and sign up with them after taking a buy-out. I can foresee a number of owners buying out bad contacts that they don’t want to carry over into the new CBA after next summer’s lockout, and as a result there being a pool of still-capable buy-out guys available for Riley to choose from. Who is available via this channel will be interesting to say the least. Miami had better hope they can steal a Center at some point, because the Lakers just proved how important interior size is. Certainly Bynum is likely to reinjure himself (as always), but I don’t think you can expect to beat LA if Bosh is your only true post-up presence.
I will leave you to have the last word on the topic in our thread, but I wanted to depart with a few thoughts on why this has been such an emotional topic.
As we already addressed, Gilbert’s letter is amazing on a significant number of levels, but part of why it was such a compelling read, even the third and fourth time through, is that its emotion is so raw. “Former hero”, “narcissistic”, “shameful”, “cowardly”, “heartless”. These words were perhaps irresponsible used, but they point to how visceral the pain is that is being felt by Cavs fans, and how angry the majority of the public is with LeBron today.
For that, he has only himself (and maybe his guys at LMRM) to blame.
LeBron had his own thoughts on the backlash of course.
“Put the shoe on the other foot. If the Cavs would have got rid of me at one point, would my family burn down the organization? Of course not.”
That is what I am left with…the image of Gloria James, burning down The Q, literally, in the cold, dark Ohio night.
“You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
Blake Murphy wrote:
Your Batman quote, though expected, is appropriate at the moment, but I think once the season starts we’re all going to look at this a bit differently. Right now, the situation is emotional, and a lot of people are upset with how it went down. Some have predicted LeBron and the Heat will now be the Villain/Yankees of the NBA, but I disagree. Good basketball is too fun, and there is too much star-loving and front-running among NBA fans for this team to be hated past the opening tip off of the season. LeBron is certainly a villain in Ohio, and to those who are extremely passionate about basketball, especially its history, but to the casual fan (the NBA’s financial bread-and-butter), this is just a really really fun situation.
If they win a title this year or next, and create a dynasty with said veteran buy-outs and next year’s cap exceptions, all will be forgiven in the present. Long-term, thoguh, we obviously have our doubts about LeBron’s place.
We did most of this chain on Friday, but I opted to wait until Saturday to finish it. It seems right, too, since I just finished The Book of Basketball on my patio, a book focused primarily on The Secret of basketball. I can’t help but think that after LeBron’s signing with the Heat, Simmons would love a second chance to predict the legacise of Wade and James, but allow me to try. Simmons posited that LeBron would eventually enter his Pyramid and his Wine Cellar team as one of the greatest players ever. While he still might, I can’t help but feel that the path he will take there, and his blurb when the book is re-written, and his role on the Wine Cellar Team, will focus on nothing but his pairing with Wade. There is a serious risk, for his legacy, that he is now becoming The Greatest Utility Player Ever, rather than utilizing his once-in-a-lifetime physical gifts and talents to realize the potential he had to be The Greatest Player Ever. You can’t fault him if he thinks this is what’s best for him – maybe he doesn’t want to be what we always hoped he would become, or recognizes his inability to do so.
I don’t believe LeBron knows the Secret. I think Wade does, and has shown as such. I know Bosh doesn’t. However, the supreme talents of these three in concert, and the fact that they will be fun to watch and enjoy playing together, will make it appear as if all three definitely Know. Maybe they do, or maybe I’m misunderstanding The Secret, but right now I don’t see anyway this trio is regarded historically with the same praise other dynasties or great teams are. Taking a little less money and a few fewer shots isn’t emplying The Secret, though it is somewhat selfless. But this wasn’t a natural progression of a team, or something that happened organically. Can you manufacture The Secret? I’m not sure. This might just be three really good players playing together.