James the Abdicator
In many ways, 2010 was the year of LeBron James. Unfortunate to be in the situation where you emerge as the biggest story around and have so many of the storylines be based around things you did wrong and reasons why everyone should hate you. So many opportunities has James given the world to hate him that’s it was hard to pick which narrative to go with. James the Quitter?, James the Traitor?, James the Selfish? All work.
For my part, I don’t hold LeBron in near the negative that many others do simply because of his choice to leave Cleveland for South Beach. Certainly I’d have respected him more if he’d said he was staying Cleveland because he saw it his duty to help his city though tough economic times – but how can anyone expect that kind of maturity from a 25 year old famous because of what he can do with his body?
Of course, the way he left Cleveland, making a spectacle of himself, was ugly. Beyond that, he’s seemed to hit every branch of hater tree on the way down since then. Starting with his walkabout performance in the 2010 NBA playoffs, following that up with (alleged) stubbornness against his new coach in Miami, and then just recently, showing he doesn’t care about other players by advocating for contraction of weak NBA teams, and then proving to be both clueless and dishonest by claiming that he didn’t even know what “contraction” meant and that he had been talking about something else (he wasn’t).
In the end though, the most enduring narrative shift of 2010 for LeBron will be as abdicator. As the man anointed as King James, expected to be the next Michael Jordan leading his modest supporting cast to a dynasty, and who then took off the crown not having the stomach to risk continued failure to reach the promised land with all aspects of his team’s strength reliant on him alone.
What’s so fascinating about this is that basketball is probably the only major team sport in existence where such ridiculously high expectations exist for a superstar, and those expectations are not entirely reasonable. It is still a team sport, and no Michael Jordan didn’t do it alone either. Jordan didn’t start winning championships until he had a supporting cast far stronger than the one James had in Cleveland. While it is very much reasonable to expect great basketball players to play on some great teams because of the immense impact one player can have in the sport, it is irrational to expect that the best player will magically come out on top.
The other narratives surrounding James, and really those surrounding the other athletes I’ve written about, are often much less forgivable in my book, and yet they are also much more easily re-shifted. Mayweather can kill the coward narrative by manning up, taking on Pacquiao, and coming away victorious. Mayweather and LeBron both can grow past the various selfish and immature narratives simply by growing up. I don’t see how LeBron ever makes the abdicator label go away. He can make sting less by achieving great success, but his career will now always be viewed through a lens colored by The Decision.