One year ago on July 8, 2010 shortly after 9:30 pm NBA superstar LeBron James–arguably the most coveted free agent in sports history–changed the landscape of professional basketball with ten words: “this fall I’m gonna take my talents to South Beach”.
Just like that LeBron James was no longer a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, his hometown team, the team that drafted him number one overall in the 2003 NBA draft.
Just like that James, whose image was on par with Yankees captain Derek Jeter (the squeaky clean variety), became a pariah. Cleveland fans ripped LeBron jerseys off their person and burned them in disgust much to the nationally televised horror of King James. The name-calling was relentless utilizing Nike slogans (“Quitness”), his government name (“LeBum”), and his own royal self-proclaimed nickname (“Queen James”).
While Cleveland fans were the only people who really had a right to be upset at LeBron, Knicks fans (who swore he would choose the team since the venue of his announcement was in Connecticut), who cheered him every time he step foot in the Garden during the 2009-2010 season, piled on the insults as well.
Hall of Fame players took subtle shots at LeBron (Michael Jordan) and direct bullets (Charles Barkley) questioning his leadership ability and his place as an all-time great. His close friend Jay-Z reportedly stopped speaking to James miffed that he was not informed that LeBron would not be coming to the New Jersey Nets.
The following night LeBron topped himself successfully alienating the fans of the other 24 or so teams who were not in the running for his services by appearing on stage with his new teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in a pep rally/free agent signing celebration where he arrogantly predicted the Heat would win “not 5, not 6, not 7…” NBA championships.
Now that the 2010-2011 season has ended in an NBA Finals collapse for LeBron’s Heat, where James himself did nothing in the fourth quarter of all the games, the NBA lockout threatens to shorten the upcoming season and there are rumors that Bosh may be traded to open up more money to bring in better role players.
The only question I have is: if LeBron had chosen to stay with Cleveland would he have been vilified the same way for televising his decision?