On Thursday, July 8, 2010, I sat in front of my TV, wrestling with my personal allegiances when it comes to professional basketball. Though my hand wringing and fluctuating wants could not compare to the decision rollercoaster that NBA star LeBron James had been riding since the end of his 2010 playoff run with the Cleveland Cavaliers, I still was torn about which court King James should make his own next season.
Being a transplanted New Yorker here in the Sunshine State, I had to weigh hometown loyalty versus the possibility of having a South Florida Dream Team of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and James “Heat-ing” up the hardwood of Miami.
Should he go to the Knicks and resurrect the New York franchise that my father taught me to love when I was a youngster growing up in the Bronx, or should he come down south, and complete a seemingly indomitable triumvirate that would certainly bring an NBA title in the near future to Florida.
My decision precipitated LeBron’s by only a few minutes, as I tuned into ESPN and watched the basketball icon take his seat in front of reporter Jim Gray. It was a done deal in my mind: I wanted him to come here.
As Gray interviewed the understandably nervous 25-year-old James, I was most impressed with the thoughtfulness and eloquence with which he answered Gray’s probing inquiries into his decision-making process.
Once LeBron confirmed that he would be taking his “talents to South Beach,” the personal gratification I felt was quickly tempered when ESPN cut to a shot of his Cavaliers jersey being burned somewhere in Cleveland.
As classless as this act was, I had no idea that the majority owner of the Cavaliers franchise, Dan Gilbert, would fan these flames with a similarly incendiary, open letter to the Cleveland fan base.
In his letter, Gilbert called James, as my aunt would say, “everything but a child of God.”
Apparently, Gilbert feels like this basketball superstar is somehow wrong for exercising his right as an employee to seek employment in a location where he feels his opportunities to achieve his goals (multiple NBA titles) are more viable.
Characterized in this open letter as a “former hero” and “the self-titled former King,” James was accused of betraying Cleveland in a “narcissistic, self-promotional build up.”
No wonder Jesse Jackson made reference to Gilbert’s unprofessional and defamatory characterizations as an indication that Gilbert sees James as a “runaway slave.” Though James is very well paid, the slave comparison is still contextually sound.
Think about it: Gilbert and his franchise reaped the profits of LeBron’s talent, brand and community service for seven years. Though he was never surrounded by the top-caliber players that are essential in building an NBA championship team, James toiled on the court to bring the team to multiple playoff appearances in his tenure with Cleveland.
While Gilbert and the Cavs were able to pimp the LeBron James brand, filling their arena and pockets with fans and money, LeBron was not only a king, he was a god. As soon as he dared leave the Gilbert plantation, the seven-year crop of contributions and the bales of cash reaped by Gilbert et al were forgotten, and LeBron James became the ungrateful buck in need of a good thrashing. Instead of the whip, Gilbert opted for the web. Either way, he apparently felt the need to publicly chastise LeBron for daring to defy the Gilbert agenda and follow the North Star south to Miami.
Before some of you summarily dismiss the slavery analogy as race-based hyperbole, let’s be clear: If any NBA player, black or white, was treated in the manner in which Gilbert has treated James, the analogy would be the same.
There is nothing wrong with Gilbert expressing his disappointment with LeBron’s decision or lack of communication with the Cleveland organization: That’s business.
When you publicly degrade and denigrate the player who put your team on the modern NBA map, however, that’s personal, and just plain inappropriate.