IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve talked about it often Ã¢â‚¬â€œ that night in February 2003 when I sat under the basket in Trenton to witness a high school LeBron James streaking across the sky, two very definitive things occurred to me.
The first was that I finally had my own Jordan. Someone to follow from the start Ã¢â‚¬â€œ from before the start. I was too young when MJ started, so I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t fully appreciate the phenomenon of his career until very late in the game. I wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t make that mistake here.
And at the very same moment, I looked around me and realized that I had already lost him, partially to my own whims, which mirrored those around me.
Behind me was a row of reporters five-deep, scrutinizing the jump shot, the defense, the moral fiber of an 18-year-old. To my left was Kevin Johnson of the Cleveland Browns, wearing a throwback jersey, soon to be replaced at courtside by more significant celebrities. To my right was his mother, Gloria, jumping up and down, shrieking, Ã¢â‚¬Å“We going to the bank! We going to the bank!Ã¢â‚¬Â
We all had a plan for him. By that point, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d already been on the cover of Sports Illustrated, ESPNÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Magazine had dubbed him Ã¢â‚¬Å“Next,Ã¢â‚¬Â and heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d had some games aired on national television. SportsCenter was enrapt with his saga with taking some throwback jerseys, airing countless shots of his silver Hummer.
As much as I wanted to just sit back and watch how everything naturally played out, media and fans had his path charted. With Jordan on the verge of retirement, we all needed a new version, LeBron was to become that in every way, and that was going to happen real soon.
What if that wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t in his nature?
Well, none of us thought about that, and if we had we wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have cared. We needed him to carry his city, his team, his league, his shoe company and sports journalism on the whole.
For the past seven years, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve watched LeBron James take every big shot. All eyes on him at all times, from the day he destroyed Lenny Cooke at the ABCD Camp. A fading cityÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s economy under his watch. A framed Ã¢â‚¬Å“We Are All WitnessesÃ¢â‚¬Â poster on my wall in my apartment.
Would that have been the path LeBron himself would have truly chosen if the choice was all his? WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll just never know. You keep hearing it now Ã¢â‚¬â€œ almost derisively Ã¢â‚¬â€œ that heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s more Magic than Michael, more a facilitator than the main guy.
Jordan had an advantage in preparation. After Laney High, he didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have to be The Man on a stacked UNC team. He played three years in a highly structured environment in which he could grow into his skin, in the process tasting success on the highest level by hitting the shot that won an NCAA Tournament. He had Dean Smith guiding his mentality and early career.
LeBronÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s first Cavs teams were similar to JordanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s first Bulls teams talent-wise and in terms of his role, but Jordan was three years older with more wherewithal to handle the task. Even so, he had growing pains until Scottie Pippen showed up to become his apprentice. He needed the radical intelligence of Phil Jackson at the helm, and a supporting cast perfectly suited to his talents.
The Cavs? Well, they drafted Luke Jackson. They miscalculated on the value of Larry Hughes, Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison. They didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t give him what he needed to succeed. ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s no Pippen in the group; thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not even a Dennis Rodman. But it was surely LeBronÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s team.
I do think LeBron wanted the best of all worlds, talking about wanting to be a Ã¢â‚¬Å“global icon.Ã¢â‚¬Â (His words) But I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think he was entirely prepared for all the trappings that came with the role, and wanted to escape.
I had a discussion yesterday with Truth from sister site TruthBegins.com, and I brought up that somewhere thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a guy who throws 102 mph, but heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s fixing cars, primarily because he likes to fix cars. We debated for a while: Is it that guyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s responsibility to become a pitcher? It almost certainly isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t, despite that IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d feel it to be a waste if he didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t.
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve often said that weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve never actually known what kind of person LeBron is, but that really isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t accurate. WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve seen glimpses peeking out. Yes, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a narcissist Ã¢â‚¬â€œ if I could do anything as well as he plays ball, I probably would be too.
But more than that, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a fun-loving kid whoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s never had the opportunity to simply be just a kid. From the time he was a youngster, forced to move many times before the age of 10, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s had adult responsibilities to live up to. If LeBron no longer wants to have to straddle the razor every single night, with virtuoso performances expected and necessary, then maybe he was miscast from the beginning.
Remember, though he happens to have been from Akron, the only claim the Cavs and Cleveland really had on him was that they were lousy in 2003 and won the lottery. I understand the anger that city has, considering their checkered history with sports and their great experiences the past few years.
But LeBron truly had no obligation to stay there, especially with the vast expectations he had to deal with every single day.
By joining with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, LeBron finally has that high school clique again. And they wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be alone, guys like Mike Miller will want to feel elevated by playing with them. This team is going to come together fast. I just hope they save some open looks for my man Jon Scheyer.
And LeBron can still lead the team, as I expect him to. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s still the best player in the league; he wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be Robin to WadeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Batman. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just that now, he doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have to feel like heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s propping up a collection of inferior talents.
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s become obvious that this arrangement between James, Wade and Bosh has been in the works for quite some time, well before the three of them started meeting with NBA teams to enjoy how coveted they all were Ã¢â‚¬â€œ James and Wade for their skills, and Bosh for his apparent ability to deliver James and/or Wade.
Yes, Ã¢â‚¬Å“The DecisionÃ¢â‚¬Â was overwrought and made LeBron look like an egomaniacal brat. It almost certainly constituted lousy advice on the part of juvenile sycophant Maverick Carter, hoping to play the role of Ã¢â‚¬Å“EÃ¢â‚¬Â on Entourage, but really conjuring up images of Turtle.
But what I saw there was rebellion Ã¢â‚¬â€œ pure, unadulterated, unapologetic rebellion. LeBron was breaking free of the constructs that his talent and our own needs dictated he play under, and he was making that clear with his odd detachment and weariness. He wanted a clean break. He didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t thank the fans in Cleveland; he felt as if they owed it to him to give him thanks.
These seven years have apparently been somewhat of a burden.
The introduction of the three superstars in Miami yesterday was unsettling, as they preened and posed like nWo-esque villains. But LeBron actually seemed to take to the role. He finally didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have to be a standard-bearer for anything anymore Ã¢â‚¬â€œ except himself, really. He could play the role of the bad guy. He had turned heel, and was enjoying every minute of it.
But just maybe, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re partially to blame here. Did we push him to the point where he needed to do something this widely viewed as egregious to break away from what we expected him to be for our own purposes?
WhatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s interesting is that heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s bigger than ever, more well-known than he ever was. The enmity toward him will fade in time, though heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s now heading down a decidedly different path.
Along those same lines, I think weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re all in agreement that LeBron has forever altered his legacy, eschewing individuality and self-sufficiency to play with the cool kids and take the Ã¢â‚¬Å“easy wayÃ¢â‚¬Â to championships.
But hereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the thing: Does he truly care about that? Or is it just us?
Because I think itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just us.