They booed him in New York, they burned his jerseys in Cleveland and they went berserk with glee in South Beach. In the TV circus that was the Lebron James "Decision" show Thursday night on ESPN, the 25-year-old basketball phenom announced his long-awaited, more-dramatic-than-a-soap-opera choice of where he'll be playing this Fall: the Miami Heat. And this surprising decision tells us an awful lot about James and how he feels about himself, or more so, how he doesn't.
The second-coming of Michael Jordan has curiously chosen instead to be the second fiddle of Dwayne Wade, the Heat's one-man offensive machine who'll now also be joined by former Toronto all-star forward Chris Bosh (Gotta hand it to Miami president Pat Riley for bagging the top three free agents of all time). But as anyone with an ounce of basketball knowledge will tell you, Wade is not going to change his style of play for Lebron. It's his team, his town ("Wade County") and his game. Which begs the question, why on Earth would James take a back seat to Wade?
The truth is, James, who was feeling the pressure to live up to the "the greatest of all time" label, does not see himself the way fans or the media does. He does not believe he's the caliber of player of Jordan and Kobe Bryant, who've won six and five NBA championships respectively. His decision to cede top-dog status to Wade is a de facto admission that he cannot carry a team and win it all on his back; that he's not "the man" like Jordan and Kobe, and now clearly, Wade. But while he says he'd rather be a Magic Johnson than a Jordan, can we really believe him? Will he really thrive as Wade's second banana? Will he really be ok with Wade getting the ball in the key final seconds of a critical game? Will the "Miami Thrice," as they're now being called, truly jive as a team--the way the Celtics' stars Paul Pierce, Ray Allan and Kevin Garnett do--and deliver instant, dynasty-level championship success, which is what everyone expects from this half-billion-dollar megastar collective? Will Riley, who now needs to sign eight more players under minimum-salary contracts, be able to attract quality support players or is the Heat destined to be a trio of disappointingly over-talented ball-grabbing egomaniacs who never bring home the trophy? To be sure, there's gonna be more pressure on this Dream Team to win, win quickly, and win big than on any other team in professional sports history.
In an open letter to fans, Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert wrote about James' departure this way: "This was announced with a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his decision unlike anything ever witnessed in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment." Gilbert's right. The event screamed, "Me, me, me." It was not the action of a humble superstar ready to run the floor in Wade's shadow. And that could be a foreshadowing of what's to come from King James in Miami more than than anything else.