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He arrived in a red checkered shirt and jeans, chomping on a toothpick, looking all too casual for such a regal courtship. Two-time reigning NBA MVP LeBron James wasted little time in announcing his decision to join the Miami Heat, putting an exclamation point on The Summer of 2010, the most ballyhooed offseason that professional sports will ever see. Flanked by his inner circle of childhood friends, James entered the Greenwich, Connecticut Boys and Girls club to firm up a couple of professional friendships. Close pals Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade had already announced their intention to sign with Miami, and James would complete the trifecta. Never has a team looked better on paper, even if they only have a handful of guys under contract.
Just after 9:20 PM, James was knee-to-knee onstage with Jim Gray, in what began as an awfully awkward back-and-forth between the two. Gray asked the same questions that have been hovering for weeks in a clumsy attempt to fill the hour and build suspense. He asked what it was like to be “recruited” for the first time, and how many people knew where he was headed before the announcement. As Gray prompted a steely-eyed James for his answer, LeBron said,
“This fall, man this is very tough, but this fall I’m gonna take my talents to South Beach and, umm, join the Miami Heat.”
In keeping with the evening’s maladroit tone, there was no cheer, but a muffled murmur from the crowd in attendance. Waisting no time, Gray fired right back with a “why?” At this question, James triggered an entire clip’s worth of cliches, chock full of words like opportunity, winning, teamwork, and championships. James also quelled any concerns that selfishness would be a problem by explaining that, “For me, it’s not about sharing, you know, it’s about everybody having their own spotlight and then just doing what’s best for the team.” In what should have been a happy moment, James cleared his throat a lot, stuttered, he used “umm” to fill the empty space between most words, and looked stiff throughout the hour. Obviously, leaving home was looming large.
After the initial questions settled, Gray addressed Cleveland’s plight. “How do you explain this to the people in Cleveland,” he asked.
“Uhhh. You know, it-it-it’s heartfelt for me. You know it’s hard to explain. But at the same time, my heart, and the seven years that I’ve gave, umm, to that franchise to that city, umm, was everything.”
James’ speaking pattern came in staccato bursts, his sorrow for his home taking hold at every turn. He continued to explain that it’s about winning which is always the right answer, but not the truth. James could have easily persuaded Bosh to come to Cleveland in a sign-and-trade, and thus given Wade lots to ponder. But in the end he didn’t, and it is tough to fault him. In signing with Miami, James is taking a huge discount compared to the maximum contract that Cleveland could have offered. That Miami is a marked upgrade in the winter weather department goes without saying. James doesn’t want to grow up to be old and gray, and a never-left-home type of guy. He’s pulling the trigger on a situation that would normally only happen in theory, a whopper of a “what if?” scenario if ever one existed.
Michael Wilbon later asked from ESPN’s studio if winning a championship with Miami would be less sweet than winning one at home in Cleveland, if New York was ever really that appealing, and what happened with Chicago and Derrick Rose, who James is a big fan of. James offered non-answers to everything, covering all bases, trying to keep everyone respected and happy. He deflected any mention of Miami being a “superteam,” knocked down contract specific questions, and played it safe the entire time.
Besides the announcement of his future home, the first and last episode of LeBron James’ The Decision failed to match any of the preceding hype. Lots of air had left the balloon by 9 PM as every unnamed source with NBA ties had penciled in Miami as the presumptive landing spot. Cheap shots of burning LeBron jerseys seemed to stir up a bit of emotion in the superstar, but he continued on the path of saying the right thing. He seemed to truly lament his inability to bring a championship to Cleveland, but he noted that there is nothing else he can do about it now.
LeBron James is now a member of the Miami Heat. If he thought there were great expectations heaped on him before, he ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Just ask A-Rod.