The LeBron James Saga: How long was he obligated to Cleveland? (part 1)

July 12, 2010 | Drew Forrester

In the aftermath of last week’s decision by LeBron James, I’ve taken particular interest in the reaction by sports fans both locally and nationally.  My full dislcosure in starting this 3-part blog series is this:  I’m NOT a huge NBA fan.  I was, about 15 years ago, but over the last decade or so, my interest has greatly diminished.  I didn’t care one way or the other what LeBron’s decision was last week.  In this case, you can consider me having “no dog in the hunt”.

But just because I didn’t care where LeBron signed doesn’t mean I don’t find the story fascinating, because I do. 

The blog comments and e-mails I received last Friday and over the weekend are fairly similar to what you and I have heard and seen all over the country since his big announcement last Thursday night on national TV. 

Most of the people reacting were (are) critical of James for leaving Cleveland and heading to South Beach to play for the Miami Heat.  Some of that reaction is related to jealousy.  A lot of the comments I’ve heard or read appear to be racially motivated.  White America can’t stand it when the black athlete succeeds, but they love it when he (or she) fails.  And a lot of folks commenting on the situation haven’t really explored the facts about the case, but just assume because James has a lot of tattoos and listens to rap music that he must be a bad guy.

I’m not one of those people. 

Since when does it not make sense for a 25-year old male to want to live in Miami?  Have you been there?  I have.  It’s the East Coast’s version of San Diego. 

Have you been to Cleveland?  I have.  About 100 times.  With all due respect, those of you reading this right now who live in Baltimore are sort of in Cleveland…the two cities are very similar in nature. 

So next February when you’re shoveling 14 inches of snow here, ask yourself:  “Would I rather be doing this?  Or living in Miami?”

I don’t know about you – and you have to think for yourself on this one – but I think I’ll take Miami.

LeBron did what all of us either have done or will do in our life.  He changed employers.  And when he changed employers, he also did something else we’d all do.  He looked for an upgrade…both personally and professionally. 

However, unlike most of us, he actually changed jobs and made LESS money at his new gig than he would have made had he stayed with his ex-employer. 

Can you imagine that conversation at home?  “Hey, honey, I got a job offer in Miami today and I think I’m going to take it…the only problem…it pays $20,000 less than the one I have right now.”

James left $15 million on the table (over a 6-year period) to head down to Miami and play for the Heat.  I’m smart enough to know that going from making $22 million a year to $20 million a year isn’t much of a hit.  On either salary, you can afford anything you want from the Captain’s List at Ruth’s Chris.  And I completely understand it’s not apples-to-apples comparing LeBron’s situation with the one I referenced above where a person goes from making $70,000 to $50,000.

I’ll ask it again:  When did it become wrong for someone to choose a new employer?

Is it wrong because LeBron is from the Cleveland area?  Is that it?  If that’s the case, then when would it have been OK for him to leave the Cavaliers?  A seven-year run there wasn’t enough to satisfy the folks who say “he’s from Cleveland, he owes it to us”?  Would it have EVER been acceptable for James to leave Cleveland or was he bound to the Cavaliers for life? 

Chris Bosh is from the Dallas area originally.  Why didn’t he orchestrate a sign and trade with the Mavericks instead of the Heat? 

I understand the outcry against LeBron for putting that charade on TV last Thursday night.  I said before it even happened that it was bush-league.  But it was bush-league on EVERYONE’S PART…including ESPN and the NBA itself.  However, just because it was wrong to do it on TV doesn’t mean LeBron was wrong to leave.

If I could turn back the calendar and be 25 again and make millions of dollars doing ANYTHING, I’d probably choose Miami to do it in. 

Since when is someone not allowed to make a career or personal choice based on his or her desire to have fun?  James is going to Miami to have fun.  He’s going there to play basketball.  He’s going there because other good players are there and he wants to have fun by winning. 

The Cavaliers aren’t blameless in this…not by a longshot.  They’ve known for three years that LeBron was going to be in position to leave after the 2009-2010 season.  Instead of investing in their player roster and doing whatever they could to make LeBron feel like they were really trying to compete, they just backed a bunch of Brinks trucks up at Quicken Loans Arena and sold as many #23 jerseys as they could and milked as much money out of the fans and sponsors as they could during the LeBron Era. 

Then, when James left, the Cavs owner flipped out and acted like he was shocked at the turn of events.

They knew this was coming.  But rather than do something about it, they tested the kid’s gumption and found out the sad truth:  Anyone would rather work in Miami than in Cleveland.

Ask Nick Markakis about his decision to sign a 6-year deal in Baltimore 19 months ago.  How many nights since then has he stood out in right field on the bad end of a 7-3 score and said to himself, “Why didn’t I just play out the string in Baltimore and spend the last 10 years of my career in New York or Boston or Anaheim or Philadelphia?”.  My guess on the answer?  Many nights. 

Nothing replaces winning.  Not even money, especially when you already have more than you can spend, which is the case with LeBron James.  And keep in mind he’s actually making LESS in Miami than he would have made in Cleveland. 

So I ask one more time. 

Why is it so wrong for a 25-year old guy to change employers?

We’ve all done it.  If you don’t like the place where you work, you look for another job.  That’s what James did. 

Tomorrow:  Part 2, When it comes to the black athlete, you can’t have it both ways