Cleveland Ain't Racial, Kid, They Only Hate You

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I think David Stern gets it right:

"I think that LeBron is a really good guy and he's going to be a great player and I don't think that this particular production showcased him to the best of our abilities," Stern said.

The commissioner said James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh violated no league rules in discussing free agency among themselves, and that the league isn't investigating how the Heat managed to land all three.

That doesn't mean Stern didn't take issue with certain elements of free agency, particularly James' decision to say he was leaving Cleveland on ESPN. "The advice that he received on this was poor," Stern said after NBA owners met in Las Vegas. "The performance was fine. His honesty and his integrity, I think, shined through. But this decision was ill-conceived."

Meanwhile, Stern also took action against Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert, fining him $100,000 for words that the commissioner described as "a little bit extreme." Gilbert released a sharp-tongued statement shortly after James' announcement last Thursday, calling it "narcissistic" and "cowardly behavior." Later, Gilbert told The Associated Press in a phone interview that he felt James quit on the Cavs during the playoffs the past two years.

Even Rev. Jesse Jackson received a rebuke of sorts from Stern. Jackson responded to Gilbert's remarks on Sunday by saying the Cavs owner sees James as a "runaway slave" and that Gilbert's comments put the player in danger. "He speaks as an owner of LeBron and not the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers," Jackson said in a release from his Chicago-based civil-rights group.

Stern said Jackson is a friend and ally to the league, but as with Gilbert, felt the reaction simply went too far. "However well-meaning Jesse may be in the premise on this one, he is, as he rarely is, mistaken," Stern said. "And I would have told him so had he called me before he issued his statement, rather than this morning. But he is a good friend of the NBA and our players. Has worked arduously on many good causes and we work together in many matters."

Not always a fan of Stern, but I think he's basically dead-on with most of this. I was under the impression that "The Decision" was an idea that came out of LeBron's camp. Apparently it was Jim Gray's conjuration, and LeBron's people couldn't see that it would be a bad idea.

To recap my thoughts:

1) LeBron--like any other free agent--has the right to play where he wants. Everyone, including me, likes a hometown kid. But I don't have much regard for owners waxing indignantly at players for making the kind of cold-eyed business decisions which they, themselves, make every day. It's like watching a serial philanderer vent their outrage after catching their spouse cheating. Whatever.

2) I think the reaction to LeBron leaving would have been a lot different had his camp  passed on Jim Gray's offer. You have the right to break up with your girlfriend. But if you do it on the Jumbotron, don't expect her to wish you well.

3) Dan Gilbert displayed the kind of insufferable self-righteousness that we all hate in our employers--black or white. That he did it in front of the entire world makes it worse. But drawing a comparison between the twisted perspective of a sanctimonious boss and the twisted perspective of a sanctimonious slave-holder is a strategy guaranteed to generate heat, with little regard to light.

If you want to be assured a segment on Hannity, Limbaugh or O'Reilly, the slave comparison is the way to go. If you're actually interested in clarifying the offense then it isn't. In the meantime, it is worth noting that Frederick Douglass forced his own opt-out clause.  Harriet Tubman's lucrative endorsement deal was a bounty. There was no free agency for slaves.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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