Greatness or Humility? LeBron Chooses Neither

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Do I blame LeBron James for leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers? Not particularly. In seven years, the best player they ever managed to put next to him was, who, Zydrunas Ilgauskas? Mo Williams? Larry Hughes? From the very beginning, management seemed terrified of losing LeBron—he bears more than a bit of responsibility for this—and semi-panic is rarely a strong building strategy.

Do I blame LeBron for how he left the Cavs? Of course I do. LeBron has earned every ounce of abuse he's taken for his weeklong ego-palooza, the crowning achievement of which was not even deigning to tell the Cavs himself that he wasn't coming back—at least, not until he told the world on ESPN. As Rudy from Fat Albert would have noted, that move was like school during summer: No class.

Some have also criticized LeBron for opting to join fellow-superstar Dwyane Wade and all-star Chris Bosh in Miami, rather than choosing a team—Cleveland, Chicago, New York, New Jersey, the Clippers—that would have been indisputably his. As ESPN's Bill Simmons put it:

I think it's a cop-out. Any super-competitive person would rather beat Dwyane Wade than play with him. Don't you want to find the Ali to your Frazier and have that rival pull the greatness out of you? That's why I'm holding out hope that LeBron signs with New York or Chicago (or stays in Cleveland), because he'd be saying, "Fine. Kobe, Dwight and Melo all have their teams. Wade and Bosh have their team. The Celtics are still there. Durant's team is coming. I'm gonna go out and build MY team, and I'm kicking all their asses." That's what Jordan would have done. Hell, that's what Kobe would have done.

Here, too, there's a part of me that's willing to grant a little slack. Perhaps LeBron lacks the win-at-all-costs gene of Jordan and Kobe (and, in their quieter ways, greats such as Bird and Duncan). Perhaps he doesn't want the burden of being the fourth-quarter hero of every playoff game in which his team needs one. So he cedes some of that burden to his new co-star, becoming a kind of hybrid of Pippen to Wade's Jordan and Magic to Wade's Big Game James Worthy. Is that such a bad thing? I mean, who seems more contented to you, Earvin Johnson or Michael Jordan? LeBron's decision to share the burden of greatness could be a sign of self-knowledge, even humility.

Can you see where I'm going with this? It could be a sign of humility, if not for the fact that, over the past week, LeBron has beaten humility into the dust, lashed it to his chariot and driven it up and down the country, and finally dismembered and burned its corpse on national television. The mere appearance in this article of the words "LeBron" and "humility" in close proximity to one another has the potential to crash servers across the Eastern seaboard.

And that, ultimately, is what is most infuriating. If LeBron wanted to share the burden of greatness, he needed to share the twinkle of the spotlight as well. When Wade and Bosh announced their decision to go to Miami early Wednesday, LeBron should have been there too. Instead, he spent the next 36 hours basking in his own narcissism before announcing his decision in a primetime special, as if it were some combination of the Oscars and a declaration of war.

Had he been bound for a team that would have been all about him anyway—a Cleveland or New York or Jersey or what have you—this manifest self-love and self-importance might have been just barely tolerable. But he isn't. He's headed for a team that doesn't need a "savior" or "Chosen One," a team that already had an All-NBA star and worthy sidekick, a team that won a championship and earned Wade a Finals MVP in 2006, a team that, depending on other pieces, might easily have contended for a championship without James.

LeBron James had a choice to make, between greatness and humility. He chose neither.

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Christopher Orr is a senior editor and the principal film critic at The Atlantic. He has written on movies for The New Republic, LA Weekly, Salon, and The New York Sun, and has worked as an editor for numerous publications.

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