LeBron James’ antics shuffling rosters have wounded, changed NBA
LeBron James is No. 1. Among the small handful of transcendent players who have graced the NBA, none have wounded the sport like he has.
His combination of size and skill spawned the boy who would be king, a mercenary who serves only his best interests. He’s an employee without bosses, a petulant pioneer who never feels public pressure, who never obeys the orders of a superior. Because, in his mind, the latter doesn’t exist.
Three times in his prime, he has left a franchise for greener pastures. In his last three stops – Miami, a return to Cleveland, and Los Angeles – he has rarely felt like part of a team. Instead, he’s like the highest-priced actor showing up on a movie set, hanging out in his own trailer.
Along the way, James charted the countercultural course of self-empowerment in the NBA, creating one of the most damaging trends in history. His wanderlust and vanity know no limits. His selfishness knows no remorse. He’s the ringleader of a new generation of athletes who want more and play less; who bail on teammates and cities and franchises that drafted them in the first place; protecting their brands by carving out paths of least resistance; and gaming the system rather than testing themselves in the noble arena of cutthroat competition.
When James moved his career to Los Angeles, he did so to accommodate the interests of his burgeoning business empire. It didn’t matter there are already 10 statues outside Staples Center or that he was joining a haggard team full of young talent and veteran misfits.
Then again, permanence, loyalty and community matter not to James. He assumed more great players would join him in L.A., just like they did in Miami and Cleveland. Especially with his boyhood pal, Rich Paul, running an agency that represents a growing cluster of stars, including Anthony Davis.
Look at the track record:
Under Paul’s guidance, Eric Bledsoe staged his first show of unhappiness in Phoenix. Until he got the contract he so desired. But not before it killed the growing momentum on Planet Orange, forcing an unseasoned general manager to make panic acquisitions and load up on ball-dominant point guards.
Now, Paul is orchestrating Davis’ departure in New Orleans, attempting to funnel him to James in Los Angeles. The tampering/collusion is absurd, and you can almost feel the outrage inside the NBA.
Last season, it was Kawhi Leonard who suddenly morphed into a jerk in San Antonio. But Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is wise to the ways, and refused to play James’ game. He traded Leonard to Toronto, fueling the rise of the Raptors in the Eastern Conference.
Now there are reports that the NBA doesn’t want New Orleans to deal with the Lakers, fearing the public relations hit of a Robin Hood-less NBA, where you rob the poor to pay the rich. And in the end, the league can’t afford the perception that James is running the NBA through a shadow company and his best-friend turned agent.
“I think it’s going to be a catastrophe in the long run,” former NBA great Charles Barkley said. “Because at some point the fans are going to say, ‘I’m not paying to watch the WWE. If we know who is going to win before the season starts, why are we wasting our time buying these expensive tickets?’
“LeBron is a great player and a great guy but he started this super team thing in Miami. Then Kevin Durant trumped him when he went to the Warriors. And now they’re trying to do the same thing with the Lakers.”
As the trade deadline approaches, the Pelicans seem to be backing away from the Lakers. The backlash might’ve cost the Suns a chance to acquire Lonzo Ball, a point guard they so desperately crave. And while fan interest in the league and franchise valuations continue to soar, this callous trend of super teams and super-serving one’s self will come with a price tag in the end.
Pete Rose and Barry Bonds damaged Major League Baseball. James has done the same with the NBA, but not through gambling or PEDs. His sin was unintentional and merciless, committing his heart to something much smaller than the game itself, a world where all that matters is Team LeBron.
Reach Bickley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.