July 24, 2016

Partly cloudy

LeBron’s role was obvious; the Cavaliers’ not as clear

I thought time — and a one­-week vacation — would help me come up with something deep, insightful and original.

I thought it would help me sort out my feelings and come up with something strong, hard-hitting and memorable.

I thought wrong.

Thursday night marks the two-week anniversary of LeBron James’ “Decision” to take his talents to South Beach, and my thoughts are much the same as they were July 8.

That is, James handled this entire free agent process all wrong.

Deep down in his heart — despite what many think, I still believe he has one — he has to know that. By announc­ing his deci­sion to leave Cleveland — around here, it really was about “leav­ing,” not “going” to Miami — he made himself look terribly bad nationally and even worse locally.

On that, I think we can all agree.

Much more debatable is the role the Cavaliers played. They spent seven years trying to keep James happy and catering to his every need, and still he left. They did what they thought was right, what they thought they had to do, what they thought was best and — poof! — he’s still gone.

Whether some tough love early on would have changed things, we’ll never know.

Whether someone actually say­ing “no” or “you have to do this, whether you want to or not” to James would have mattered, we’ll also never know.

What we do know — or at least what I know, right now — is that blatantly and repeatedly trashing James after his depar­ture isn’t going to change any­thing. It might make you feel better, but it’s not going to change the fact he’s gone.

And that, after almost two weeks of listening to local and national radio shows and read­ing print and website columns, brings me right back to that orig­inal 21-paragraph open letter to fans written by now beloved — even worshipped — Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert on the night James announced his decision.

While I immediately found it wildly entertaining due to its complete lack of political cor­rectness — George Steinbren­ner calling Dave Winfield “Mr.

May” has nothing on Gilbert, folks — it wasn’t long before I also found it fairly ludicrous.

Gilbert’s promise that the Cavaliers will win a champi­onship before James gets a ring, while definitely full of bravado and likely intended to provide some immediate comfort to the team’s fan base, is almost laughable — at least right now.

Sure, I could be wrong, but if you and I were in Vegas right now and we had to bet every­thing we owned on who would win a title first, Cleveland or Miami, who are we honestly going to pick?

I don’t own much, but I’m picking the Heat.

That said, the real troubling part of Gilbert’s letter — he has not yet sat down and spoken directly to the local media — is his unabashed bashing of the very player he was doing every­thing in his power to re-sign.

(And had been doing every­thing in his power to re-sign from the time James signed an extension in 2007.)

I mean, if Gilbert truly believes James quit in Games 2, 4, 5 and 6 against Boston this year and in Game 6 against Orlando in 2009, as he told The Associated Press on July 8, shouldn’t he have been trying to execute a sign-and-trade from the beginning of free agency?

It’s overly simplistic, I know, but think about that for a moment or two or three.

See just a little bit of hypocrisy there?

By waiting until after James left to unleash all his venom, Gilbert, to me, comes across as a jilted lover, as a bully who ran into another bully and didn’t get his way.

There are many things I admire about Gilbert as a franchise owner, foremost among them being his willingness to spend money and do everything in his power to bring a championship to Cleveland.

It’s refreshing to have someone who is unwilling to settle for being second-best, who is committed, competitive and determined to be No. 1. At the same time, unlike many other media members and fans, I am not yet sold on all aspects of Gilbert’s leadership style. This is professional sports, after all, not the mortgage business.

As for James, I can only say I don’t have the venom, vile or hatred toward him that many people in this area have. I’m not saying you’re wrong to feel that way, I’m just saying I don’t.

Heck, if I’m totally honest, I must also tell you that, by and large, I enjoyed covering James during his seven years with the Cavaliers — and this is coming from someone who originally expected to quickly grow sick of following around someone 24 years his junior like a puppy dog.

I found — and still find, for that matter — James’ basketball talents to be otherworldly and his knowledge and insight into the game refreshing. That’s not going to change simply because the word “Cavaliers” is no longer on the front of his uniform.

James certainly has an outlandish ego and inflated opinion of himself but, until the end of his seven-year stay in Cleveland, culminating in that horrible, catastrophic, ill-conceived decision to announce on national TV that he was going to Miami, he handled his fame and fortune better than I ever would have.

There’s a certain level of emotional detachment necessary in my profession, so that no doubt is playing a role in how and what I feel — and how and what I don’t feel.

It’s your right to feel differently, but whether James goes down as the best basketball player ever, I really don’t care — and never really did to begin with.

Whether James will, as many believe, be Dwyane Wade’s caddie in Miami, the Pippen to Wade’s Jordan, I really, really don’t care.

Whether MJ or Bird or Magic or Isiah would have done what James did, I really, really, really don’t care.

What James’ ultimate legacy will be, I don’t know. And, again, I don’t care.

As for Gilbert, maybe he will make me eat my words and bring a title to Cleveland before James gets one in Miami.

Time will tell, but it’s going to take a lot more time than two weeks.

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com.