"BURN THE JERSEY!"
"YOU PIECE OF SHIT"
2010, Lebron James publicly dumps his hometown of Ohio for a seat atop the Iron Throne and instant favorite to win it all. When you are expected to be the best all time, you better have the rings to back it up. When getting your ass whooped in the Finals in Cleveland, doubt starts to set in and the clock starts ticking. The magic number set at six, King James must have felt an urgency to keep ahead of his critics and trade in his Golden Boy persona to that of a shallow dark lord of evil. Lebron James became the most hated thing in sports and I fully agreed.
Let's go back in time. 2001, The Detroit Pistons lure in droves of new fans with discounted tickets in order to rebuild the relatively stagnant following of an uncompetitive team. Over the course of three years closely following some of the most unanticipated events at the Palace, the Detroit Pistons rose from nowhere with a collection of role players and continuously rose to the top of the league. This was a team that literally had zero big market appeal. They won on defense, they struggled to score over 90 pts regularly. The NBA does not sell jerseys on defense. They want dunks, dips, dives dodges and more dunks. They want Lebrons.
Our Captain, Chauncey Billups, was literally traded more than a set of baseball cards. Ben Wallace, RIP Hamilton, Prince and Sheed, relative no-namers all came to Detroit and played with a chip on their shoulder, that was reminiscent of the Bad Boys of the early 90s. This was what made those years watching them so refreshing. It was a progression, year after year. Playoffs, divisional playoffs, conference playoffs... It was inevitable that 2004 they would return to the Eastern Conference championship and maybe, just maybe get to the next level. I mean, what could possibly rain on their parade?
Goddamn Hollywood. The assembly of pure and unmistakeable evil. Take an already great team with Kobe and Shaq (and the best bench in the game) and add in two hall of famers for the Zen Master to play with. CHAMPIONSHIPPPPP. Although in hindsight, at it's core I do understand the basic concept of those older vets (Malone, Payton) joining a winning team in order to finally do what they couldn't do alone. WIN. That season was a complete joke in my eyes. This wasn't a team. This was the coordination of the best all agreeing on playing for peanuts to steal a ring. The cool kids just stacked their team. Shaq, Kobe, Payton, Malone, the Fish, Big Shot Robert Horry... GOOD GOD! It was a shoe in all season. Who in their right mind would ever bet against them? How could this be allowed? I took that trip to the Palace of Auburn hills dozens of times (long drive*) and put in the time to watch my baby grow up and become the team it was supposed to be. Now, some asshole enters a cheat code and crushes my dreams. When the Pistons finally took it to the Finals, NO ONE outside of Auburn Hills gave them a chance at taking down the tinsel town titans.
We were doomed and EVERYONE knew it.
OR so I thought....
5 GAMES. That's all it took. Shaq, Kobe, Payton, Malone... These legends, superstars, sellouts got shown up by a bunch of unselfish rascals.
That season, after the Pistons upset the entire sporting world (and Vegas), the LA Lakers disbanded. Payton and Malone parted ways with the Avengers. The league was back to normal. For a while.
Again, in hindsight I understand why they did it. They wanted one so bad that they would rather sell their services to a proven winner rather than continue on the hard way. Thats what made the Piston's championship so sweet. This team grew year after year from nothing and finally did the unthinkable and not one fan who was there will take it for granted. EVER.
FAST FORWARD back to 2010.
AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!!!!!. This wasn't the '04 LA Lakers. No old wily vet looking to go out in a blaze of glory. Just a bunch of superstars cashing in those chips to make history.
As entertaining as it was, this quickly became a charade. Each franchise quick to assemble their own nuclear power in order to match what other super teams were already ante'd up.
The various "Avenger" squads sure were super but there were no heroes.
Miami reveled in this manufactured "greatness". How could you ever lose when you have Capt. America, the Hulk and Thor playing against the level of talent (on paper) of the Power Rangers.
FOUR YEARS and two championships later, Lebron James, still considered to be the best and most hated athlete in the NBA (post decision) took a beating courtesy of what should be considered (I hate to say it) the best TEAM of the millennium. The San Antonio Spurs.
Yes I hate this squad for what they did to my Pistons back in the day but they may have just saved basketball. Not sure if it was the cramps, the beating or the actual realization that he may go down in history as one of the biggest assholes of all time...BUT Mr. James finally heard that voice in the back of his head (and probably millions of Akron residents) calling out "COME HOME".
You go and pull a stunt like this and totally redeem yourself.... for now.
I'll admit, being a Michigan sports fan, I've relished in the recent history of watching most of Ohio's franchises choke, lose, flounder and get crushed ... BUT after all is said and done, reading this letter to Cleveland from Lebron has certainly changed things, hopefully for the better.
I haven't been interested in the NBA since 2009. Is this a result of Lebron? Yes.
Can I possibly come back to a sport that has highlighted and catered to superstars in order to sell tickets and headlines? Maybe. Will I be rooting for one of the sorriest excuses of a franchise this season simply because I yearn to see a return to team basketball? Who fucking knows .
Here's hoping the NBA can return to a competitive format, where teams led by nobodies can turn into somebodies.
With great power comes great responsibility.
Lebron, time to earn that crown.... again.