Reflections on the LeBron Watch

The big news of the day is that soon the LeBron James Saga will be over.  On Thursday night, James will announce his decision on ESPN on prime time.  The whole spectacle raises all sorts of interesting questions, both basketball and human nature related.  We can’t definitively answer any of those questions now (or perhaps ever in some cases) but, still, this whole event some reflection and investigation.  Let’s take a stab at some these issues:

Where is LeBron going?

I have no idea and have absolutely no inside knowledge on the subject.  We do know certain facts that at least allow for a theoretical handicapping.  Recognizing that we are making guesses based on rumor/innuendo we’ll still try to distill an educated guess based upon the facts as we see them.  In order to find the facts, let’s do a team-by-team breakdown.  Here’s how the contenders look:

(1) Cleveland: Cleveland is still the hometown favorite and the mention of them trying to get Chris Bosh recently seems to indicate that the Cavs were working with James.  On the other hand, the Bosh Affair also seems to indicate that LeBron was making sure that whichever team he went to brought in another star-type player.  The fact that the Cavs couldn’t land Bosh doesn’t bode well for them if that is the case.  Still, Cleveland seems to be the leader as the hometown squad and have already acommodated James by upending the coach and GM to suit him.

(2)  Chicago: The Bulls have the deepest incumbent supporting cast and have now have reportedly signed Carlos Boozer, which satisfies James’ need for a second big signing.  Combine Boozer with Derrick Rose and the rest of the players already in Chicago with James and you have a very good team.  The only problem from Chicago’s end is the fact that they have been relatively quiet in the process.  This doesn’t mean the Bulls are not a player but you would expect some buzz, even if it is manufactured, from a real contender for James’ services.

(3)  New York: All indications were that the Knicks did not impress James and are not real players in this competition.  New York did sign Amare Stoudemire, which may or may not, be an asset in getting James.  As much as James may be interested in playing in New York, playing the next eight years with Amare and not much else does not seem enticing to me.

But what about the New York mystique?  Incidentally, author Buzz Bissinger wrote an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times a few weeks ago advocating that James should leave Cleveland for New York based upon this very fact.  Bissinger made the case as follows: “LeBron James’s relationship to his community is profound: he built a palatial house in the Akron area and just finished his seventh season with the Cavaliers. But I believe those roots have become golden shackles. He is too loved, and therefore too coddled and too easily forgiven….James basically has not been challenged as an athlete since he was a sophomore in high school and had a coach named Keith Dambro…Yes, he is a god in Akron and Cleveland. But sometimes worship, as genuine as it is, can create a false sense of invincibility. The result: all he and his teammates can do now is watch the Celtics advance in the playoffs.  LeBron, take the chance. Just go and never look back. In the greatest city in the world, you will never regret it. It is time to leave home.”

I understand Bissinger’s argument but the fundamental unstated assumption of Bissinger’s article, that the Cavs have lost because James doesn’t have the killer instinct, is just not correct.  The Cavs have lost to two very good teams in the playoffs, not because of LeBron but because of the failure of his cast.  Even if you assumed, for argument sake, that James needed more killer instinct, why would the chance at being booed more really fix that?

Bissinger is correct that New York offers some potential possibilities that none of the other teams do.  If James wins for the Knicks, he becomes an instant legend.  But New York would be a high risk/high reward proposition for LeBron.  If James fails to win, no matter how well he plays, he would be hit with some stigma, fair or unfair, that he failed in his goals.  This raises another logical flaw with LeBron-to-New York argument, LeBron is absolutely already a global icon and does not need New York to raise his exposure.  If his legacy is a concern (and it probably is to him), he must win a title (if not a few titles) no matter where he plays to reach the heights of Jordan or Russell in the annals.  That being the case, James needs to pick the very best place that gives him a chance to win, whether it be in New York or Memphis.  Right now, New York offers Amare and a bucket of crap in terms of players.  In theory, the Knicks can turn over the roster and build around LeBron and Amare but James would then be wasting several prime years to get there. So, New York should be a pretender here if James’ worries are what they logically should be.

(4)  Miami: They apparently already have Dwyane Wade and Bosh already, which should be a nice start to get James.  The problems here are that (1) James is reportedly not looking to share the spotlight with a pretty huge star like Wade and (2) that the Heat have virtually no other players on the roster besides Wade and Bosh and would need to build the roster up with wholesale changes (with a core of Bosh and Wade that shouldn’t be too hard).  As for the potential alpha male issues between having Wade and James, this shouldn’t be a big deal.  Admittedly, it is a bit odd to note that LeBron needs to win but must also do so in a manner that is emotionally comfortable to him.  Logically, a star should want the best players possible on his team but it is clear that some players have had issues with this over the years (Kobe and Shaq are the best remembered example but you can see such tensions with tons of teams all the way back to Wilt and Baylor with the Lakers).

(5)  New Jersey/Dallas/Los Angeles Clippers: New Jersey was a contender if they could’ve landed Chris Paul and a forward.  Now all the forwards but Lee are off the market and the Paul deal is reportedly dead.  So, James is out of play for Jersey.  Dallas was a dark horse for LeBron but we haven’t heard any indication that he is considering them now.  Finally, the Clipps had the cap space but all indications were that their attempts to woo James didn’t take.

Having said all that, where do you think is LeBron going again?

It seems the most logical place is back to Cleveland with an opt-out clause if things devolve in the next few years.  The Cavs are still pretty good with LeBron and the opt-out would give LeBron one more shot to find the right team if things don’t work out.

Is LeBron a narcissist?

A search of the terms LeBron and narcissist on Google yield a mere 17,200 results.  He seems to be enjoying the recruiting process more than you’d think.  Both he, Wade, and Bosh have been ubiquitous on television, Twitter, and any other medium you can think of.  (Bosh and Wade were reportedly shooting a documentary on the free agency process).  Combine that with James now seeking to announce his decision on ESPN at the culmination of a one-hour special definitely indicate a degree of self-absorption.  Clearly, James and the group have a healthy sense of worth and want to be the center of attention.  But is there anything wrong with this?  Let’s check the medical books…Narcissistic personality disorder is defined by the Mayo Clinic as “a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they’re superior to others and have little regard for other people’s feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”

Of course, self-worth and confidence are good traits to have, particularly someone who is under the intense scrutiny that NBA stars are.  A study in Psychology Today in 2005 indicated that a mild narcissist can “float through life feeling pretty good about himself.”  Still, the narcissists expect special treatment, “are easily offended, and readily harbor grudges.”  This description doesn’t just match James but just about every athletic superstar in the American professional sports .  So, LeBron is a narcissist.  This isn’t necessarily a problem in moderation but a product of the world LeBron lives in and almost a foregone conclusion for a sports star.

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