#lebrondecision: a few thoughts

Okay, so normally I let out-of-market team and player news fly right over my head and pay no mind to it. But given the unique circumstances around this event, I couldn’t help but notice, and I decided to weigh in.

Cleveland Cavaliers majority owner Dan Gilbert recently posted this open letter on the team’s news page on NBA.com, regarding LeBron James (better known to some as “King James”) and his decision to sign with the Miami Heat instead of continuing to, as the saying goes, dance with the one that brought him. In that letter, Dan berates LeBron using some choice words:

As you now know, our former hero, who grew up in the very region that he deserted this evening, is no longer a Cleveland Cavalier.

This was announced with a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his “decision” unlike anything ever “witnessed” in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment.

And Dan goes on to imply LeBron’s actions are a “cowardly betrayal” and states that Cavaliers fans “deserve much more.” Later in the letter, Dan refers to LeBron’s move as a “heartless and callous action” after already making an owner’s most audacious possible promise:


I don’t particularly defend LeBron’s actions here nor do I necessarily condemn them. I have written about freedom many times in this blog, usually in the context of computer software, but this is about freedom, particularly that implied by the first word in “free agent.” In the free agent era, it is ultimately the player’s (LeBron’s, in this case) choice which offer to accept, or even whether or not to accept any team’s offer at all and retire as a free agent. Disloyal, cowardly, or otherwise, it is anyone’s right to pursue the best job offer and such decisions need not be based entirely on pay. It is easy for the casual sports fan to forget that this is an employment decision for the players, much the same as the average person chooses between two or more competing job offers from, say, different marketing/PR firms.

That said, having seen “LeBron James” as a promoted trending topic on Twitter, and not being able to avoid mentions of the situation without disconnecting from social media completely, I personally feel the publicity leading up to LeBron’s announcement was just a bit over-the-top. There’s promotion, and then there’s over-promotion. Yes, I’m known for my ego as well, and I’ve probably been guilty of over-promotion a couple of times myself. But that was not intentional.

It’s understandable, though, if it’s all LeBron and his PR team hyping his personal brand. I remember seeing at least one tweet implying the NBA was in on this as well; if so, that’s a tasteless and exploitative publicity move, and not something a sports league of the NBA’s caliber should partake of.

It remains to be seen just how much bad blood there will be between Cleveland and Miami and the fans of their respective teams. I may well comment on this again once the NBA season gets rolling. Hopefully, the Rockets will put on a show that’s much more interesting, though.