LeBron James and the Paradigm Shift in America

Sponsored by the 1980s

For much of the nation, the initial reactions to “The Decision” (brought to you by the University of Phoenix, Vitamin Water, McDonalds, Sprite, and Nike with some of the proceeds benefiting the Boys and Girls Club of America) have begun to subside. However, in Cleveland and Miami feelings of anger and dejection and overwhelming elation, respectively, are still in the air. Miami itself is likely just now crashing from the all night coke binge that happened last night. LeBron James is now a member of the Miami Heat via sign-and-trade with the Cavaliers. Chris Bosh joins him, also via sign-and-trade, from the Toronto Raptors. Dwyane Wade, through all the brokered back dealing stays right at “home.” (His real home is Chicago, where his children live). Each player is receiving a six year contract, the maximum allotted, because of the sign-and-trades with their previous organizations and Wade just for staying put. Details of the sign-and-trades have not been fully disclosed as yet but it is safe to say that the Miami Heat will not have any draft picks for the better part of a decade. The Cavaliers alone got two first round and two second round picks through the year 2014.

Each of these All-Stars now has what they have wanted since they played in the Beijing Olympics. They are playing on a team together in the NBA. The NBA, however, is not the national team and the city of Miami certainly does not reflect the nation as a whole. Nations have souls, and Miami is severely lacking in this category. These three players contributed to the gold medal but they did not win it. That distinction goes to a man on the west coast. He won the gold for Team USA; he silenced the crowd and put one finger to his lips. This man has played in seven NBA finals and won five. The trio, triumvirate, Super Friends, Summit Committee, whatever they will come to be called, has two members who have appeared in the finals. One was swept; the other was rewarded with terrible officiating in the most tainted finals the NBA has ever seen. Even despite that, he was the second fiddle on the team. The third member of the trio? He has not been out of the first round.

This piece is not about Wade or Bosh; it was clear that Bosh was a patsy in this whole ordeal. He made absolutely no choice of his own but was simply persuaded to join one or the other. He lucked out; he plays with both of them now. (In the future, if it is discovered that Bosh orchestrated this entire charade and eventual joining of forces everyone will have egg in their eye. That, however, is highly unlikely). No, this piece is about James and the culture that surrounds him; that which he helped create but was glorified long before he ever left St. Vincent/St. Mary’ s High School. Though the shock of his betrayal is still reverberating, it can with some hindsight be seen as inevitable and unsurprising. The choice of Miami as his target destination is also of little surprise. Though this piece may touch on many cultural dynamics that played into the decision (brought to you by McDonalds) making process it in no way will take the “blame it on society/culture” copout media approach that is rampant in today’s news outlets.

Can you blame him for leaving? Absolutely! You have to. You must. You must vilify this man. (Use of the term “man” is loose here because he is almost six months to the day younger than I am). He has schemed and conspired to be everything that the fans and media thought he was not. Loyalty, thy name is not LeBron. No, it never will be. Can loyalty exist again in the NBA? There is a paradigm shift occurring before our eyes. Sure, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, and Paul Pierce have played with the same franchise their entire careers but they are all in their thirties. They are the old guard. The new guard? They are in their second and third seasons. Kevin Durant is the godfather of the new guard. What we have seen in the past few days is the actions of the now guard. James is a card carrying member of the now guard. Win now. Boston ushered in the era of the now. Are they to blame for the egotism of the now? No. It has always been there. The now consists of the last group of players who were allowed to make the jump from high school into the NBA, basically the 2003 draft class. These high schoolers never learned loyalty. One can only be loyal to a high school for so long. The friendships forged there are a different story. They can last a lifetime. That is what one gets from high school. College is a different story all together. If you have an alma mater you have a sense of loyalty. Ipso facto: Dwyane Wade stayed in Miami.

James’s branding machine has been in overdrive since he was in high school and the NBA has allowed that brand to grow. A global empire is something that must be nurtured and cared for. It must also be allowed to develop in an environment conducive to such endeavors. Warren Buffett is the only man alive to have such a successful business operation based in the Midwest. He has cornered the market on Midwestern success. Did Cleveland ever stand a chance? Maybe; but the greatest trick James ever pulled was convincing Cleveland that he was staying home.

One of James’s Nike commercials eerily predicted the events of this summer. It was one in the series of “LeBron’s” ads that Nike released during the 2006-07 season. It was for the Zoom LeBron 4. Though the location of the commercial seems to have been shot in southern California the general setting is reminiscent of the lifestyle and culture of South Beach.

Interestingly enough is that the music in the commercial is titled “Summer Madness” by Kool and the Gang. A touch of foreshadowing to say the least. With the benefit of hindsight, red flags instantly go up. This landscape and scenery is nothing reminiscent of neither Cleveland nor the Cuyahoga River and its propensity to catch fire. To disregard this music video influence would be in bad form. It has been a constant companion to the culture since the 1980s. Hell, Kanye West was off camera during “The Decision” (brought to you by the University of Phoenix). Other than music videos (his music is only tolerable in video format), the only thing Kanye has brought to the culture is the wide introduction of Ato Matsumoto footwear and odd sunglasses.

The commercial plays like a music video. Music videos are prone to glorify money and Miami. Have you ever seen one of DJ Khaled’s video? “We’re Taking Over” seems apropos in this situation. Watch it. “Who? We! We tha best!” Those are popular catch phrases of the Miami DJ. These words also ring true to the sentiment of the players, especially James, who united together in Miami. (The improper usage of grammar is also a familiar device to NBA players. Their Twitter accounts are impossibly frustrating to read. David Stern should really think about making two years of college mandatory before the jump to the pros.) Idealization of Miami is something that holds a mysterious mystique with all athletes it seems. Though, no one is rushing to play for the Marlins even though they have won two World Series. Fast cars, beautiful bikini clad women, boats, yachts, the beach, Ocean Drive: all symbols of decadence, luxury and desire. All symbols of the now. The now guard was born in the heart of the 1980s when Scarface and Miami Vice were at their height in popularity. (It can be argued that Scarface is more popular now than it was then). But the movie Wall Street epitomized the mindset of the decade.

Riley is Gekko

Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Do you not think that the now guard regards this truth to be self evident? They certainly do. Each member of the trio has a six year max contract with the Heat. (Actually it has yet to be determined it they will receive max money but it is certain that they will get very close to it. The argument that they are all taking less money for a chance at winning becomes simply preposterous. Kids in their mid-twenties take less money? Never. Trust me, we want it all). Oddly enough, the man who epitomized the decadence of the 1980s as a coach is the one who swung the deal to land James in Miami. His brash bravado and his ability to seal the deal and win seem to have no end. He is Gordon Gekko. His name is Pat Riley. Reports of Riley’s meeting with James have not been fully disclosed and probably never will be in their entirety. What is known; however, is that Riley simply showed James his rings. All of them. Puppet LeBron James is always insulted by puppet Kobe trying to find his missing rings but real life James was probably chomping at the bit over Riley’s hardware. Pat Riley has never been one for subtlety. He wears Armani on the sidelines. James was easily as awestruck as Bud Fox. Easy work for Riley. Eric Spoelstra is, for now, the coach of the Heat. Since the acquisition of James and Bosh rumor and speculation has exploded as to whether Riley will return to the bench. You bet your life he will coach this team. His ego was made for it.

How will the Heat fare this season? Only time can honestly answer that question. To question the inherent skill that James and the rest of his new trio possess is not something to do seriously. They are all blessed with remarkable talent. Their salaries, however, will command the majority of the Heat’s payroll therefore making it difficult for other players of quality to join them at a fair compensation. Three All-Stars surrounded by minimum level players is not too appealing. Sure the marquee names are sexy but once you get past them you have Mike Miller and Mario Chalmers. Both are generally known to casual observers of the sport but do not draw much attention beyond that. What about after them? As of yet there is nothing. Five players do not make a team. At this rate the Heat will be forced to settle for players like Keith McLeod (who is now in the D-League) or Brian Cardinal to fill the vacancies in their starting rotation. Juwan Howard, it has been rumored, will land on the Heat. Hopefully each player knows what they have created and is willing to live with it. If not, they will not find their creation to their liking.

So who created James? The obvious answer would be his mother and father. Yet, it goes beyond that. In high school he would sell tee shirts depicting his own image before and after games. The media ate it up. He has been financially savvy since he realized what he was becoming; or rather what people were making him into. It is about business, it is about money, it is about empire. Michael Jordan is his idol. However, his idolatry of Jordan stops at his business endeavors and play. James changed his number to six. Not really to honor Jordan, though that is partially a reason, but more to brand himself, his image, his number. (Odd choice though. Yes, it is his number from the Olympics but James can never fully distance himself from Jordan. The number six is the number of championships that Jordan won).

After “The Decision” (brought to you by Nike) the Cavaliers’ owner, Dan Gilbert, released a scathing letter to the fans of the organization and to the world in general. Every word (capitalized or not) dripped with anger and was tinged with rage. He was certainly not a happy man. His franchise player, a child native to Ohio, had left. Worst of all the Ohio prodigy had done so via the outlet that has come to dictate the lives of most every American: cable television. It would have been one thing to simply make a decision (brought to you by Sprite) and move on from there but to do it in front of an audience of millions in an overhyped extravaganza is something completely different. James sat there, dressed in purple (apparently James is fond of semiotics) with Jim Gray to reveal to the world the dagger he had lodged in Cleveland’s back. Et tu LeBron? Why would he make a decision through any other medium but television? He certainly had to show up the global 3D IMAX movie event that Kevin Durant released earlier that day to coincide with his five year extension with the Oklahoma City Thunder. (Every time I write about the Thunder I cannot help but feel sad for the city of Seattle). Go big or go h…wait, that expression really does not apply here. Gilbert is partially to blame for James’ ego. He helped coddle and mold James’ brain into thinking that he deserved everything and that everyone would bow to his wishes. Now, like Dr. Frankenstein, his monster has broken loose into an ill prepared world that is both terrified and captivated by the creature’s every movement (and every car).

Gilbert’s scornful words are appropriate. They are merely the emotions of a parent publicly embarrassed and disowned by their successful child. The hurt is real and the anger will probably never subside. Cleveland and the state of Ohio will feel the same for eternity: dejected. Mo Williams, in his rambling tweets may sum up the victimization that the entire region feels. Eventually, there may be some who forgive but the vast majority never will. Why should they? Many will never forgive Kobe Bryant for his actions in what was a much publicized marital issue. Others will never forgive Tiger Woods for the same thing. However, what James did went beyond what some see as the “sanctity” of marriage. (If marriage was truly sacred, half of them would not end in divorce). James hurt millions. Hopes were crushed. Hope. Hope was a word that President Obama used in his campaign for office. With a cunning sense of stagecraft, last night’s celebration in Miami channeled the President. In large bold letters read the words YES. WE. DID. In Cleveland and elsewhere the audacity of hate continues to grow. Darkness has crept over the land. How can they have hope when the one bright light in their lives decided (brought to you by Sprite) to extinguish itself, only to be re-lit elsewhere? Nonetheless they must move forward, James has.

This is America, is it not? Should we not have prepared for such a departure based on such shallow reasons? We have idealized and idolized money and affluence for generations. There is no getting around that fact. The state of Texas cannot rewrite their history books to selectively misinterpret that information. It has been a notion which we have attached ourselves to like a Remora. James is simply a product of us. A sellout. Everywhere the culture glorifies the sellout. Do you watch “reality” television? You and the people you watch are sellouts. You have bought into a product. James, himself, wants to become a product. He wants to transcend what it is to be merely human. He wants to get to heaven before he has to die. As disgusting and foul as James’ departure may seem to everyone but the soulless droves in Miami, he is simply doing what Americans have practiced for the entirety of his life. Loyalty is something that may be preached but its stock has gone the way of the sub-prime mortgage. James has captured the American dream. He came from nothing, worse than obscurity and has captured a place in history for himself. People die every day trying to get into this country for one percent of the opportunity that we, as a nation, have afforded to James. Our country is the definition of hubris yet when a person of such a standing takes the moneyed and lavish path, it is we who are first and loudest to cry foul. We are also the definition of hypocrisy. James got exactly what he wanted. Karma will decide if he gets even more.



Filed under Free Agency

2 responses to “LeBron James and the Paradigm Shift in America

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