One after another, in rapid-fire succession, during his must-see press conference, the questions rained down on LeBron James with the same level of force and veracity he figures to regularly provide over the next five seasons as the whirlwind centerpiece of the Miami Heat’s new, high-powered offense.
Perhaps the most hysterically-hyped free agent in sports history, James announced Thursday night on national TV that he plans to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the Miami Heat for a chance to play with Olympic teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
By aligning himself with fellow perennial All-Stars Wade and Bosh – not to mention soothsaying savant Hall of Fame coach Pat Riley – the twice-reigning league MVP has instantly transformed himself into the biggest obstacle to Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson’s pursuit and aspirations of yet another three-peat.
“I can’t say it was always in my plans, because I never thought it was possible,” said James, who wrestled with his decision for weeks. “But the things that the Miami Heat franchise have done, to free up cap space and be able to put themselves in a position this summer to have all three of us, it was hard to turn down.”
Olympic teammates four years ago in Beijing, James, Bosh and Wade all helped deliver gold medals while playing for the U.S. This time, the superstars will pursue another gold prize — an NBA trophy — the one Wade got in 2006, the one that James and Bosh have yet to touch.
“Winning is a huge thing for me,” said James, who left more than $30 million on the table by not signing with Cleveland.
But even in the face of such would-be conquests, might King James have paid too high of price? What of his legacy? What of his rep? And what of his self-driven motivation to be the game’s G.O.A.T.?
Such props, after all, are generally reserved for those who win championships as they personally astound us. Those who along the way emerge as their squad’s unquestioned leader as opposed to merely playing the role of a sidekick on it – no matter how high profile the position.
And no matter what James accomplishes in South Beach, there will always be those who insist the Heat will always be Wade’s team. “He can win two or three titles in Miami, but diminish the LeBron brand,” billionaire New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov warned earlier this week.
Crushed as they were in the wake of his decision, disheartened Cavalier followers weren’t even willing to concede the improved likelihood of any raised level of success to their one-time leader.
“You simply don’t deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal. You have given so much and deserve so much more,” Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert assured Cavalier Nation in an open letter to them posted on his Web site Thursday night. “I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER ‘KING’ WINS ONE.’ You can take it to the bank. If you thought we were motivated before tonight to bring the hardware to Cleveland, I can tell you that this shameful display of selfishness and betrayal by one of our very own has shifted our ‘motivation’ to previously unknown and previously never experienced levels.”
Faster than James could say “I’m going to South Beach,” Gilbert flipped. In his mind, it was almost as if The Cavs’ Chosen One had become the sole reason for all of his team’s playoff under-achievement over the last two seasons. The near triple-doubles he averaged? Numbers about as fraudulent as those Bernie Madoff might jot on a balancing ledger.
“I can’t get involved in …..