I have covered the National Basketball Association since 1995; for the first 11 years I was a radio reporter based in Cleveland, Ohio and sat in the press box for every home game played by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Since 2006, I have written about the NBA from the beginning of training camp right down to the last shot taken in the NBA Finals. For the most part during that time I have tried to maintain objectivity while covering the Association and have tried my best to keep my emotions at a distance. However every once in a while a situation arises when I feel I have to speak my mind concerning an issue. This happens to be one of those times.
I shed no tears on Sunday night when the Dallas Mavericks were crowned the Champions of the NBA for 2011. In fact I was quite pleased with the outcome although I have no personal connection with the Mavericks or any of their players. I have interviewed Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry many times through the years and they always were professionals in their demeanor and responses. However other than respecting and admiring what Nowitzki accomplished in the Finals against the Heat as he played through sickness and injury I have no more of a bond with any of them than I did with any other player who played against the Cavaliers over the years.
The pleasure that I experienced Sunday night was not really based on the fact that the Dallas Mavericks won the NBA Finals as much as it was being happy that their opponents went down to defeat. Actually it truly wasn’t even the Miami Heat that I was rooting against during the Finals. I was just truly pleased to see that All-Star forward and former two-time NBA MVP LeBron James would once again walk off the court in his last game of the season in defeat.
Up until just about a year ago this reporter was one of the forward’s biggest proponents in the media. I first interviewed James as a high school senior before he took part in the McDonald’s All-American Game and was impressed with the way that the young man dealt with the media. He conducted himself better than many veterans of pro-sports that I have dealt with over the years. James had a penchant for saying the right thing at the right time and showed more composure than anyone would expect from a young man of his age. Not long after he would be drafted by the Cavaliers and soon became even more impressed with the way he handled himself both on and off the hardwood.
During my three seasons covering James in Cleveland as well as the 2007 NBA Finals I watched as he matured both as a player and in his dealings with the media. Something that became apparent early on was that the Cleveland forward only told reporters what he wanted them to know. If a reporter asked a question that struck a nerve he would be very abrupt in his response. For that reason I never had the same rapport with James that I had developed with many other Cleveland players during my career.
The Cavaliers did not make the Post Season the first two years that James was on the squad. However Dan Gilbert bought the club midway through James second season and he brought in Danny Ferry as the team’s General Manager and Mike Brown as the head coach after the campaign ended. The squad would make the Playoffs the next year and made it all the way to the NBA Finals the following season. Although Cleveland was swept in the Finals the future looked bright for the team.
Cleveland would fall to the eventual NBA Champions, the Boston Celtics in 2008 and James for the first time in his career revealed his emotions to the media. He stated that the team needed to get better and that summer Cleveland got him a player to help him share the load bringing in point guard Mo Williams. The pairing proved to be quite successful during the regular season as Cleveland won the most games in the Association and James was named NBA MVP. They were looked at as the overwhelming favorites to win the NBA Finals heading into the Playoffs.
They would not make it out of the Eastern Conference as they would be upset by the Orlando Magic in the Conference Finals. Orlando’s front-line of Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu were a bad match-up for Cleveland and the Magic at times dominated the series. The Cavaliers allowed Orlando to dictate the flow of the games and James would take some ill-advised shots in key situations that kept his team from coming back. James suffered the first negative publicity of his career when he walked off the court without congratulating the Orlando players after the Magic won the series and blew off the post-game press conference after the final game of the match-up.
The following year the Cavaliers would once again win the most games in the regular season and James was awarded his second consecutive NBA MVP award. Just as they were the year before Cleveland was expected to win the NBA Finals and once again they would fail to make it out of the East. They fell to the Boston Celtics in the Conference Semi-Finals and there were some who thought James just gave up late in the series. However that talk was soon brushed aside as James opted out of the final year of his contract and pursued Free Agency.
Rather than fulfilling his promise to fans of Northeast Ohio that he would make Cleveland light up like Las Vegas, James chose to become Dwyane Wade’s sidekick with the Miami Heat. The fallout across the country was huge as James went from being one of the most admired athletes in the NBA to one of the most despised in all of pro-sports. The former MVP was confused and hurt by the venom expressed by the fans but by the time the season was in gear he embraced being perceived as a villain.
Throughout the season James took swipes at his former team through the media which only tarnished his image further. After defeating the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals he would once again make a veiled reference to his former club. He said to reporters “I wanted to team up with some guys that would never die down in the moment. The opportunity presented itself with this great organization and we made it happen.”
At least one of his former teammates were offended by James statement as Cleveland guard Daniel Gibson voiced his opinion about what the forward told the media. Gibson said “The way it’s said, you can’t help but take it personal. I would prefer to talk to him personally and say, ”Exactly what did you mean when you said this comment? What point were you trying to make?”…I take comments like that and when you speak out and you feel the need for everybody to hear what you are saying, it’s kind of like admission. By you saying that, I don’t think great players should feel the need to say this about a team or say that about a team. I think what it all boils down to if you’re great, you go play great, be great and everybody will realize you’re great. And you wouldn’t have to let it be known that everybody else was less great. Great players shouldn’t have to do that. So I feel like it’s kind of an admission. He might have needed some help. He might have needed to go somewhere and find someone who is a little greater so maybe he wouldn’t die down in those moments.”
I have expressed those same sentiments since James left the Cavaliers to sign with Miami as a Free Agent last summer. If James had the same confidence in his abilities as his fans and many NBA observers possessed he would have re-signed with the Cavaliers. By going to Miami James showed the planet that he did not think he had what it took to carry a team by himself to an NBA Title. Once again in the Finals James fell apart in the glare of the spotlight; having his worst game in the Post Season of his career during the series scoring just eight points. He also failed to come through in the fourth quarter repeatedly throughout the series when his team needed him most.
Perhaps it is time for LeBron James to do some self-examination this summer during the off-season. Maybe he will discover that the problem is not with his teammates but with himself. It is time for him to take a good look in the mirror; perhaps he will find the reason he has not reached the pinnacle of success by looking for what he lacks rather than try to pin the blame on others.