Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I could say a lot about LeBron’s past, but I’ll just talk about the future

Last week LeBron James announced “The Decision” live on ESPN.  We all know that his decision was to take his talents to South Beach, Florida and join his friends and 2008 Olympic teammates Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh at the Miami Heat.  Since that time a lot of critics, sports pundits and Cavs fans have expressed their disappointment in his decision and the way he announced it.  There have also been a lot of comments about LBJ’s legacy and how he will never be in the same company of players like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.  The most shocking comments came from the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert.  He went on a tirade in an open letter to Cavs fans referring to James as a coward and quitter who betrayed him and Cleveland.  I am still baffled at his crass, unprofessional response.  I find it interesting that he lost his temper, displayed poor sportsmanship, and yet proclaims that LeBron’s behavior is damaging to our children.

With everything that has been said, there are a lot of things that I could say, but I won’t.

I could respond to Mr. Gilbert and illustrate that he acted like a spoiled brat and sore loser and showed every current and future free agent just how professional and appreciative he is of his players.  But, I won’t.

I could list all of LBJ’s accomplishments and what he did for Cleveland and send it to all of the Cavs fans that now say he is nothing but an arrogant basketball player as they burn his jersey.  But, I won’t.

I could highlight that LeBron James acted like a professional by thanking the Cavs and the City of Cleveland, withholding any negative or disappointing experiences he may have had, and not responding to the comments of his former boss.  But, I won’t.

I could refute sports journalists like Mitch Albom and tell them that watching a professional athlete chart his own course is exactly what children, in particular urban youth, need to see.  But, I won’t. 

I could simply define the term free agent for Cavs fans and tell them that LBJ is not “theirs.”  He is not bound to Ohio or responsible for building their economy.  He is also not the savior born to reverse “the curse.”  But, I won’t.

I could discuss the fact that professionals athletes are traded all of the time without prior knowledge.  Many times they are informed after the deal is completed.  But, I won’t. 

I could point out that the media, which is speaking of LeBron as an egotistic, media hound is the same establishment that began covering him as a sophomore in high school and deemed “King James” the future of the NBA.  I could even say it’s ironic. But, I won’t. 

I won’t because like LeBron Raymone James, I want to discuss the future.  

“The Decision” last week has strong implications about what is going to happen on the court this fall in Miami; but it will have an even bigger impact on what happens in professional basketball off the court.  This is a notice to owners, general managers and the NBA that their players are professional athletes.   Yes, they are the “product” that entertains all of us, but they are not plastic commodities that owners can just buy and sell.  They are professionals and responsible for managing their careers.  Like any other professional highly sought after, LeBron listened to presentations and made the best decision for him.  The problem is that for years sports leagues (not just the NBA) have treated their players as lifeless commodities that go and do what they are told.  They can't fathom that a player would conduct the free agency process, make a decision and announce it on his terms.  The fact that players discussing the possibilities of working together before free agency begins is not prohibited or considered tampering indicates that the owners and the NBA do not think of the players as “role players” in the boardroom.  They never thought that the players would one day host their own “summit” and put together a game plan to land on the same team.  This is the real reason why LeBron is no longer in Cleveland.   

Dan Gilbert and the Cavs miscalculated.  They prepared for their presentation to LeBron like it was 2009 which means they were unprepared.  The key components to a successful negotiation are: understand what is most valuable to the person on the other side of the table; do not take your opponent for granted; know your weaknesses and do not overestimate your strengths.  The Cavs spent too much time, money and energy trying to sell LeBron on things that were not his top priorities.  They took him for granted, thought too highly of their advantages and couldn’t conceptualize that there was any meaning to any conversations he had with his friends Bosh and Wade.  They felt comfortable because they knew that the other teams could not speak to him until July 1, but they did not realize that those conversations with his friends were actually very serious.

It is refreshing for me to see Bosh, James and Wade take control of their careers and navigate the ships instead of simply riding the wave.  This will motivate other players to do the same thing.  We are going to see more players get active in the boardroom, free agency and their contract negotiations.  I think history will look back on this and talk more about the big three in Miami being game changers on the business side and opening the door to a new era of free agency.  We will now specify free agency activity as B.T.D and A.T.D.  (Before The Decision and After The Decision).  Owners better get ready for A.T.D. and respect all players as professional athletes on and off the court.

I could suggest Dan Gilbert start by reading one of my favorite business books, “Winning with Integrity,” by Leigh Steinberg.  But, I won’t.

I’m looking forward to players leveling the field in the boardroom.  And I can't wait to watch the new trio in Miami go to work this fall.  Countdown to NBA Opening Week!

Heels Helmets


  1. I totally agree with you on this. I tell the haters here in Cleveland...."Don't hate the player because he's playing the game".

  2. Thank you. It's baffling to me that people describe his actions such as hosting a meeting at his office as a display of arrogance.

  3. Wow, Thats a great column!