Change is a constant theme in and around the NBA. Every off-season, players change addresses, coaches change their playbooks and some fans change allegiances. Whether by choice or not, these events all take place and if the old saying is true, its for the better.
This summer, we saw perhaps the biggest change of the NBA landscape in the history of the league when LeBron James decided to take his talents to South Beach to play with his buddy Dwyane Wade. Oh, and Chris Bosh came along too. With this pairing of super friends, who, according to Kobe Bryant, have basically formed Voltron, the NBA has witnessed a swarm of negative attention (specifically from Cleveland) and a whole lot of positive attention.
No doubt, what James, Wade and Bosh did this summer was great for the league. Jersey sales, ticket sales, and TV ratings will likely never be higher than they will with this trio bringing a circus along with them wherever they go. The interest in the league, simply because of this team’s star power, if not because of the seemingly endless talent pool that has made the NBA interesting in almost everyone of its 30 cities, will be at its peak.
In that respect, what James decided this summer really helped the league and will make the game of basketball more popular than ever and with a lockout possibly coming in the NFL next year (yes, I know the same could happen with the NBA), we may see a new sports champion in our country. However, there is a growing belief that with this move, LeBron has hurt his brand. That he’s given up ever being the best player on a title team. That Wade owns Miami and he’ll only be a sidekick for the next six seasons.
There may be some truth to that. He likely would have done his brand better by winning a championship in Cleveland before leaving just so that he could prove he could win on his own. Plus, that may have eased the pain when he left Ohio. But lets be honest, if the Heat win the title, LeBron would be the best player on a title team. Wade is great, an all-time great if you ask me, but he’s 28-years old and had a serious knee injury three years ago which means he doesn’t have all that much time left playing at an elite level. James is 25, healthy (despite concerns about his elbow), and unquestionably the best player in the NBA. He may have a lot of help, which will downgrade the achievement significantly just like it did with Kobe and Shaq, but he will have won. And you won’t be able to take that away from him.
Since he made his choice, there has been a new flow of naysayers coming out against LeBron, saying the very same things I mentioned above over and over again. But I ask you, what’s different than a year ago? Yes, James has a new $50 million mansion to live in and he’s made the most popular and televised decision in the history of basketball, but what has really changed?
I’m not sure who said it first, but in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, General Shepherd unleashed this beauty of a quote when discussing a fictional World War III:
“The more things change, the more they stay the same. Boundaries shift, new players step in; but power always finds a place to rest its head. Locations change… the rationale, the objective. Yesterday’s enemies are today’s recruits… Train them to fight alongside you and pray they don’t eventually decide to hate you for it, too.”
Depending on how you comprehend that saying, it may or may not apply to LeBron’s situation. I translate it into plain English as this: a lot of things may change, but the reactions from the population will always stay the same; you can either be happy or angry and we will never live in utopia so there will always be people on both sides of the argument. After that first sentence, the message still eerily pertains to what happened this off-season, specifically that last line, but that’s a different story for a different day.
And so, nothing has really changed with LeBron. He changed teams, yes, but the reactions of NBA followers is the same. He’s gotten people to go out and get his new Heat jersey but he’s also driven Clevelanders to burn his old one. He’s got people saying he’s going to win the next six NBA championships and he’s got people saying he gave up his legacy to play with his friends. He’s got people saying he’s about to average a triple-double and he’s got people saying Kobe and Michael Jordan never would have done what he did.
Really, how many of those critiques are different from what he was hearing last year at this time? “He hasn’t won a ring,” “He’ll never be Kobe or Michael,” and so on. We’ve heard it before. Its all the same. Though James may have single-handedly diminished the psyche of an entire city, changed the outlook of him in the eyes of his NBA peers, and taken his talents to South Beach, nothing has really changed, folks. He’s still the best player in the NBA (even though some will argue the opposite if his numbers take the slightest dip). He’s still the most dominant athlete the game has ever seen. He’s still capable of posting astronomical stats any given night.
He’s still loved by some, hated by many and watched by all. And after years of waiting, months of constant speculation and weeks to mull it all over, nothing has changed.
Because the more things change, the more they stay the same. Even in basketball.