Free-Agent Circus Stains LeBron's Image
After all, you couldn't help but miss the big announcement Durant made on Wednesday concerning his future, because it wasn't big at all. He issued a tweet, the 21st century equivalent of, I guess, a telegram, and his agent, Aaron Goodwin, entertained questions from The Oklahoman newspaper that covers the Oklahoma City Thunder for which Durant stars.
"Exstension for 5 more years wit the #thunder....God Is Great, me and my family came a long way...I love yall man forreal, this a blessing!"
That was it.
There was no one-hour show negotiated for Thursday with any of the NBA's broadcasting partners, like ESPN, which took the bait from James, or TNT, which most likely would've bit had the 800-pound sports-televising gorilla turned its back. There was never any word of Durant being part of a private summit with other young superstars looking to plot a takeover of the NBA throne.
There wasn't, in short, a hint of any noxious narcissism festering within or around Durant that now is all but overwhelming with James.
King James, as James has become known with an Ohio high school championship and Olympic gold medal on his resume, all of a sudden appears to be as egotistical and megalomaniacal as any of the most self-absorbed athletes we've come to know over the years. What a shame.
He didn't seem that way as recently as a summer ago, when I watched him in person on a much different stage than we've become accustomed to seeing him. It was the American Film Institute Theater in Silver Spring, Md., my neighborhood movie house on the edge of Washington, D.C. The occasion was opening night of the Silverdocs, an international independent documentary film festival, and the kickoff presentation was Kristopher Belman's "More Than A Game," which was about James and his Akron, Ohio, high school buddies who won that state title.
James' high school coach showed up as did James' friends from the team and, amazingly, James himself. He watched the movie from seats in the theater. He joined his coach and teammates on stage for a chat about the film with NPR's Michele Norris.
Then, more amazingly, when a high school marching band led the opening night crowd from the theater to a reception across the street at the headquarters of the Discovery Channel, which co-sponsors the festival, James stepped with everyone too. He even hung around the reception for a while, mingling with the crowd in an easy manner than surprised a lot of observers, before being whisked away with his crew in chauffeur-driven black SUVs.
The film portrayed James as a very loyal guy. The evening made him seem down to earth.
In the wake of what we've seen of James since his most recent season ended, well short of the NBA Finals, he will be seen again as loyal and genuine, at least from my seat, only if he announces on Thursday that he is staying in his native hometown where he's played his entire NBA career for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Over the past few weeks, James has made himself as easy to dislike as he'd made himself over several years easy to like. Here was a guy with more expectations heaped upon him at a young age, a junior in high school, than maybe any athlete in the history of pro sports in this country, and surely and quickly he lived up to just about all of it without appearing to let any of it inflate his head beyond recognition. He looked at times to be more mature than his mother, who bore him while she was a teenager. He stayed out of juvenile trouble. He played hard every outing and worked successfully to improve his game to become one of the best players in the NBA on both ends of the court. He even dragged his teammates to a Finals appearance a few season ago.
Now, all of a sudden, he has made himself appear bigger than the game. He's made it look as if everything in it is about him, and he is unnecessarily turning himself into a villain.
At this point, if Thursday's announcement from James is that he'll join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, that team, the Heat, will be the most-despised in basketball. It will be seen as an attempted takeover of the game's competitive spirit spearheaded by the most selfish superstar in the game.
It won't be seen like the Celtics trio was seen when Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett three seasons ago joined Paul Pierce in Boston and marched to a title. Allen was thought to be on his last leg. Garnett was figured to be near his. And none ever gave a hint of being anything but team players.
Wade, Bosh and James are in their prime, and while Wade and Bosh seem to be quintessential team players, James now does not.
Who knows if we are now seeing the real James and what was before us heretofore was the manufactured version? Maybe not enough stock was taken from James jettisoning his original agent, Goodwin, who skillfully guided him to his first $135 million while having James appear as humble as Durant did on Wednesday.
"He told everyone from Day One that he's committed to five years and doesn't care about an out," Goodwin told The Oklahoman. "And that shows you the magnitude of the person Kevin Durant is."
"First time I cried n a while...Seat Pleasant we outchea," Durant tweeted calling out his suburban Washington D.C. neighborhood. "RIP Chucky, we doin wat we dreamed about..i swear I love all my bros!! yessir!!"
Chucky was Durant's youth league coach, Charles Craig, who died at age 35, the number Durant chooses to wear.
James has worn 23 for his seven pro years. That's after Michael Jordan, who, by the way, never exercised as much audacity as James despite having more than enough skins on his wall to back it up.