The city was the only one he had known as a professional athlete; he had repped it heartily, and the greener pastures involved other big names and uncomfortably high odds of winning a title. He had taken one franchise to unimaginable heights, but then decided, simply, that he couldn't go any higher there. Oh, and he signed a special trick contract three years ago to facilitate an earlier-than-usual decision about his future.
That's LeBron James, right? Scum of the earth, spineless thug who turned his back on Cleveland, history and tradition. He took the easy way out, and everyone from your mailman to Michael Jordan has spent this summer detailing how his name now isn't worth dirt among honorable men, real men, men who make a difference in this world.
Actually, I meant Chris Paul, who according to the reliable Ken Berger, has told the Hornets he wants out.
James may be more in the post-Nike, post-Jordan scorer mold -- or at least been forced there -- but make no mistake, Paul is right up there when it comes to league's best players.
There are plenty of smart people and crazy numbers that also will tell you he's on pace to become the greatest point guard the league has ever known. And while Bron supposedly gave up being "the man," and handed over his competitive mojo by teaming with fellow Olympians, what about the fiery, furious Paul? James at least has been accused of coasting or lacking passion; at Wake, Paul punched Julius Hodge in the nuts just for living. Now he's going to throw that pride away and join someone else's team, as a mercenary?
LeBron, like it or not, remains a work in progress. Chris Paul is a monster who can transform a squad in very clear ways right from the jump. His 2008 Hornets shocked the league, way outperforming their roster profile -- all because of Paul.
LeBron James could be a one-man team, whether or not he wanted to be. At very least, his was the spectacle that bought everyone else some cover. Paul's a point guard. They don't work like that. With the Hornets, Paul made it his personal responsibility to make his entire team play on his level, or at least enter his world. That, my friends, is a man. A leader. That's the man, the quarterback of this sport.
Now, according to Berger's report, he's considering a move to join Dwight Howard in Orlando, Amar'e Stoudemire and, maybe, Carmelo Anthony in New York, or Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol with the Lakers. That's the list. Frighteningly enough, LA -- who can offer Andrew Bynum and take on Emeka Okafor's horrid deal -- appear to be in the best position. That is, if this list remains static, or the situation doesn't get a whole lot uglier.
If you thought Dan Gilbert and Comic Sans were a menace; just wait till George Shinn breaks out the spiked bat and hellhounds.
But, let's get to what matters: morals and common decency. This strident a trade request, with teams specified, is not in the least about granting the Hornets flexibility, or any silver lining. In both tone and content, it drives Paul's value down, and makes it all the more likely the Hornets would have to this with little or no leverage. I supposed they can trade Paul to whoever they want. Then again, who wants a disgruntled Chris Paul running their offense? That holds equally for the possibility of just making Paul stick around and play.
Paul's no troublemaker, but he's a superstar. And as if players weren't powerful enough in these situations, the Miami Heat experiment only seems to have boosted up their autonomy.
Why Chris Paul might fly under the radar: No one is bigger than Bron; Paul is still underrated; James was being groomed as Jordan's heir, while point guards are a more esoteric, less bombastic category; everyone knows that the Hornets have problems; even before "The Decision," folks loved to hate or doubt LeBron, whereas Paul has always presented himself as a great guy who just liked to play some basketball. And, paradoxically, a one-man team sells himself and his team out by running to talent, but a PG -- way more of a franchise-in-a-box -- is simply looking for better teammates to run with.
Super team malaise, in the end, might be mostly about public relations and the way different positions are construed by the public. But a lot of us know. Paul had hit that threshold in NOLA; he would eventually need bigger pieces to play with in order to take full advantage of his gifts.
That's the paradox of the position, actually. It's inherently dependent on others, yet it elevates lesser men. A general can inspire weaklings to fight valiantly, but at some point, he wants more firepower. Launching his own counter-Heat is, at once, even more unnecessary than James leaving, and far more organic. As for legacy, for whatever reason, "tarnishing" seems far less relevant here.
Point guards like Paul are rarely acknowledged as truly, structurally powerful. In a perfect world, we would talk about them to the detriment of teammates, and teams with stud PGs (there are more and more of them) would be seen as their team. Steve Nash? Deron Williams? How aren't these guys more central to the Suns or Jazz than some profligate, post-everything swingman.
Then again, Magic Johnson, king of the point guards, chimed in to remind us that, no punk he, would never have joined up with Larry Bird. Thankfully, he already had a team stacked with talent. Did having that talent lessen Magic? Or did Magic maximize and orchestrate Showtime? Paul just wants his own Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy to ply his trade with.
That's the difference. We know, or think we know, how to map out the legacy of a (supposedly familiar) player like James. With Paul, it's much trickier. It's hard to tell, at any point, where he starts and his team ends. He isn't viewed as "the man" in the popular imagination, but if he changes team, Chris Paul will go from running a mediocre team to ruling a championship-caliber one.
That's what makes him so great. And at the same time, it's what keeps us from realizing that Paul leaving New Orleans would be no different than LeBron bailing on Cleveland. We just lack the vocabulary to give him grief.