Column: The game is dead; long live the king

It is LeBron James’ life. His career. His name. His status, legend and image. And his money.

By virtue of his talent, fame and freedom, James earned the right to make any decision he wanted Thursday night.

Spurning Cleveland, he chose Miami.

But while instant reaction was wrapped in “how could he?” — how could James slap his hometown in the face live on national television?; how could he side with the win-now Heat instead of win-for-a-long-time Chicago — the bigger and much more important question is “what does it mean?”

What does it mean for the NBA when the league’s biggest star chooses the flashiest, most expensive and most likely to break toy on the shelf?

What does it mean when a league that appears to be on the verge of a self-imposed lockout in 2011-12 will next season proudly feature a three-headed, seemingly invincible monster that has more in common with million-dollar milk baths and personal branding than it does basketball?

And what does it mean for professional sports when winning becomes so wrapped up in the win-now-at-all-costs present that already-fading ideas such as loyalty, rivalries and hometown pride are glossed over by egos so thick and fat that humanity itself should be embarrassed?

It means everything.

James’ decision was his. No one can take it away from him. And while he will be crucified in Cleveland, nearly every other modern athlete would have made the same choice.

Which is why the ramifications of his decision are so tremendous that it is almost overwhelming.

Where do sports go from here? What does “team” mean? Does it even exist? What does it mean to win? To succeed? And just how worthless are the insanely devoted fans who shell out their lower- and middle-class dollars to raise, feed and support the beast?

Sports long ago passed the tipping point. Free agency and multi-million dollar contracts stormed the shores. Then the 24-7 modern world burned everything in sight.

Just think about how many stars have fallen in recent years. How many false idols have been exposed. How many franchises have sold their soul for the hope that just a couple more big, lucrative names can deliver glory and everlasting peace.

But this isn’t about nostalgia.

This is about the absolute, indisputable dissolution of the idea of “team.” Which, ultimately, is what sports are supposed to be about, are they not? Well-skilled games played by finely tuned athletes; competition that honors the competitors who compete.

Because James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami is not a team.
It is an abomination. A dirty joke. A wake-me-up-as-soon-as-it’s-over horror. But one that the NBA and the rest of the pro sports world is going to have to deal with forevermore.

Knocking James’ decision has absolutely nothing to do with all the petty fears that the gazillion-dollar trio will collect championship rings like candy.

It has everything to do with the fact that this is not how it’s supposed to happen. Technically, the salary cap and Collective Bargaining Agreement are supposed to prevent it. Realistically, it is simply not fair. But on a much deeper level, this is not what sports and dreams and legends and stories and all the other magical things in life are supposed to be about.

Which is why it was such a joke watching James surround himself with a crew of clueless kids as he spoke his tense, tight words.

Because this is what James — the biggest, brightest star in the modern sky — really said: It is all about me. I only care about me.

He did not say “Miami.”

He did not say, “Goodnight, Cleveland.”

He said “me.”

And now he’s said it. And there’s no going back.

And if you’ve ever wondered whether pro sports still had any heart and soul and real, true bleeding passion left within the game’s already-rotting corpse, now you know.

The game is dead.

Long live the king.

Brian T. Smith covers the Trail Blazers for The Columbian. Contact him at 360-735-4528 or Read his Blazer Banter blog at Follow him on Twitter at

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