iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Simon Maxwell Apter

Simon Maxwell Apter

Posted: July 9, 2010 05:48 PM

LeBron James Leaves Cleveland -- and a Petulant Owner -- Behind

What's Your Reaction:

Frankly, I'm just glad he didn't choose to first spend a year with the Jets before moving on.

I'm cool with LeBron James's decision to take his game to Miami. I'm not cool with the reaction in Cleveland. The King has a talent, a gift, and he should be able to sell to whoever is willing to buy it. If he were willing to accept a tender offer of nine bucks an hour to play solely for a Rucker Park, New York City, pick-up team -- and eschew the NBA in order to perfect his asphalt skills -- it'd be his call to make, and no one else's. James isn't a slave or an indentured servant -- he's a free agent, in both the sports-specific and plain-English meanings of the term.

Like every other professional athlete, the man sells talent, and it's ludicrous to suggest that the Cleveland Cavaliers have a monopsony on the basketball skills market. They're not in a position to specifically dictate to James how he must market and tailor his product. The blind rage in Cleveland implies that sports would be better if they returned to the era of Major League Baseball's infamous "Reserve Clause," which unfairly bound players to the teams that had drafted them in a sort of indentured servitude.

In his instant-classic "Open Letter to Fans," Gilbert -- majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the proverbial guy who signed LeBron's checks -- lambasted James, taking special care to place "quotation marks" around certain words in order to solicit the most disdain. To describe the four-ring circus that James orchestrated this week, Gilbert wrote, "[James's decision] was announced with a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his 'decision' unlike anything ever 'witnessed' in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment."

As a writer, I'd have chosen different words to put within quotes -- "special," perhaps, and maybe "entertainment," (the sixty-minute ESPN spectacle in which LeBron revealed his plans was decidedly neither). As a human being, I find Gilbert's immaturity especially offensive.

I've left jobs before, once because I'd grown tired of waking up at 2:30 in the morning to bake muffins and scones for the lawyers and accountants of Downtown Portland; another time because the summer was over and I had to leave Oregon to go back to school in Connecticut. What might Dan Gilbert have said to me upon hearing of my decisions to leave these jobs? Would he write an outraged epistle to the people of Portland that bemoaned my selfishness to seek more than four hours of sleep each night? Would he mock my desire to return to "college" to finish my "education" and earn my "diploma"?

The biggest disappointment in Gilbert's letter is his high-handed pronouncement that James has let the kids of Ohio down. He wrote, "This shocking act of disloyalty from our home grown 'chosen one' sends the exact opposite lesson of what we would want our children to learn. And 'who' we would want them to grow-up to become." In his New York Times column, the venerable William C. Rhoden challenged Gilbert's assertion, positing that, "There are myriad lessons contained in the James free agency drama. The first is controlling the game; not allowing the game to control you." In other words, when you're blessed to live and work in a country and profession that celebrate the freedom of an open market, the mature thing to do is to follow your heart -- and your talent -- to wherever it may take you. Gilbert essentially demands that James remain a child, forever bonded in an infantile thrall to his parents (in this case Papa Gilbert and Mother Cleveland).

The more profound let-down to the sons and daughters of Ohio comes from Gilbert. The letter serves as Exhibit A for why knee-jerk reactions -- especially those made in anger -- are best expressed in private until a cooler, more rational course of action can be contemplated. No, Gilbert didn't hop on a plane to Greenwich, Connecticut, to throw an uppercut into James's jaw, but really, the result of his violent words is the same. The glee with which he bawls out James is reprehensible, and kids would do well to see it as an example of what not to do when they feel wronged. Brace yourself, because juvenile use of finger-quotes is set to skyrocket.

In any case, the 2010-11 season is going to be great.