When Roger Clemens forced a trade from the Blue Jays to the Yankees prior to the 1999 season, he said he wanted to go to a club that had a chance of winning the World Series. And what better team than the Yankees, winners of two of the previous three championships? During a Mets broadcast, Ralph Kiner expressed his dismay at the move. He said he was surprised Clemens would want to be a cog on an established team, rather than being the leader, THE MAN, on an up-and-coming club. Well, LeBron James is following Clemens’ lead.
When Lebron announced Thursday night that he was joining Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, he said it gave him the best chance to win. He’ll get no argument there. But this is Wade’s team. This will never be LeBron’s team. He will never be THE MAN in Miami, as long as Wade is around. And apparently that’s okay with LeBron.
And that is a bit surprising. Most superstar athletes crave to be THE MAN. Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal co-existed with the Lakers until Kobe couldn’t take it any more, and forced the team to decide between him and Shaq. Now Kobe is THE MAN in Los Angeles.
LeBron took the easy way out. It would have been a bold move to stay in Cleveland, where the path to a championship is not paved with Wade and Bosh. Choosing the Knicks would have also been bold. Or the Bulls. Even bolder if the Nets. And just crazy if he picked the loser Clippers.
You want to know what a bold move is? When Reggie White was a free agent after the 1992 NFL season, there were rumors he was headed to the Green Bay Packers. No way the great White would go to a struggling Packers franchise and have to play in the middle of the winter in Wisconsin, said the “experts.” But he did indeed sign with the Packers, and helped make them Super Bowl champions (of course, having Brett Favre didn’t hurt, but White was THE MAN on that team).
You could even argue that Alex Rodriguez signing with a pretty crummy Texas Rangers team before the 2001 season was a bold move. But it appeared A-Rod was more motivated by money than winning, and it’s hard to call that “bold.” (Speaking of A-Rod, you think Scott Boras was watching LeBron’s one-hour special and saying, “Why didn’t I think of this?”). The same goes for Carlos Beltran when he picked the Mets in 2005, who were coming off the awful Art Howe years.
You have to hand it to LeBron for one thing — it wasn’t about the money. He could have signed with the Cavaliers for $30 million more, but chose to take less with the Heat. Of course, he’ll easily make that money up, and then some, with endorsements.
He took the easiest possible path to a championship. It’s hard to blame an athlete for that. It worked for Clemens — he owns two World Series rings. Clemens has his own issues now than worrying about not being the leader of those teams. But you have to wonder — when LeBron is an old man and looks back on his career, will he wish he was THE MAN on his championship teams, rather than the second (or third) fiddle? That is, if he wins any championships at all in Miami.