Roland Martin: LeBron James, King of His Own World

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LeBron James is a grown man who made a grownup decision to take his massive basketball-playing ability from Cleveland to Miami in a desire to get the one thing every true baller desires: the opportunity to call yourself a champion.

Forget all the nonsense about him “owing” his hometown and how his legacy could have been cemented had he stayed in the Midwest and continued to try to win a title in Cleveland. LeBron had the absolute right to pick up his things and go where he thought it was best to win, and he did it.

Enough with all of this ridiculous chatter that he’s a selfish, spoiled basketball prodigy. LeBron was an employee of the Cleveland Cavaliers. He had no ownership stake and no control. Everyone talks about what his presence meant to the Cleveland economy. Did he own any of those businesses? No. But he made them, and the Cavaliers, richer by his play.

There is undoubtedly a tradeoff, because being a star athlete is a two-way street. You become richer by virtue of folks coming to see you play, and the league, team, marketers and surrounding businesses get to piggyback off of your success. LeBron gave them a solid seven seasons, and everyone enjoyed the ride. Say thank you for the LeBron gravy train, and now, like any smart business owner, you need to figure out your next revenue stream.

Now, let’s deal with the fans. I read with fascination about how LeBron “owed” the fans. Really? What exactly did he owe them? We need to stop with this belief that fans in a city “own” a particular player. We get to sit back and enjoy the skills of these modern-day gladiators in our gleaming new Colosseums, while they bust their butts, play injured and have to take all of the criticism when things go bad.

As fans, we justify it all by saying, “Well, he’s getting millions to play, so he should shut up.” We need to grow up and realize that once his playing days are over, we will say, “Thanks, LeBron, now move over so we can worship the next stud.” In fact, when a particular athlete has overstayed their welcome, the fans are the loudest in telling him to leave the court.

To me, there is a huge difference between a player like LeBron James and Albert Haynesworth of the Washington Redskins. Albert has pocketed nearly $40 million and has refused to show up at training sessions with Washington because he doesn’t like the defensive scheme. That is dumb.

LeBron showed up and did his part, and when his contract was up, he exercised his free will to do as he pleased and shop his talents. He did what every single American wants: to go to a new job where the desires you always wanted can be fulfilled. So how is that wrong?

No one — athlete, stockbroker, Wal-Mart greeter, grocery store clerk, secretary, journalist — wants to treated like they are a piece of property. We all desire the freedom that comes with making our own choice as to where we want to work and achieve the goals in life that we all set.

I can identify with that. In 1993, I decided to leave the Austin American-Statesman, where I was the county government reporter. The then-city editor sat across me and said, “I felt like it was a punch in the gut when told you were leaving.” He had an indignant, paternalistic tone that I found offensive.

See, I was making $24,000. When the Houston Chronicle pursued me for a job a few months earlier that would be around $27,000, I was told I was talking myself out of a job in Austin. So when the Fort Worth Star-Telegram offered me a gig at $32,000, I didn’t even bother seeing whether Austin wanted to counter. The new job allowed me to go to a bigger market and have the upward mobility I desired, so I took the job.

So I told the city editor, “Look, you didn’t take some kid off the street, teach him how to talk, write and dress. You paid me for a service, and I delivered. Now I’m choosing to take my skills elsewhere.” I then got up and left the meeting.

It was offensive to me that my bosses at the paper felt like I was being an ungrateful employee. I wanted to do more with my talents, and I refused to allow someone to make me feel bad about my decision. It’s my life, my career, my choice. So how is that bad?

Now I get folks who didn’t like LeBron having a one-hour special to announce his decision. But we are all used to the hype in sports. Do we really need a six-hour pregame show for the Super Bowl? Can’t we play the NBA All-Star Game without all of the side attractions? Would boxing be boxing without the wild and crazy news conferences? Hype and sports go hand-in-hand.

That’s why I found the letter written by Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert so pathetic. Here is a man who was enriched by the play of LeBron James; according to Forbes, the value of the franchise increased by $100 million with his on-court performance.

Yet instead of being a gracious owner and simply reaffirming his commitment to the fans to put a winning team on the court, Gilbert ripped LeBron to shreds, calling him “narcissistic” and his decision to leave a “cowardly betrayal” and “a shameful display of selfishness.”

Gilbert even went on to trash all athletes by saying, “It’s time for people to hold these athletes accountable for their actions. Is this the way you raise your children?”

In an interview, Gilbert later said LeBron quit on the team in the playoffs the past two years.

Really? So if he was all of that, Dan, why did you want to re-sign him? Who wants a quitter on his team? If LeBron had chosen to stay in Cleveland, rich boy Dan would have been all smiles, slapping his back, getting ready to count the money he could make off of the back of LeBron. So who would have been the real selfish, narcissistic individual, Dan?

Gilbert now says it’s time to speak out against LeBron, yet as long as James made him richer, he would have kept quiet. Sorry, Dan, you’ve pimped LeBron long enough.

LeBron showed Dan Gilbert that only LeBron owes LeBron an explanation. No owner, CEO or boss has the right to demand that someone stay as an employee. The employee has a right to live their life as they see fit.

As the CEO of LeBron James Inc., he did what’s in the best of interest of him. And as the most important shareholder, isn’t that what he’s supposed to do?

I’m sorry, folks, but the loyalty that used to exist from teams and companies is gone. Some still believe in it, but for many of us, we’re simply a dot on the spreadsheet. Business is cutthroat, and we have to accept that reality.

So, King James, go to Miami and do your thing. Grow your corporation to be as big as you want it to be. And never look back at the haters who are mad you chose not to act like a highly paid indentured servant or 21st-century slave, held in place by the invisible shackles dressed up as loyalty to a city, owing the fans and satisfying someone who is clearly an ungrateful owner.

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