By the time LeBron James settled into a directors' chair in front of the ESPN cameras to announce—in a prime-time special called The Decision, which had been marketed with all the subtlety of a Kardashian wedding—where, as he put it, "I'm going to take my talents to" this fall, everyone from Rush Limbaugh to Larry King to the leader of the free world had weighed in. The prognostications had already drowned out the NBA finals, not to mention the BP oil spill, and were dominating the 24-hour news cycle like a Lohan lockup. Even LeBron himself looked nervous, like the 25-year-old he is. Millions of basketball fans and culture junkies nationwide crammed sports bars and living rooms to watch this modern-day king make his decree. And then, almost immediately, they called for his head.
Footage of Cleveland fans burning LBJ jerseys ran alongside his image in real time. NBA legends Johnson, Jordan, and Barkley suggested the move to Miami had tarnished LeBron's legacy. "He'll never be Jordan," Barkley growled. Cavs owner Dan Gilbert condemned the "several day, narcissistic, self-promotional buildup," an accusation that echoed from all quarters.
But the backlash was pure hypocrisy. The media and fans alike had furnished a seat for LBJ at the center of the world, then seemed irked when he took it. Worse, the one-note vilification ignored the nobility of LeBron's move: He took less money to win championships, the sports world's ultimate selfless act. Consider the $6 million in ad revenue generated by The Decision that went to charitable causes, and suddenly the picture looks a whole lot less sinister.
LeBron may never be MJ, although according to the stats, he's just a hairsbreadth behind—while coming off as a heckuva nicer guy. LBJ will get his rings, and that'll be gravy. Because just to watch him bound, sprint, and orbit above the rim is to behold the exuberant power of youth. To that, we are all witnesses. — David Gargill, writer for GQ and Harper's