I know, I know. Nobody wants to talk about LeBron James in this town anymore. Nobody drives that bus more than I do. But I wrote this post anyways.
The situations were entirely different. One guy didn’t want to leave, but circumstances pushed him out the door. The other guy had the choice to stay and chose to bolt. One guy is at the tail end of his career and coming off of injury, the other guy was in the prime of his. Both are considered amongst the top players at their position in their respective sport. In the end, they both left but for completely different reasons.
While there are a few similarities between the parting of the ways of Peyton Manning with the Indianapolis Colts and LeBron James with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the way they left the teams that defined their careers couldn’t have been handled any differently.
What I witnessed yesterday between Manning and Colts owner/mad-tweeter Jim Irsay was the stuff of legend. The press conference was an advanced placement course on how a franchise player, a player who is synonymous with the city he plays in and rejuvenated that sport for that city, should leave each other. Owner and player stood next to each other and both eloquently delivered heartfelt addresses to Colts fans throughout the country. Obviously the parting was amicable, but it was clear that neither wanted it to end this way.
In the case of James, I am not a complete moron – I know the situations are different. I know LeBron left on his own accord in the middle of his prime to chase championships with his buddies in Miami. I know that many of you hate hearing this, but it’s the truth – it’s not that LeBron left Cleveland, it’s HOW he left Cleveland.
Read what the uber-classy Manning said yesterday:
“I’m not leaving Indianapolis. I’m not going to be with the Colts. This city has been so great to me and it’s still a huge part of my life. It’s kind of a departure from the Colts but certainly not from the great city of Indianapolis.”
Substitute “Cleveland” with “Indianapolis” and “Cavs” with “Colts.” Could you hate LeBron the way you do if those words came out of James’s mouth? Can you imagine if LeBron James handled himself properly, went to owner Dan Gilbert when he made up his mind to leave, sat with him man to man and told him “It is time for me to move on. I appreciate everything you have done for me. Let’s do this the right way?” Seriously, imagine a LeBron press conference where he sat with Dan Gilbert side by side with LeBron speaking directly to Cavs fans and spoke from the heart. Could you despise him the way you do if he said “I have given everything I had to this city for seven years. I love this city and this area and will always keep it close to my heart, but it is time for me to move on to a new challenge.”
None of us would agree with it, but at least we could say that LeBron was a professional about it, handled himself in a classy and proper way, and decided to move on, which was his prerogative to do.
I know, this is something that would NEVER have happened in a million years. LeBron is no Peyton Manning. I don’t know if anyone is. The guy is as close to perfect in terms of being an athlete role model in sports as you can find. But if it had happened, the LeBron James national hate tour wouldn’t exist. In fact, while some people wouldn’t agree with him departing Cleveland (our fans aside), he would be looked at in a completely different light. He would come off smelling like a rose, his popularity outside of the 216/440 would be through the roof. NBA fans would have been rooting for LeBron to get that ring he wants so badly instead of becoming a country full of Dallas Mavericks fans last June. The image he worked so hard to perfect and completely blew up two summers ago would still be close to pristine. Would the likes of Yahoo! Sports’s Adrian Wojnarowski or the TNT crew (Charles Barkley in particular) be after him as hard as they were? Of course not.
Cleveland fans would still have felt burned, but if he had handled his exit in the classy manor that Peyton Manning did, your venom for him wouldn’t be where it is today. Not even close. But what Manning and Irsay did yesterday was as classy and as heartfelt as any press conference you will ever see and they deserve to be applauded for it. Essentially, it was the complete antithesis of “The Decision.”
I promise I will never bring this topic back up again.