LeBron James & The Complexities Of Loyalty

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LeBron James is no stranger to big (and boy do I mean BIG) decisions. Since he was a teenager, he has been followed by the national sports media. The first decision–albeit not a very difficult one for the uber-talented James–was if he would make the leap directly to the NBA from high school. And as well all know now, James made the illustrious leap and quickly started carving out a Hall of Fame career. But narrative plays a big role in the decisions that athletes make, and James soon grew tired of always needing to provide Herculean efforts to lift up poor supporting casts in Cleveland.

These events led to “The Decision” , James’ ESPN-produced “made for TV” event where he announced he would be leaving his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers to join the Miami Heat. “The Decision” was met with heavy criticism by those who felt he was doing his team a disservice by (literally) making a TV event to broadcast his decision, with some claiming that donating money to charity was just a way for James to escape criticism for notifying Cleveland of his decision the same time as he let everyone else know. But James was simply showing a different kind of loyalty, choosing to chase his personal goals with longtime friends Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. James made the NBA Finals four times with Miami, and finally fulfilled his life-long dream by winning the elusive NBA Championship trophy twice in those four years.

This is when the story becomes interesting. Cavaliers owner  Dan Gilbert penned a very angry, and somewhat hate-filled letter to LeBron James when he originally left Cleveland. Gilbert went as far as to call James’ exit a “cowardly betrayal.” In my opinion, this is when the trust between the Cavaliers ownership group and James split. But this did not stop James from coming back home, and re-joining the Cleveland Cavaliers for the 2014-15 season.

James chose to return to Cleveland for a chance to bring a championship to his hometown, and for the proximity to his family. His wife Savannah is from the Akron-area, and his extended family still has roots there as well. So clearly, his decision to go back to Cleveland was about more than basketball.

But now, following star point guard Kyrie Irving’s departure from the team, it is likely James is on his way out again. And surely, fans will complain that James’ lack of loyalty destroys the teams following his departure.  But when you look at the history of the league, and consider how quickly team owners and general managers will get rid of players, it is hard to fault James, or any player for not being “loyal”. So no matter what James does, this NBA off-season, consider the complexities of loyalty.

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