LeBron is in control of his future and redefining free agency, so stop the hate
JUN 24, 2014 12:00p ET
The news that LeBron James has chosen to opt out of the final year of his contract and explore free agency rocked the basketball world like rolling thunder Tuesday, and with it came the familiar and seemingly requisite bashing of LeBron as egotistical, self-indulgent, petulant and attention-seeking.
After four years of watching LeBron successfully reconstruct his image in the wake of “The Decision,” fans and the basketball commentariat at large have been awaiting this moment — almost eagerly, it would appear — ready to pounce on the world’s best player the second he put the fate of his future in his own hands.
The problems with this breathless hurling of brickbats are many, of course — the least of which being that LeBron, in exercising his established right as a player to turn down his own player option, is in no way saying that he no longer wants to play in Miami or that he necessarily wants to continue his career somewhere else.
In fact, he essentially said that this was probably coming last week, telling reporters: “Being able to have flexibility as a professional, anyone, that's what we all would like. That's in any sport, for a football player, a baseball player, a basketball player, to have flexibility and be able to control your future or your present. I have a position to be able to do that.”
Sports fans are an incendiary bunch, however, and it’s unlikely that the clamor will die down until after the latest LeBron saga comes to a close with him signing a contract. And if that agreement happens to be with anyone but the Heat, the anti-LeBron upheaval will endure well into next season, and will likely be most prevalent in Miami, perhaps the last locale on earth that deserves to be up in arms over another city scooping up its biggest star.
If you peel back all of the layers of this controversy, though, you’ll find that what LeBron is doing isn’t deserving of your hate, but rather, your admiration. For, in taking control of his own future — whatever it ends up being — LeBron is changing the history of free agency, utilizing the caveats in the CBA intended to benefit players and grabbing at least a little power from the hands of GMs and owners, who many feel have had too much jurisdiction for too long.
In doing what he did in 2010 and is doing again now, LeBron is shifting the entire landscape. In appearing willing to sacrifice a little money in the short term, even if he never ends up losing any when all is said and done, he is more in control of his own destiny than perhaps any player at any time in all of sports. And because he is who he is and has the abilities that he does — to say nothing of the endorsement money he earns on the side —he should be able to maintain that authority over his own destiny for at least another two contracts to come.
Because LeBron has chosen to explore his options and call his own shot, the Heat, like the Knicks in the wake of Carmelo Anthony’s LeBron-inspired decision to opt out, will now feel the squeeze to add more (or at least better) players to increase the likelihood that James starts the 2014 season in Miami.
Granted, the team’s ability to do that will be largely dependent on what James’ Big 3 cohorts, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, do with their own player options in the next week. But regardless of what happens with Wade and Bosh, LeBron’s message to the Heat — and whomever he plays for when his next player option is up in three or four years — is clear: I’m willing to leave if I have to, so why should I stay?
If nothing else, the next few weeks should certainly be interesting, in much the same way that the 2010 Decision saga had us all glued to our TVs for the slightest hint at what LeBron is thinking. And soon enough, we’ll know what LeBron’s true desires in his next contract are.
Maybe he is being disloyal, abandoning what he sees as a sinking ship so that he can hand-pick the next-best place to compete for a championship at the same discounted rate. Or maybe he’s being selfish, looking to make the biggest buck, regardless of where that paycheck comes. Or maybe he’s actually being selfless — imagine that — giving his current team the best possible odds of propping its championship window back open by ultimately taking even less so that the Heat can put more around him.
Whatever the case, LeBron will end up doing what he wants to because he can, and that’s kind of the point. Having learned from the 2010 fiasco, James knows that no matter what he does, there will be large factions of fans who will love him or hate him either way, and to see a player put himself first and take control of his life and his career with little thought given to what it will mean for his popularity really is a beautiful thing.