You may recognize the twist on a familiar term in the headline for this article. Like it or not, Cleveland is referred to by some as “The Mistake By The Lake.” While no city REALLY deserves that harsh of a nickname, Cleveland has had its share of occurrences that make such a moniker stick. There is the infamous and dubious incident of Cuyahoga River catching on fire in Cleveland (yup, even the water catches on fire), and the litany of devastating sports failures where Bleacher Fan doesn’t even need to down a couple of beers before recounting them for you.
As a child of Northeast Ohio, LeBron James understands the history of the area. Therefore, he has the context to truly understand how important his presence is, not only to the team and fans, but to the entire region. LeBron is seen by fans as the player that will right the many wrongs that have befallen Cleveland, and the entire Northeast Ohio area, over the past several decades.
So, it’s a good thing that none of that matters to LeBron.
None of it.
LeBron James is a business man readying himself to make a big business decision. The history, the emotion, the ties – none of it matters to him. This decision is all about what makes the most business sense for LeBron James.
Given that context, LeBron must be a shoe-in for L.A., New York, or Chicago, right? Wrong. The best business decision LeBron can possibly make on June 30 is to remain in Cleveland.
First, a few reasons why those other cities do not make sense.
LeBron will not want to share a city with Kobe Bryant, an actual championship basketball player. Kobe owns that town, and the Clippers are in disarray. This is obviously a bad move.
Chicago will never work for LeBron because he will never establish himself, even if he wins seven championships. That will always be Michael Jordan’s town, and he is fooling himself if he believes otherwise.
The Knicks make no sense because LeBron may receive numerous “business opportunities” (Knicks fans… read that as “distractions”), but he will not have a strong team around him for even more years than he will have to wait for talent in Cleveland (aren’t the Knicks still paying Stephon Marbury?). The other New York team, the Nets, does not make sense because the new owner – a Russian billionaire – has zero understanding of how to run a successful American sports franchise. Oil money is not well-earned sports money. Strong leadership from the front office on down is crucial to a team’s success, and the fact that new owner Mikhail Prokhorov has appointed a Russian diplomat’s daughter to the top post at the Nets is a huge red flag. Despite her MBA from Stanford, her ability to run a sports franchise – let alone revive an awful one like the Nets – is highly questionable.
The best career move and business move LeBron James can make to remove the “over” from over-rated is to win a championship. Because of that prevailing reason, the city – and team – that gives LeBron the best chance to win is Cleveland.
Of course there are caveats. Mike Brown cannot coach a championship team. He is a terrible playoff coach because his adjustments are as slow as molasses. Rather than in-game adjustments Brown appears to require 24 hours of film watching and game planning to tweak his lineups or in-game maneuvers. The Cavs need a more disciplined, authoritative coaching style that comes from a place of championship respect. At this stage, it appears that LeBron will only choose to listen to, and be confronted by, a coach who has had championship level success. Perhaps it is a gut feeling, but LeBron’s inability to overcome his frustrations with how Brown handled some situations during the Celtics series clearly impacted his game in a negative way.
Brown has to go, but so does James’ oversized ego. LeBron needs a coach who will take command and put him in his place. A coach who will call him out for poor effort, for losing focus, and for not taking his job seriously enough. A coach who isn’t afraid to say, “LeBron, you are not in high school any longer. You are a professional. If you wish to become a champion, you must change your approach to your profession and be willing to sacrifice more.” An ego-less LeBron (well, even a smaller ego, at least) is better equipped to learn. A new coach is better equipped to teach LeBron what he must learn in order to become a champion.
Brown must go, and LeBron must listen.
Danny Ferry, the Cavaliers’ general manager, has done a good job of upgrading the team’s roster the last several seasons. But, now it is no longer about getting a bunch of good players, it is about getting the right players. Moving from a quantity to a quality strategy is vital. Shaq may have, at least in some people’s minds, been one of the best possible players available to acquire last summer. But he was not the right fit.
Of course the old objections will present themselves as Ferry goes about his challenging job. “No players want to move to Cleveland,” and “the Cavs just don’t have enough money to work with.” Cavs owner Dan Gilbert has proven that money is no object… and that applies to both player salaries and how he takes care of his players off the court. LeBron has aspects of his game to work on so he is a better teammate and better professional to play with, but the standard anti-Cleveland objections are mostly addressed by a great owner.
This is a business decision for LeBron James. But, for LeBron, business cannot solely be about dollars and “sense.” Big, successful business is only possible for LeBron if he wins a championship. Anything less and LeBron is just another arrogant athlete who never won a championship, and he will be rightly accused of spending too much time counting his money. One championship makes LeBron legit. But, the only city and franchise that can offer LeBron what he needs to win a championship quickly is the Cleveland Cavaliers.