Sports fans in cities around the nation have rightly joined the jilted fans of Cleveland, Ohio, in excoriating two-time MVP LeBron James for the indescribable manner in which he stabbed the only professional franchise he had ever known, and every one of his fans, in the back on national television. James has been called heartless, callous, a traitor, a coward, a punk and a narcissist.
There may come a time, in the near or distant future, to add another word to that list: felon.
It is certainly not a crime for a free agent athlete to market himself to other franchises and then sign a contract in a different city than the one that drafted him. It’s not even a crime to sign a deal and leave your hometown. It certainly would be a crime, however, to intentionally tank a playoff series or two in order to bring to fruition a plan born of collusion with two other players also under contract with different NBA franchises.
Reports out of Cleveland indicate that James originally concocted a scheme to join Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh on an NBA “Dream Team” of sorts as far back as four years ago. The trio played together for Team USA at the World Championships in 2006 and became fast friends. Being part of the same draft class, their rookie contracts were up at the same time, and they each agreed to sign only three-year extensions with their current clubs, so they could all become unrestricted free agents in the same summer, allowing them to relocate to a single franchise.
Now there was no way the three top free agents of 2010 were going to Canada, and there was even less chance they’d choose the cold winters and depressed economy of Cleveland. South Beach, however? Where 25-year-old multimillionaires get to hang with the societal and entertainment elite? A place where thong bikinis are considered proper business attire? Yes, that would do.
Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, however, had no idea of this grand plan to bolt for the beach, so he set about the task of winning an NBA title in Cleveland. He spent way over the salary cap to acquire an offensive-minded point guard and a big man in the middle to battle Orlando’s Dwight Howard, and even added solid swingman Antawn Jamison at this year’s trade deadline. He knew that winning a title before James became a free agent would be his best shot at retaining the superstar.
Apparently, so did James.
Fans in Cleveland have been wondering for months what happened to James, when he mysteriously disappeared for large stretches of Games 4, 5 and 6 in the second round loss to the Celtics. At best, he looked lost; at worst, disinterested. A refusal to shoot. Unimaginable turnovers. A phantom elbow problem to explain it all away.
Critics accused him of quitting on his team. Now they wonder if he flat-out threw the series, knowing he’d never have an excuse to leave town if he was defending an NBA crown.
At this point, there is no evidence to conclusively prove that James fixed an NBA playoff series with his own performance, but Gilbert has enough money to hire the best investigators on the planet to find out.
Is LeBron James a narcissist? Clearly. Is he a quitter? Probably. Is he a felon? Stay tuned.
Sports personality Bob Frantz is a regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at email@example.com.