LeBron’s free agency move lacked maturity on both sides

Kevin Wilson

First high school junior to make the cover of Sports Illustrated. First player to win the NBA’s rookie of the year award straight out of high school. First reigning league MVP to leave his NBA squad via free agency.

The gazillionth time Jesse Jackson’s made racism magically appear.

Thursday night, LeBron James announced he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat. The Akron, Ohio, native did so on an hour-long ESPN special, which drew negative press despite the $2.5 million its ad revenues raised for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

Soon after, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who got no advance warning of the departure, unleashed a tantrum not once addressing James by name, masquerading as an open letter to Cavs fans on the team’s website. The letter (amended for space, available at nba.com/cavs) reads:

“As you now know, our former hero, who grew up in the very region that he deserted this evening, is no longer a Cleveland Cavalier.

“This was announced with a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special…

“You simply don’t deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal.

“I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER ‘KING’ WINS ONE

“You can take it to the bank.”

Jackson chimed in a few days later. In his statement (available in full at rainbowpush.org), Jackson said James did nothing to demean the Cavaliers or Ohio, and honorably served his contract. He added that Gilbert had a “slave master mentality,” and that James was not, “bound to play on Gilbert’s plantation and be demeaned.”

Jackson had some things right, and yes, it was about color. But that color was green.

James’ contract would have been biggest in Cleveland, but maybe believes winning championships in Miami will make him the most in the long run, considering tax rates, titles and endorsements. So James left the place that paid him $62 million over seven years … some plantation.

As for Gilbert, he purchased the Cavaliers midway through James’ tenure. His investment took a pretty substantial hit Thursday night, and he was ticked.

Gilbert knew Cavs fans, his customers, were just naively kicked in the groin on national television, and were also incensed (as an NBA fan, I’m still furious about how James handled things). In an attempt to score points with customers, Gilbert let emotions take over, as people often do when money’s involved.

James’ most mature approach would have been to tell the Cavaliers he was thinking of leaving while most of the league’s free agents were still available. Cleveland may never forgive James, and I wouldn’t blame them.

Gilbert’s mature statement would have been, “Cavaliers fans, wherever you may be: As you are painfully aware, LeBron James, the greatest player to don a Cleveland uniform, has left for the Miami Heat. While I, as Cavaliers owner, believe the fans deserved to be notified in a more mature way, we thank him for his seven seasons and wish him well in the future. The mission is still bringing a championship to Cleveland. It starts anew tomorrow morning.”

We’ve got a 25-year-old and a 48-year-old being immature, naive and greedy. Let’s not add racist to the list.