It's become a holiday tradition, gathering with family to watch NBA basketball on Christmas Day, eating Miami's best pizza and enjoying time with each other that is harder to find as things invariably change. The matchup between the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers lost some luster, with injuries to Hall-of-Famers Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash practically guaranteeing a Heat victory, albeit one that was harder than it should have been against L.A.'s feisty backups.
Basketball talk led, as it often does these days, to the potential breakup of Miami's "Big Three," and the discussion centered on potential destinations. No one really thought that a free agent departure was likely but it was good conversation, as "what-if" scenarios in sports always are.
Dwyane Wade, a player practically synonymous with the Heat, wasn't leaving, everyone agreed. He's older but it's his team - always will be - and he is a classic "3-0-5-‘til-I-die" kind-of-guy.
Chris Bosh might command a lot money as a free agent, even more than he does now as Miami's highest-paid player. But he's won his rings, is still an All-Star, and has embraced local culture more than anyone expected. His family has grown here in Miami and so has he; no one saw him leaving that behind.
But LeBron James...with him, the discussion became more heated, if you'll pardon the pun. Most agreed he's not going anywhere. Why would he leave? Great weather and multiple championships, as well as marketing himself back to the top of the NBA's mountain. Where could he go and have everything he's established here?
One dissenting voice said L.A. was a likely scenario.
"What, and play with Kobe?" was the immediate response. A fair assumption, especially given the opponent currently on ABC's telecast. No, said the dissenter.
The notion was immediately rejected, questions about one's sanity were raised, and the discussion eventually settled along with slices of digested pizza. Fast forward six weeks, and ESPN's Brian Windhorst and Ramona Shelburne offered their take on a potential option, should James embrace free agency and leave the confines of the American Airlines Arena. That option, obviously, is to join Los Angeles Clippers.
Not so crazy now, huh?
Before continuing, it should be noted that Windhorst and Shelburne did state that James was not likely to leave Miami. Their argument was that James, four years removed from "The Decision" and wiser about how to pursue free agency without the accompanying media backlash, could force a move anywhere. A sign-and-trade scenario would likely be the basis of any move, given that most of the teams with available salary cap space are not ideal locations.
The reasons the Clippers are a viable option, they continued, are many. L.A. has a full-fledged star in Blake Griffin that would be a big component in facilitating a trade with Miami. Los Angeles is well-coached, led by Glenn "Doc" Rivers, a man who played for Heat President Pat Riley and has led one franchise to a championship and now strives to lead the Clippers organization to their first.
The Clippers have a deep roster, even without Griffin, and have enough complimentary pieces that, with the insertion of James, would immediately become title contenders.
Los Angeles also has Chris Paul, one of LeBron's best friends and a man who is the godfather to James' youngest son, Bryce.
Since the story broke yesterday, the media storm has been expectedly frenzied, as any discussion of LeBron's future always is. The response from most fans can best be classified as disbelieving outrage. They question the audacity of ESPN to run a pointless story. They challenge that James would never leave Miami, especially as he continues to dominate the NBA and has the trophies to show for it. And mostly, they rip both reporters for wasting a reader's time for presenting what they, the readers, claim to be fantastical at best, and drivel at worst.
One can only wonder at why these reactions have mostly been so negative. You get the sense that the biggest reason for the backlash is that people are reluctant to see James make any change at all. That now, after rebuilding his public image so completely, leaving Miami as a free agent would be insulting to them, as fans, or haters, or both.
Pundits have long-written about patrons being insanely possessive over their superstars, in sports and in all forms of entertainment. But in reviewing the reaction that LeBron elicited in 2010 and seeing its strikingly-similar parallel regarding the perspective of two - just two! - reporters, the word "insane" hardly seems sufficient. Fans have always had an unhealthy devotion to their teams, a sense of ownership that borders on the surreal. There's a real sense of betrayal when a player embraces his right to join another team, one that Miami fans publicly decried in 2010. They should do well to remember that, while a nation sneered and fumed and burned, they gathered and cheered to do this:
It seems, then, than the destination of a free agent isn't the problem so much as any change at all. Miami and Los Angeles are as different as they are similar but even a theoretical move for LeBron brings about a cataclysmic response. It just can't happen, say the fans.
So LeBron can't leave to L.A. to join a team that would have a nucleus of Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford and J.J. Redick? A team that would be a better - and healthier - fit for his talents as he continues to define his legacy?
James can't join a team that might just be better coached than his current one? Or, if coaching acumen isn't the question, perhaps Rivers' personality and demeanor could simply be something different than those possessed by Miami's Erik Spoelstra. Isn't it LeBron's right to choose who he works for?
And if James and Paul have a strong friendship, one that exists beyond the limits of the hardwood court, shouldn't they be allowed to continue developing it on the floor as well as off?
James shouldn't leave Miami, because it is still the best option for him as his career keeps evolving.
But it seems those questions were already answered when James left Cleveland in 2010, leaving a cast of misfits for a group of hall-of-famers. When he left Mike Brown, since hired and fired by the Lakers only to be reinstated as the leader of a dysfunctional group in Cleveland. Or when he left the Cavaliers - his alleged "hometown" team - to win multiple championships in Miami with one of his best friends, Dwyane Wade.
If he does leave, Miami fans should prove they can accept the change and should thank LeBron for his success, for spoiling us with thunderous dunks and incredible passes. For championship parades and for making Miami the center of the basketball world.
I don't think he should leave, and I certainly don't want him to, but I support his right to make the decision.
James has already answered the questions but fans simply don't want to hear the responses. They'll plug their ears and refuse to accept that James can, very realistically, join the Clippers this off-season.
Not so crazy now, huh?