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Voices of reason among the jealousy and hate

Before any non-Heat fans come here to complain of how biased our coverage of all of this madness is, let's see what other writers, NBA execs and experts have to say about the new-look Miami Heat. There will be a much larger compendium coming that will include all the negativity from those who doubted that it wouldn't happen before free agency started and how it won't work after Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James officially joined the Heat. If our coverage is biased, well, then Michael Wilbon from Chicago, Bill Simmons from Boston and many others will have all their "fair and balanced" opinions reprinted here so it can live on forever on this blog for those to see as a handy reference guide for the future. Feel free to send me any old and new articles that fit this mold and they will be collected and compiled by me. I'm only looking for mainstream media, no fellow blogs please. For now, I'd like to cherry pick some observations that I've recently found that are more positive or at the very least are evenhanded. Since these are pretty rare let's get to these first before the monumental task at hand of compiling those that swing on the other side of the argument. Eddie Johnson, HoopsHype: I am not surprised by King James’ decision and I believe that these three stars can coexist. Mainly because I think LeBron is the most unselfish basketball star in the league along with Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Steve Nash. Points have never mattered to him and it’s all based on the belief that he can dominate a game without scoring a bunch of points. I expect LeBron to mesh with Wade and Bosh just like Magic Johnson did with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy and like Larry Bird did with Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. I firmly believe he will flirt with averaging a triple-double next season as well. People, please think before you call him a traitor and selfish. Remember most athletes are maligned for chasing the money… He is leaving 30 million on the table and a city that he owned. This move seems all about him thinking a championship can be won in Miami and that is it. He can be wrong like Cavs owner Dan Gilbert said would occur in the end, but right now he made a career decision and in America that’s why we fought wars – so we can have freedom to make choices. So now let’s look at past greats of the game. Bill Russell had John Havlicek, Bob Cousy, Jo-Jo White and Sam Jones; Magic Johnson had Kareem, Worthy and Byron Scott; Larry Bird had Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Dennis Johnson; Isiah Thomas had Joe Dumars, Bill Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman, Vinnie Johnson and perennial All-Star Mark Aguirre; Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman; Tim Duncan had David Robinson, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker for multiple championships. Kobe Bryant now has Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Ron Artest and Andrew Bynum. So I ask… What is LeBron is doing differently? I am sure Wade and Bosh would have seriously thought about going to Cleveland as a duo if they had the cap space for all three. This is about joining forces to win championships and we have to applaud the sacrifice that these great players are trying to execute for the good of winning. LeBron and Bosh have heard the negative comments about the lack of titles, so it’s fitting they make the sacrifice to join a player in Wade who has experienced winning a title. Michael Jordan got ripped for being selfish and not living up to expectations his first seven years and I ask… Who are we constantly comparing LeBron to? When James realized Cleveland would not be able to get him the kind of help past stars had, that made his decision easier. And, quite frankly, I think he made up his mind two years ago. I thought Danny Ferry did a tremendous job, but he made a fatal mistake in not chasing down spot up shooters like Channing Frye, Eddie House, Kyle Korver, etcetera, to surround James. It forced James to score more than he would like when it was obvious from Day 1 he enjoyed passing the ball. The mistake was thinking he was the second coming of Jordan instead of Magic Johnson. When teams like Boston and Orlando locked in on him come playoff time, he didn’t have the Steve Kerrs, John Paxsons and Derek Fishers of the world to trust when he gave the ball up. I also assume he would say, "Look, if you are going to make less money, why not do it and have fun in South Beach?" I personally wanted him to stay in Cleveland, but who am I to judge him on this decision? This is his career and he knows that if he didn’t win a title he would be labeled the biggest failure up to date in basketball history. So although I understand why Cleveland, New York, New Jersey, Clippers and Chicago might feel jilted from the results of last night, they still have to respect his decision because if Miami finds a few components this trio could win multiple championships starting next year. We are all witnesses and I can’t wait to see how it all plays out in 2011. Scoop Jackson, ESPN.com: Now that it's all over, maybe we can return to some semblance of reality. To help us get there, and before LeBron James becomes Public Enemy No. 2 in the next SportsNation poll -- which seems to be happening in the aftermath of "The Decision" -- let's clear up a few things. It should send us on our way back to our normal existence. One: This has been done before in other sports. (And no one had a problem with it.) Two: We've seen this happen before in the NBA. (And no one had a problem with it.) Three: Michael Jordan might have done the exact same thing. (But we'll never know.) When Alex Rodriguez was playing in Texas (or, for that matter, in Seattle), he was considered the best player in baseball. He was very much the LeBron James of his game. He had lived up to and surpassed expectations. Still, he eventually realized he couldn't do solo all the things he wanted to get done, so he went to a team that wasn't his. He went to a place where he wouldn't be "The Man," at least not at first. He "took his talents" to New York. He became a Yankee, on Derek Jeter's team. So the question is this: What's the difference with LeBron? Where is the profound difference between what A-Rod did in 2004 and what LeBron did Thursday night? Here's the answer: Other than LeBron's personal connection to the city he left, nothing. Again, this has been done before. In 1982, Moses Malone was considered by many to be the best player in basketball, certainly one of the best of his generation, and he was still in his prime. But just after he collected the second of his three MVP awards and only one year removed from playing in the NBA Finals with the Houston Rockets, he became a restricted free agent. With his team apparently regressing (the Rockets went from their Finals appearance in '81 to out in the first round the next season), Moses decided to leave Houston and go play for the Philadelphia 76ers, a team that already had one of the other best players in the game and of his generation. A guy named Julius Erving. See where this is going? Dwyane Wade is Dr. J, LeBron is Moses and Chris Bosh is Andrew Toney in this analogy. The Sixers went on to win the chip the season Moses joined them, going down in history as one of the greatest teams of all time. And no one said anything about damage to Malone's legacy. Again, we've seen this happen before. Too many times since Thursday night, I've heard people express some form of the following sentiment about LeBron: Real ballers don't join the best; they try to beat the best. More than that, I've heard people (including on "SportsCenter") use MJ as an analogy, suggesting that LeBron just did what MJ would have never done: leave the Bulls back in the day to play for the Pistons because, at least before 1990, he couldn't beat Detroit. They're calling LeBron's decision a "punk" move. That notion needs to be squashed right here. Fact is, Jordan never had the opportunity to test the free-agent market the way LeBron did. Jordan signed his rookie contract, then, three years into it, the Bulls put an eight-year, $25 million deal on the table that he signed and rode out until well after he'd been stacking rings on his fingers. Bottom line: Jordan was never in the same position LeBron was. Never. And if MJ's long career in Chicago is going to be used to make a point about LeBron's decision to leave Cleveland, that not-so-little factor can't be ignored. We'll never really know. So before anybody else goes all Dan Gilbert on LeBron, take all that into consideration. And we can carry on with our lives. Daryl Morey, Houston Rockets GM, on Yahoo Sports: James now rivals Art Modell, who moved the former Cleveland Browns to Baltimore in 1995, as the most vilified sports figure in Cleveland’s history. Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who grew up in Cleveland, still rates Modell No. 1.
I think moving the franchise is a bigger crime. To me, it’s hypocrisy if teams put some sort of value judgments on where players choose to go, but at the same time were negotiating hard for their contracts to go the other way.
Henry Abbott, ESPN Truehoop Network: LeBron James, by objective measures the best player in the NBA, and a strong candidate to be the best ever in the sport, has created an experiment. Instead of joining the best team he could, he cast his lot with two very talented friends and a savvy organization. The rest of the roster is essentially a mystery, and cheap one at that. Could that possibly work? Maybe. No one -- not Pat Riley, not Erik Spoelstra, not LeBron James -- really knows. But they're about to try. It ought to be fun to watch, especially as there's a feel-good, almost fairy-tale angle: Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh really like playing together. This is sports at its most basic. You and your friends feel good when you meet at the park? You like how your skills mesh? Often the difference between superstars and other NBA players is work. It's not a hard and fast rule. But a lot of superstars have unbalanced lives. They put work first. They have more passion, more drive, more willingness to improve every little thing. In this, these players saw birds of a feather, and they flocked together. And it was no small whim. While their actual salaries are yet to be determined, they will be taking fairly massive pay cuts -- tens of millions -- to bet on their conviction that they'll find what they want playing together. Before this whole thing started, I was asking all kinds of NBA people what they thought would happen. An agent told me confidently that you almost never go wrong assuming every player will go where they can get the most money. So Wade would stay in Miami. James would stay in Cleveland. And Bosh would go somewhere by sign-and-trade. That is not what happened at all. Instead, the three united in the only city of the six on James' list which, according to a sophisticated study presented by the Knicks, gave James a zero percent chance at becoming a billionaire. In many ways it's one of the most amazing, selfless and unabashedly positive stories in sports. But that's not how people are seeing things for now. Instead, people are livid at the reviled James. The feeling is that the arrogant James has finally revealed his true self. I get that from Cleveland. This is a divorce. Miami is the new girl. Cleveland is the high-school sweetheart who did the hard work of raising the kids. Cleveland was always going to be pissed. But somehow strong emotions have been stirred all over the country. People hate the Heat. I have heard people say they will buy NBA League Pass for the first time in their lives just to root against the Heat. Poke around on Twitter, or even on the Cavaliers' official team website, and you'll see that James is being called every name in the book, from cowardly to egomaniacal. What is James' crime, exactly? I have been hashing out this issue with e-mailers over the last few hours. Most accept that he had the right to choose whatever team he wanted. Most accept that Cleveland was not the best team. Most accept that he played hard for the Cavaliers and -- this year's playoff disappointment notwithstanding -- got better results than could have been expected. Pretty much it boils down to the fact that he put himself on TV to make this decision, which sends the twin messages that he has an overblown view of his own role in the world, and that he's insensitive to how the whole thing would play in Ohio. And OK, fair enough. Quibble with his media philosophies if you'd like. But realize, if you're bitter, you're bitter about the format of his expression. Not the contents of his soul. And absent evidence he has done something actually wretched, it's a little extreme to call him nasty names on the Internet, isn't it? In this world of ours, you will find some truly terrible people. There are murderers. There are rapists. There are abusers, bullies, polluters, dictators and everything else. And this is the guy you need to single out? Even in the NBA's own pantheon, you will find Magic Johnson who once got a coach fired, Kobe Bryant who stood in a parking lot on hidden camera cursing his own team and coaches, Michael Jordan who fought with and bullied teammates. The list goes on and on. The point is, if you're in the mood to be charitable, you can love just about anybody. If you're in the mood to hate, you can hate just about anybody. Why is it that so many are in the mood to hate LeBron James? A theory: It's because he stepped out of place. Players play. That's how it was. They are quiet and sweaty craftsmen who ought not to be heard from except to call out plays and say "yessir" to the coach. The way sports used to be, owners did things like make billion-dollar decisions and general managers and agents did things like agonize over personnel. But that was always a myth. The owners, GMs and agents may have seemed like they held all the cards, but that's only because players weren't great at wielding the power they had. The players always drove the value, because they are what motivated the fans who paid for everything. It has taken decades, but eventually a player -- this player -- figured out how to really put himself in the driver's seat, with billionaire owners lining up, one by one, attempting to earn his valuable affections. He took the power of free agency and instead of just quietly using it to slip out the back door, he milked it. He played it out. He built his own roster. He played kingmaker. He went beyond exercising his rights. He demonstrated his might in the worlds of business, team management and media. It's not a role we're used to seeing athletes in, and it startled many. But I'm certain it's a role athletes belong in. People have analyzed how much a superstar like James is worth to a team. It's many times what he is paid every year, and has been throughout his career. It rivals what the whole team is worth. He has been paying the bills, in no small way, for the Cavaliers for years. That might not be appealing to think about, but it's true. James knows that, and -- even though it's not in the playbook of how athletes typically speak to the public -- he acted like it. Powerful people flexing their muscles in public is not uncommon. Have you seen Donald Trump? And even though James could not have been more respectful -- he thanked the six teams he met with, and didn't say a bad word about anybody -- he knew he was in the power seat. Some preferred a world where no athlete had ever done that. But that day is gone, and it's never coming back. My best guess is that the trappings of July 8 will fade quickly from view, and, as before this event, winning is all that will matter in how James is ultimately judged. If he gets titles, like Johnson, Bryant and Jordan all will be forgiven. But if I'm wrong, well then I guess that's OK too. The NBA just gained a ton of new must-see games. The Heat vs. the Cavaliers. The Heat vs. the Bulls. And the Heat vs. the Lakers, Celtics, Knicks, Nets, Magic and everybody else. The show will go on, and James will be in the role he created for himself years ago, and cemented tonight, as the center of attention. Jimmy Spencer, writer for NBA.com and guest writer for Hardwood Paroxysm: Dear Dan Gilbert, Stop. Just stop. You look like a fool. As you know, your former hero is no longer a Cleveland Cavalier. Judging by your letter, I can’t say that I’m shocked that LeBron James wished to take his business elsewhere. I get it. You’re bitter. LeBron just cost you and your franchise a ton of money as your team sinks back into forgetfulness. But stop acting surprised. You were a big part of raising LeBron. If he’s the son of Cleveland, then you are the dad who catered to his ego for years and would have done so for another six years in a heartbeat. You, Mr. Gilbert, created the monster. Your Cleveland Cavaliers were the biggest benefactors of the national spotlight. Now, you have no right to snivel over how things turned out. I have no doubt you would have paid for the TV special that you knocked if it meant more money in your pockets. Free agency is a tough game for the incumbent team and all of this was magnified by the media circus developing around LeBron’s decision years ago. But your letter is petty and drips with a sore loser mind-set. You write that LeBron acted like a coward? How? What should he have done different, other than stay? His free agency was set to be a media frenzy from the beginning. Rather than announcing his decision through a "source" or letting the Cavs control the media flow, he did it on his own. Does he not have the right? Are you hurt he didn’t DM you on Twitter, first? The only thing worse are the millions of indifferent NBA fans who are upset with how LeBron "treated" Cleveland. As if they have any clue. The one-hour special LeBron and company aired on ESPN is a drop in the bucket compared to the thousands of hours dedicated to the topic on TV and radio, in addition to the millions of words written on the topic. Now you – and much of the world – is shocked that LeBron has an ego and wanted to be in control of the message? I can understand the rant – within your home or your swanky office – but now you’ve embarrassed yourself and your franchise in front of the world. I’m sure free agents are chomping at the bit to come deal with you now. Face it. LeBron is gone. He and his ego are off to Miami for white beaches and better looking women. His dollars and his championships are waiting, too. All you’re left with is the building that LeBron will sell out for you when he comes wearing a visiting jersey. Sleep well, Gilbert.

Well there you have it. Just a small sample but makes for some good reading anyway. More on my thoughts about the aftermath of this whole saga will come soon as well.

Surya Fernandez can be reached at fernandez@hothothoops.com and on Twitter @miamiheattweet