I don't condone it, but it certainly can be understood why some angry, bitter Cleveland basketball fans were burning LeBron James jerseys in the streets of his former city Thursday night. After all, he had just announced, on national TV, his decision to leave the Cavaliers for South Beach -- in essence, leaving an economically depressed city with nothing to be excited about sports-wise.
But perhaps the inflammatory rioters should have been lighting flames to another jersey as well -- that of Chris Bosh, one of two high-profile players whom James will join in Miami. The other, of course, is Dwyane Wade, who, along with James, is one of the game's top three players.
Over the past week, one of the 1,073,294 storylines surrounding the free agency bonanza was that James was interested in having Bosh join the Cavs via a sign-and-trade from the Raptors that would have given him a maximum contract to play alongside the King on a team that led the league in wins last season. Bosh would be just the low-post player Cleveland needed to perhaps push it over the top and get James that championship -- a solid 24-point, 10-rebound guy who is only getting better.
Bosh, however, was having none of it. He didn't want to play in Cleveland, was not attracted to the city. He had done his time in Toronto, played his butt off for the fans there, made it his home. Now, he was ready for a big city with big lights, an attractive city.
Cleveland? Hell no!
(Tangent: This goes back to something that must be noted about free agency, especially in the NBA: Warm-weather cities have a huge advantage. How many big names leave the south to go north, especially to cities outside of the Big Three of New York, Chicago and Boston? Detroit, Cleveland, Minnesota, New Jersey -- they're all at a huge disadvantage. What are they going to say -- there's great skiing? Not to be stereotypical, but when was the last time you heard of NBA players going on ski trips together? OK, that's enough.)
So Bosh dismissed that possibility. He had zero interest in joining James in Cleveland. Instead, he would gladly move down to the beaches, warm weather, and trendy clubs of South Beach to join his other boy, Wade.
Now consider this -- it's not a definite, but if Bosh had joined James in Cleveland, leaving the Cavs with no cap room after the trade, Wade would have been left with nobody in Miami. And he has gone on record since Bosh agreed to play for the Heat Wednesday as saying that he wouldn't re-sign until he had a guarantee from management that a big-name player would be joining him.
Wade might have gone to Chicago, might have returned home to play on a very talented, very complete Bulls team. Seriously -- a squad with Wade, Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah would have been the favorite in the East (as would have been the case had James chosen the Bulls Thursday; and it would have made the most basketball sense, as all the experts said).
So we would be looking at quite a different landscape in the Eastern Conference -- and there would be no jersey-burning in Cleveland; just jersey buying.
None of the players can be blamed for their decisions. In fact, all of them are taking pay cuts to make things work in Miami (although the cuts might not be as big as talked about due to the state's lack of an income tax; I'll let the math whizzes crunch the numbers).
Everyone knows that this conversation started when the trio signed identical three-year deals to allow themselves to enter the Summer of 2010 in the same boat. And the bond probably got stronger in 2008 at the Beijing Olympics, where they were all key cogs in the U.S.'s run to the Gold Medal. Apparently, Chris Paul was a a part of the mix as well. And don't look now, but he's a free agent in 2012 -- yes, New Orleans, I'd be sweating at this very moment.
The only mistake made during this process was James' horrific decision to hold a one-hour TV special, "The Decision," to announce where he'd play. Cleveland fans may never forgive him for his overly public, unemotional, ugly divorce from the team. Owner Dan Gilbert definitely doesn't, considering the absolutely scathing letter he wrote to his fan base Thursday night.
But historians shouldn't forget that this all came to fruition because of the decision of a guy, in Bosh, who has never been first-team all-NBA and has played in all of 11 playoff games, failing to win a series.
He should win a few starting next season, and he deserves a lot of credit for helping to form this terrific trio that should wow NBA audiences, win a few titles -- and keep Cleveland fans, sadly, in a state of dismay and bitterness for many years to come.