The backlash could be heard from Facebook to Twitter, Akron to Alabama.
Miami? The Heat? For real?
Have you ever watched a hyper-talented man take his beloved All-American-Good-Guy reputation and toss it down the sewer in one 60-minute infomercial that he himself called?
It was shocking. It was the biggest public relations blunder in the history of sports.
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Seriously, what was worse? This was not Tiger Woods' communications team trying to respond to his unexpected mistress crisis and making a bonehead mistake. This was not John Rocker being caught making stupid remarks in an interview with a journalist. This was not Robert Irsay, who ripped the Colts out of Baltimore in 1984. That was awful, but at least he did it under the cover of darkness. He knew what he was doing was shady.
No, this was somebody going out and purposely seeking the spotlight so he could wreck his image.
LeBron James created a publicity circus unlike any other Thursday night -- this was his choosing, not the media's so don't blame the messenger -- and he humiliated his hometown fans in the most public way possible.
Who does this? Who goes out of his way to cause pain to the little kids in Cleveland who wear his 23 jersey? Who goes out of his way to make the blue-collar guy in Columbus, who loves the Cavs but can't afford tickets, spit in anger?
LeBron James alienated a lot of people tonight. Actually, alienated is the wrong word. He stunned and hurt a lot of people tonight.
You don't do people like this. You don't take a fragile city, so thirsty for an identity, and pull the rug out while the globe looks on. You play a game, LeBron. But this Decision wasn't a game for the waiters and bartenders around the Cavs' arena who will now take a financial hit because you're gone.
When he first called for an ESPN circus I thought: There’s no way he divorces himself from his hometown city in such a public way. No possible way. I was convinced he was going back to Cleveland. The guy was too sensible. Too caring. He wasn't nearly cold enough to treat people this way. I envisioned him getting up there with Jim Gray and saying:
What's up, everybody. I'm glad you tuned in. It's amazing that so many people care about where I play a kids' game, but they do. So I was thinking, why not capitalize on that interest and -- together -- raise a lot of money for a cause near and dear to my heart. The Boys and Girls Club of America. So I'm glad I could do that. Now, as far as my decision, I only want to say a few things.
After seven tremendous seasons in Cleveland, I decided to see what else was out there, to dip my toe in the free agent market. And you know, the process has been flattering. I never went to college so I was never recruited, and it was fascinating and enlightening to hear how different coaches and general managers thought I would fit into their plans. I respect all the teams I met with. Great organizations. Great people. Great offers. But about halfway through the process, it hit me. I knew I could play for only one team. And I know in my mind and my heart that it's the right choice.
By going out there and getting away from Cleveland for a little while, I realized just what I’d be missing. And what I have back there is precious. Truly precious. My hometown. My fans. My family and friends. That’s why... I’m coming back. We have unfinished business there, and I’m coming back to where I belong. I am still a Cav and I couldn't be more proud.
LeBron James would have been an all-time hero. Now he's an all-time villain.
Now he's the most hated man in the NBA, not just Cleveland. Somewhere Kobe Bryant is relieved.
The thing is, it didn't have to be this way -- even if LeBron left. No, Cleveland was never going to be "happy" with him leaving for another franchise, but he could have handled this the right way. He could have let them down easy. And by "easy" I don't mean crushing their soul on a nationally televised show called "The Decision."
The Miami Heat certainly gained some new bandwagon fans tonight.
But LeBron James lost a whole lot more.