If nothing else, it was novel. LeBron James captured the American sports scene for nearly a week as his carefully-orchestrated "Where is LeBron playing?" game was front and center and the topic of more speculation than just about any single-player move in sports history. No question it raised a lot of questions, a lot of skepticism and ire (in Cleveland) and joy (in Miami). How does what James did in the NBA apply to what happens in the NFL? Let's take a look and kick around a few thoughts.
On one hand, it was incredibly ego-driven and singularly selfish. I'm not sure, though, it was all that much different than what we've seen from Brett Favre the last couple of years. Favre has played the cat-and-mouse game with the media and the fans, and he has gone public on his watch, at his pace, and in the end he made the decision to play where he wanted to play.
Like Favre or don't like him, it is his right to call the shots. He is playing within the system, and while there are plenty of fans who dislike Favre and his constant self-promotion here, there are far more fans who understand where he is coming from and who appreciate his grit and his leadership and his performance at this stage of his career.
Way back when, before the explosion of the media, the late Reggie White (we love you, Reggie!) was among the first NFL free agents to leave one town heartbroken to move to another city. And he had a well-choreographed itinerary. As the City of Philadelphia held rallies to support White and try to convince him to remain an Eagle, White considered his options. In the end, White followed God's word -- and a huge contract -- and signed with the Green Bay Packers.
Time clearly has healed most of those wounds. But in 1993, there was outrage. And there were tears and accusations of treachery and, yes, the Eagles organization absorbed its very-fair share of criticism for allowing White to leave. White wanted to play with a team that was "more committed to winning" and so he left the Eagles and he left a city high and dry.
Was what White did that much different than what James has done to the city of Cleveland and the Cavaliers organization?
Certainly, there are differences. The Cavs offered James the maximum financial package they could offer under NBA rules. The Eagles of 1993 were a more, um, frugal-thinking organization, and there were some in the hierarchy who felt that White was on the downside of his career and that acquiring two first-round draft picks as a result of White's departure would help replenish Rich Kotite's roster (It is, admittedly, painful to write this and research the names the Eagles drafted).
Anyway, after some wheeling and dealing, the Eagles ended up selecting offensive lineman Lester Holmes, defensive tackle Bruce Walker and offensive tackle Barrett Brooks using the draft picks acquired from White's departure.
Awful deal. Holmes actually turned out to be a pretty good player and Brooks started for three seasons as an Eagle and ended up with 118 NFL games under his belt. Walker was a flat-out bust and was out of the league before he ever played a game.
It was clearly a terrible decision for the Eagles to ever allow White to leave Philadelphia. And there were many who criticized White for leaving and making such a show of his decision and for saying that "God helped make the decision" as he signed on the dotted line for millions upon millions of dollars.
But what White wrong? Not at all. I didn't like it at the time because I didn't want White to leave town and I didn't enjoy the Eagles being painted with such a negative brush, but at the end the day White simply did what the rules said he could do and the Eagles looked like fools for allowing him to leave. Had it happened in this day and age, White very well may have worked with a television network to get his message out, to use the prime air time as a pulpit to spread the Gospel.
Is what James did any different, a generation later, than what White did in 1993?
Oh, I get the part about leaving Cleveland high and dry. If the Cavs are guilty of anything, it is that they did not adequately surround James with the kind of championship-caliber talent to win an NBA title. The Cavs had some great success these last few seasons, but they never made it over the top. James, then, is doing what he thinks is best for him to win a championship. He is joining elite players in Miami.
Now, let me make this clear: I don't care for how James took care of his business. I didn't like the made-for-TV decision. I didn't like the ESPN branding of the announcement. I don't care for the look-at-me mentality that dominated this decision.
However, that is the world in which we live. James is smart enough to realize he has a brand -- himself -- to promote and he has a world-wide audience at his beckon call. Heck, isn't that the way it is with all athletes now? We bristle when players make a tackle in the NFL and then dance for the cameras, but it is any different than how these World Cup soccer players preen and rip off their shirts and dance for the fans and the cameras after a goal?
It doesn't matter which sport you watch these days. Athletes play to the audience because they know they can and because they know they are the show.
The NFL does it better than any other sport, though. The stars are important, yes, and they are embraced, of course, but it is the game that keeps the fans coming back. The names change all the time. The system works. Teams can't buy championships. You have to win the same way teams had to win in the 1970s -- by drafting well and developing players and coaching great and by playing a mentally-stronger game than the team on the other sidelines.
The sporting world is in a tizzy right now talking about the LeBron James decision. And I guarantee you that it will last a long, long time, all of this outrage, all of this furor, all of the fuss and muss ... at least for a day or two until the sports world turns it attention to something new, something different, and yet something that is pretty much the same fun we've enjoyed for the last 20 or so years.