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Steve Aschburner

LeBron stares away blankly during a commercial break after he announced he will play in Miami this season.
Larry Busacca/NBAE via Getty Images

In made-for-TV event, LeBron shares an awkward goodbye

Posted Jul 9 2010 12:04PM

GREENWICH, Conn. -- If it's a book or an article and you want to find the deeper meaning within, the subtext behind the words, you read between the lines. If it's live television, with its cameras, red lights and "30 seconds -- quiet on the set!" commands, you focus on those moments of truth that peek out during commercial breaks. When the cameras blink.

That was when the relentless cynicism of what LeBron James had just announced, and how he was going about it, revealed itself in full.

Dozens of kids were seated just so on two sets of metal bleachers, positioned as backdrop for James' multi-million dollar announcement Thursday that he would spend his next five NBA seasons with the Miami Heat. The "studio" was, in fact, the gymnasium of the Boys & Girls Club in this upscale community 30 miles north of New York City. Back in Cleveland, where James spent his first seven seasons as the sort of hometown hero (he's from Akron) professional sports rarely see, he and his youngest fans would have filled such a room with warmth and love.

Here, the kids were props, LeBron fans for a night thanks to his odd selection of their club as his platform. Given strict instructions to hush during the important yakking between the suddenly former Cavaliers star and handpicked interviewer Jim Gray, the Greenwich kids looked to be having as much fun as Joan Crawford's offspring at Thanksgiving dinner.

They had to sit quietly when the cameras rolled. And when the cameras were off, they got to watch James sit quietly. Seriously. Awkwardly. Grimly.

Here he had just announced the decision that was going to define him and his dream for seasons to come, a dream that he had seeded and nurtured since the last time he, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh signed their synchronized contracts, and James looked glum. He took a swig of Vitaminwater, the product so strategically placed during James' and ESPN's co-production, "The Decision." He fidgeted with his ear piece. He stared around and through Gray.

The red light came back on and James dutifully answered Gray's and the studio hosts' questions about his process in choosing Miami and eliminating the others. He talked of what he might face back in the market he just bolted and worded it like this: "I have to go back there twice a year."

Huh? Have to go. He said this a mere minutes after exiting Cleveland, the site of such a slobbering love affair for seven years.

Then it was time for another commercial and James looked like he needed to get up, unhook his microphone and take a long, hot shower to rinse away the bad mojo. A nationally televised hubbub entirely of his own doing, yet he seemed to want to be anywhere but in that director's chair turned hot seat.

Maybe it was inevitable that Thursday's staged event would lack joy -- outside of south Florida, anyway, and the inner circles of James, Wade and Bosh that are linked now like Olympic rings. By keeping six teams -- the Heat, the Cavaliers, the Bulls, the Nets, the Knicks and the Clippers -- guessing right till the end, his prime-time reveal could delight only one and disappoint five. While distressing 29, really, each of which might envision the "Miami Threeat" blocking their paths to The Finals and future championships.

"This is history in the making," Wade told ESPN Thursday in a post-"Decision" interview. "To have three guys in their prime -- I mean LeBron 25, Chris 26 and I'm 28 -- [and] to make this sacrifice to come together for one common goal, and that common goal is to do nothing but win..."

A very different, Wade-led Heat team won 47 games last season before losing in the first round against Boston.

Said Bosh, during the same interview: "I think we can win for a very long time if we do the right things and approach everything the right way. ... I'm ready to get this going. I'm ready to work as hard as possible and take whatever role I have to to bring some wins to this team."

Wade and Bosh had it easy Thursday. They had announced their decision to join up in Miami on Wednesday, then waited a day and a half for James climb aboard. That sequencing worked against James, who looked like he was taking haven in a stacked deck of Miami talent while giving up on building and bringing a championship to northeast Ohio. Never again will James (more than his marquee teammates) be an underdog. Never again will he be known for loyalty first and individual pursuits second.

That all-for-one ubuntu concept from which the 2008 Boston Celtics got so much mileage? James used to have that not just with his fellow Cavaliers but with the fans in Cleveland. Now he leaves not witnesses but casualties.

So maybe there was a little guilt mixed into his statements Thursday, leading to so much awkwardness. Up to and including the dreaded third-person references.

"I wanted to do what was best for LeBron James and what LeBron James was going to do to make him happy," he said at one point. "I had seven great years in Cleveland. I hope the fans understand. Maybe they don't. But I'm going to ultimately be happy with my decision."

James had nothing negative to say about his Cleveland era, now officially sealed off with one trip to The Finals (a 2007 sweep by San Antonio) and, most recently, his Game 5 funk and Game 6 elimination by the Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals. He just didn't have enough reasons to extend it.

"The seven years we had were like no other," James said. "It ultimately came down to where I felt like I could win the most."

The Greenwich chapter of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, so James' media event was welcomed as one big birthday present. The local kids, their parents, civic types and club directors were present for "The Decision." But the guest list was short and security was tight.

Police on the scene weren't shy about banishing many non-ESPN TV, radio, print and Internet reporters and crews to spots across Horseneck Lane from the stately 70-year-old building. A village of production trucks had been in place since morning as the NBA's No. 1 waiting game narrowed down from months, weeks and days to hours and minutes.

Fans and gawkers were herded to the corner at Shore Road, as many as 300 of them making last-minute pitches for their teams -- hoping that James was whisked in from that direction -- via T-shirts, jerseys and banners. Knicks fans were most prevalent, but there were signs touting the Nets, one fellow in a Michael Jordan Bulls jersey and several wearing James' familiar No. 23 in Cavs' colors.

There also was a flash of green, a cluster of Celtics fans led by a woman holding this sign: "Hey LeBron / It Doesn't Matter / Pierce Will Eat Your Lunch Anywhere."

Not just anywhere. LeBron James filled in the blank Thursday night, even if he did so rather blankly.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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