NEAL CONAN, host:
This week, on the Opinion Page: The Decision.
(Soundbite of TV special, "The Decision")
Unidentified Man: With breathless anticipation, the basketball world has been waiting.
Mr. LeBRON JAMES (Professional Basketball Player): Just try to keep my options available. At the end of the day, we all know this is a business.
Unidentified Man: The courtship of a franchise-saving superstar has come to a close.
Mr. JAMES: I understand that me going down as one of the greats will not happen until I, you know, win a championship.
Unidentified Man: At stake, the NBA's balance of power. At last, the time has arrived. The most coveted free agent...
CONAN: It went on and on and on, ESPN's Thursday night hour-long special where LeBron James eventually broke the news that he was headed to Miami. In a related development, the gigantic mural of LeBron was torn down today in Cleveland, where some brokenhearted fans burned his jersey on Thursday night. The TV program drew both an enormous audience, the third best of the year for cable TV, and tremendous criticism.
But Deron Snyder, writing in the online publication The Root says, hold on, we should all stop picking on LeBron. He joins us here in a moment. And we want to hear from you. What do you think about the decision and the accompanying LeBronathon? Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation on our website at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Deron Snyder is a contributor to The Root and he joins us here in Studio 3A. Nice to have you with us today.
Mr. DERON SNYDER (Contributor, The Root): Thank you. It's nice to be here.
CONAN: And we were going to announce your presence with a one-hour special but...
Mr. SNYDER: I hadn't made up my mind whether I was coming or not.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: In that case, we'll have to wait then. Some people said a one-hour special - I think narcissistic was about the most printable term usable.
Mr. SNYDER: Narcissistic was a term that seemed to be the word of day. And I kind of defend LeBron a little bit, for one, because he came to the network with the idea of raising money for charity...
Mr. SNYDER: ...which, you know, it went to the Boys & Girls Club. And the University of Phoenix donated a lot of money and several scholarships to needy children, so you can't really bang on him from that.
CONAN: He went to the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich, Connecticut, as somebody said, perhaps the only Boys & Girls Club on the planet made up entirely of well, some of the richest kids in the world.
Mr. SNYDER: Right. The location of that particular Boys & Girls Club was a bit ironic, but the Boys & Girls Clubs that will benefit are in Cleveland, Akron and Miami. There might be one more.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. So they - he not only picked the beneficiary, he also picked the sponsors, for the most part, and he got to pick the guy who did the interview.
Mr. SNYDER: Yes, he did. The controversial Jim Gray who has done several celebrity interviews for numerous broadcast outlets was the interviewer. There have been some allegations that LeBron's camp paid Jim Gray. Jim Gray denies that allegation.
CONAN: As exactly true, though, he asked 11 questions before he got to the one we all cared about.
Mr. SNYDER: Yeah. The way it dragged out - you know, if people want to criticize the - him saying I want to do it in an hour show versus just making an announcement like other people, that's a fair criticism. But, you know, just as a counterargument, there's a lot of quote, unquote, "reality TV" on that I don't care about it at all but a lot of people go to watch. And obviously, a lot of people were interested in the decision.
CONAN: A lot of people obviously tuned in to see what it was, nevertheless, a lot of criticism for LeBron James. I think when Michael Jordan came back from his - playing baseball for a couple of years, he sent a fax - that's how long ago it was, but I think he sent a fax to the media in Chicago with two words.
Mr. SNYDER: Two words. I'm back.
CONAN: Yeah. Couldn't LeBron have benefitted from the idea of just being a little bit more terse?
Mr. SNYDER: Well, benefitted in the sense that he wouldn't have taken all this negative publicity, yes. I think with him going - leaving Cleveland, he was going to take some hits anyway because some people were in love with this story of hometown guy resurrects forsaken franchise. So he was going to take some negative hits, especially in Cleveland. But some people, they really felt like the show was over the top. You don't need an hour-long show to make an announcement of where you're going. And you don't, you don't need to. He could have done it just like Kevin Durant, player with Oklahoma City Thunder.
Mr. SNYDER: He issued a brief press release saying, I'm going to resign with Oklahoma. However, LeBron chose to do it his way. He's been chronicled unlike any other player since high school, so maybe this is the result of all of the media scrutiny he's been under.
CONAN: He also has been accused of being gutless for not telling the people in Cleveland ahead of time, including his former employers. That might have been a class act just to call them the day before and say, look, I know you're going to be disappointed, but I'm going in another direction.
Mr. SNYDER: Absolutely. He could have definitely picked up the phone and made a call. The way I heard was that Cleveland found out moments before he said the words on the broadcast.
Mr. SNYDER: On the flipside though, it is a business, and usually management in these situations, they're not that big on common courtesy either. When they're cutting players, when they're trading players, they don't always handle it the best way. So, you know, at the end of the day, he's still a laborer even though he makes nine figures. He's still a laborer. They're still management. He probably didn't handle it the best way, but it's a business so that's really irrelevant at the bottom line.
CONAN: And a lot of people say that in the course of that one-hour highly viewed broadcast, LeBron James went from among the most popular players in the NBA, maybe the most popular player in the NBA, to being the most hated player in the NBA.
Mr. SNYDER: Yeah, he just definitely generated a lot of hate. I don't know if he became the most hated - in some people's eyes definitely - in Cleveland fans' eyes, definitely. In a lot of probably old school, old media, more traditional fans, definitely. They don't like the fact that he had a show for one and that he forsook his franchise...
CONAN: His home town...
Mr. SNYDER: ...his home town team.
CONAN: And not only that, but the impression that a lot of people were left with - he denied it - but the impression a lot of people were left with was that this was agreed basically two years ago among these three players that they all wanted to go, played together in Miami...
Mr. SNYDER: Hmm.
CONAN: ...it didn't all come - the pieces all didn't fit until recently, but that the interviews with New York and New Jersey and with Chicago, all of this was just a show.
Mr. SNYDER: Well, you know, LeBron was still trying to recruit Chris Bosh to Cleveland right before the decision. So I think theoretically if Chris Bosh has said, okay, I'm going to go to Cleveland and play with LeBron instead of go to Miami and play with Dwayne Wade, then LeBron would still be in Cleveland. But once Bosh decided he was going to live in South Beach with the beautiful, temperate climate and the beach...
Mr. SNYDER: ...and all of the no state income tax. You know what, if you take basketball out of the equation and you say, Miami versus Cleveland, it's not much of a decision. So, then when you add the fact that he can go play with two of the best players in the league, you can understand why he did it.
CONAN: You're not from Cleveland, I take it?
Mr. SNYDER: No. I've been in beautiful downtown Cleveland on numerous occasions, but I'm not.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Let's get some callers in from Cleveland. We'll go to a couple of other places as well. Our guest is Deron Snyder. He rights for The Root. 800-989-8255. Email us: email@example.com. Noah's(ph) with us from Cleveland.
NOAH (Caller): Hey, how's it going?
CONAN: Not too bad.
NOAH: Good. Well, I obviously had a horrible Thursday evening. LeBron essentially broke up with the girlfriend who had tried - or the city that had tried everything to keep him. He was given so much control, and it just seemed ridiculous to us that he could forsake that and had to go on national television to do it.
It's one thing to break up with your significant other in the privacy of your own home, it's quite another to go on national television and tell them that they aren't good enough. And...
CONAN: And for the owner to get a text message, really, when he was right up at the altar.
NOAH: Yeah. It was - I mean, it was not only a text message, it was a text message from one of LeBron's friends - not even from his agent, not even from one of his businesspeople, one of his friends from home. So just that feeling of, like, you know, Cleveland is tortured, and part of me knew that was coming, but the idea that he had to go on national television, it just seems really, really callous and classless. A lot of anger was obviously flowing throughout Cleveland that night.
Again, I understand the move to Miami, but to go on national television, to be kind of - to say repeatedly that Cleveland was spoiled and that we were - I mean, when we were let down by his play in the playoffs this year, to say that we were spoiled by his magnificence was just an indication of what was to come. And the way that he went on television and - without a second thought, you know? It was just like, yeah, I'm leaving everything that I profess to care for.
When he was drafted, he said, he was going to win us a championship, and it just never seemed to come together in his mind that he meant everything to this city, and to have him leave in the way that he did is another black eye in a long beating that is being a Cleveland sports fan.
Mr. SNYDER: I would take exception to your saying that it was without a second thought. You could tell that he was obviously in pain. It wasn't - he wasn't comfortable from the moment he came out because he knew he was about to leave Cleveland. So, it - I mean, it did - it was a difficult decision for him, I think, just looking at his body language and his expressions. It wasn't like, oh, yeah, I'm just leaving Cleveland, no big deal.
CONAN: And I...
NOAH: You know what...
CONAN: ...assume he's going to keep his home in Akron where he grew up and -well, he may have to keep some security guards there, but in any case at least for a while.
NOAH: I feel - you know, I understand that there is some reluctance, but then when he was actually commenting on the reaction he was getting in Cleveland, he seemed in a lot of ways just dismissive and that was, you know, salt on the wound, so (unintelligible)...
CONAN: All right.
NOAH: ...thank you for having me.
CONAN: Noah, thanks very much for the call. Lets go next to Lee(ph), and Lees with us from Providence.
LEE (Caller): Hi, thanks for taking my call. So I'm from Providence, I'm from New England. Im from a place where we are used to losing with the Red Sox, or we were for a very long time. And I feel like there are a lot of Cleveland fans out there that are going to be mad at me for saying this. I started watching LeBron James because I was (unintelligible) for a long time. I was a big, big, big fan of the Cavaliers. And I watched game after game. And from my perspective and this team really got me into basketball, really.
But from my perspective, I feel like I watched him carry that team through games. It would take people multiple people would have to foul him to keep him from scoring basically all the time. He was like a force of nature. I dont necessarily agree with the way that he left Cleveland. I do think that that was kind of salt on the wound. But him wanting to leave to pursue what his idea of greatness is, Im not sure that I can necessarily fault him for that.
CONAN: And not for the money. He could have actually gotten more money staying with Cleveland, like...
Mr. SNYDER: Some 30 million more.
CONAN: All right. Lee, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it. I won't mention the word Celtics in your litany of losers from New England, but thanks very much for the phone call.
We're talking about the LeBronathon, which came to an end Thursday night in the decision. It's being talked about endlessly elsewhere. Our guest is Deron Snyder who writes with The Root. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
Mr. SNYDER: Most of the people have said that they don't like the way he left. And like I said, that's fine but I think there was going to definitely be a lot of pain anyway. And the fact that now he's joining up with two other super players, that's also caused some resentment.
CONAN: Let's go next to Leon(ph), Leon with us from Athens, Ohio.
LEON (Caller): Yes, thanks, Neal, for taking my call. I'm a Cleveland Cavalier fan. I don't begrudge LeBron moving on to a better team. However, my problem with it is the way that he did it. And he left the Cleveland franchise in a position where they could have got better players had he given them advanced notice as well it's done a little bit - I think was a little bit injustice done to a guy like Byron Scott, who LeBron asked to have that caliber of a coach brought in. There's no question that Byron was probably in consideration to be the next Laker head coach, and he wanted to coach a player - he stated that he wanted to coach a player the caliber of LeBron James.
Now, he doesn't have that opportunity, plus he probably blew his opportunity to coach at the Lakers in the future, as well the Cavs are without the opportunity to have gotten a Amar'e Stoudemire or gotten a better player. That is the only problem that I'm having with the way that he did it, not in the fact that he did it, but the way that he did it. I'll take my - your answer off the air.
CONAN: Okay, Leon, thanks very much.
Mr. SNYDER: Yeah. Like I said, that's the main complaint that most people have. You know, as far as Byron Scott, he knew when he signed on, there was no guarantee LeBron was going to be there, so I don't really feel much sympathy for him. And as far as the Cavs, they need to have a plan B. They also knew that there was a chance that LeBron wouldn't sign. So if you just got to wait -and it's not like he waited - he did it the day after people can make their announcements. So, you know, advance notice - I mean, Bosh and Wade, they did it the day of the new contracts being signed, and LeBron did it the next day.
CONAN: So it was the first day you could sign a contract...
Mr. SNYDER: Right.
CONAN: ...you could've announced it earlier, and he decided not to because of that camp that he was doing in Cleveland.
Mr. SNYDER: Right. You could've announced it earlier. But like I said, you got to have a plan B.
CONAN: And then he was going to be in Greenwich for his - the wedding.
Mr. SNYDER: It was the wedding, Carmelo Anthony's wedding...
CONAN: Carmelo Anthony's, but when he was at a party Friday night, somewhere in Miami?
Mr. SNYDER: Oh, they had a big party in Miami, yes. I do feel Cleveland's pain.
CONAN: All right. Let's see if we get one more caller in. Let's go to Joanna(ph), Joanna with us from Cleveland.
JOANNA (caller): Hi. Hello.
CONAN: Go ahead. You're on the air. Go ahead, Joanna.
JOANNA: Great. I just want to say that as a lifelong Cavs' fan, I waited Thursday night with palpitations to hear the decision, and I was disappointed. But you know what, we - most of us here in Cleveland know we were lucky to have him for seven years, and we're glad we had that time. We're not burned as (technical difficulty), we're not crying our eyes out, life goes on. And I think we expect an awful lot of maturity and poise from a 25-year-old young man, you know? I think Cleveland is going to get over it just fine and life goes on.
Mr. SNYDER: When you talk about maturity and poise, how about that Cleveland Cavs' owner, huh?
JOANNA: Oh, what a knucklehead, huh?
CONAN: If anybody came out looking worse than LeBron James, it was the owner of the Cavaliers, who accused him...
CONAN: ...of quitting on the team and then...
CONAN: ...put in capital letters that, I guarantee it that we will win a championship...
Mr. SNYDER: That's an embarrassment to the franchise.
JOANNA: Yes, I agree so much.
CONAN: All right.
JOANNA: So I just don't want everybody thinking that Cleveland is full of people who are gnashing their teeth. And you know what, those of us who like LeBron, we still like LeBron and we wish him well. Thanks.
CONAN: Joanna, thank you very much for the call. I think a rare voice from Cleveland today. Here's a tweet - we'll end with this - from the Philosopher Imp(ph): Don't hate the player, hate the game. If people were truly informed about the system athletes work in, I expect that they'd change their tune.
So, that from the Philosopher Imp.
Deron, thanks very much for your time today.
Mr. SNYDER: Thank you very much for having me.
CONAN: Deron Snyder is a contributor to The Root. You can find a link to his piece "Stop Picking on LeBron" on our website, at npr.org. And he joined us here in Studio 3A.
Tomorrow, John Adams famously said that facts are stubborn things. We'll talk about what we know versus what we think we know or believe we know or are convinced we know.
This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.