The backlash from "The Decision" was so great even ESPN got caught in the crossfire. It’s understandable to be upset with LeBron James, especially if you’re a Cleveland Cavaliers fan, for the way the Ohio native managed to upend his former team with nary a warning shot. Jim Gray also deserved some flack for his stale, staged questions as a journalist who simply filled the role of "patsy." But the sheer distastefulness of the entire event brought heat to the Worldwide Leader as well.
So here we are on the eve of the 2011 NBA Finals and there’s only one team still standing from the Eastern Conference. Gone are the Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic. The Chicago Bulls were handily put away. Instead, it’s the NBA’s version of an AAU squad representing the East, and, in the end, it may validate the entire affair of a year ago.
Say what you will about the Miami Heat and their roster construction, but there’s no undoing what has been done. And what was done was to bring the greatest player in the NBA to South Beach to play alongside other All-Stars like Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Fans can complain about tampering all day or cry foul over the integrity of the game, but none of it is enough to add the historical asterisk that so many would likely want to add at this point.
With major league baseball, the great records that fell within the steroid era — the home run records of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa — will forever be subject under a cloud of suspicion. Those weren’t matters of taste or poor judgment. Instead, they were illegal substances being used to physically alter the person and the game. With LeBron, it’s simply a matter of being a poor sport or bad role model, depending on who you ask. Then again, talk to Miami Heat fans and you’re bound to get a "Hell, yeah!" when asked about "The Decision."
In the end, the greatness of the NBA rests on its storied franchises that won several championships. The Heat hope to add their own story alongside the already great NBA threads, and this first Finals appearance may turn into the validation that’s haunted LeBron all year.