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The Expiration Date of the LeBron Beef

In all likelihood, LeBron James will have his arms around the O’Brien Trophy before the weekend. It’s a moment that few of us are emotionally prepared for, even after last year’s close call. Call it the Bargaining stage of things, but I don’t think we have too much left to be mad at him about. Here’s a breakdown of the beef status:

BEEF: LeBron disappearing in the 2010 Boston series.

STATUS: Still Fresh

You can’t choose any line of reasoning that doesn’t result in LeBron shirking the pressure of the big stage. It wasn’t an effort in any sense of the word. However, there is a rock-and-a-hard-place that no one wants to talk about. Suppose that LeBron plays his ass off again and Cleveland goes on to get embarrassed in the Finals. This is the Cleveland team that had an NBA-worst 26-game losing streak and finished 19-63. Who else did they lose? Zydrunas Ilgauskas and others that were body grazes to the franchise at best. If LeBron stayed, maybe they rebuild and win a championship in three or four years. Maybe they don’t. But if he left anyway, after a hypothetical second Finals run, we wouldn’t see them for the team they really were. We’d think “Oh, so close, again. He can’t leave now. Two trips to the Finals in a row? They’re right there!” Now LeBron would have to live with a more indelible “COWARD” stamp than ever before. Sure, he hypothetically carried that awful team there again, but who cares? They were close. There’s no “Vaya con Dios” for leaving a two-time Finals contender. LeBron shied from the spotlight and it was cowardly, but it shattered an illusion we had built for ourselves: that Mo Williams, Big Z, and Varejao were enough to make a dynasty behind the wake of #23.

BEEF: LeBron created the “Pick where you play” atmosphere

STATUS: So Rotten

This is a question of whether we’re hung up on the ends or the means. Should it matter how Russell/Petit, Russell/Jones/Cousy/Havlicek, Baylor/West/Chamberlain, Magic/Kareem/Worthy, Bird/McHale/Parish, Jordan/Pippen/Rodman, Duncan/Ginobli/Parker, Kobe/Shaq got together? All-Stars and Hall of Famers were teaming up even if it was just by opportune means. You honestly think Chris Paul would still be a Hornet if LeBron stayed in Cleveland? “Yes, let me squander my hopes on a lottery team out of a misguided sense of nobility. I’m sure when they look back on my history, they’ll remember how loyal I was to this club and put me on the same mantle as Jordan and Kobe.” I hate this question so much. When Kobe was winning blue ribbons at the State Fair for being the biggest ball hog, no one was applauding his moral aplomb for sticking with mediocrity. 81 point game? This team sucks.

And when Shaq wanted out? Oh well, they can’t get along. It’s not a cowardly thing. And you can add all kinds of fun things to his name, like –tus and –tastic. One of the greatest players of all-time teams up with D-Wade for a championship in Miami? Good choice, Shaq. Congrats. An overweight Shaq wants to saddle up next to The PhenomeBron (trademark) to “help him win a championship”? You’re so noble. Said greatest player in the league teams up with D-Wade for a championship in Miami? Fucking traitor. This beef has been rotten since before the ABA merger. Someone throw it out.

BEEF: The Decision

STATUS: Moldy

He didn’t call it The Good Decision. Lots of people were in his ear, including possibly more desirous coaches than any free agent in NBA history, and he misplayed the hype. It didn’t help that he referred to himself in the third-person or that he wore that picnic tablecloth. The vestige of the Boys and Girls Club charity only looked retrospectively phony because of how the whole thing was handled. There have been many fundraising-sports moment hybrids that were noble. Overall, we felt sad for Cleveland; then they handled it like children and it wasn’t as sad.

True, LeBron owed them the courtesy of a phone call before The Decision happened. But, given what we know about Dan Gilbert now, would that have even worked? Would every fax machine in the Akron area have received a Comic Sans memo before The Decision happened? He’s completely volatile. And, if news gets out that he wants to leave, there goes a big chunk of LeBron’s contract value. “He’s definitely leaving? Thanks, Dan. No one could match what Cleveland could offer him. Boy is this a load off our shoulders.” Don’t think Dan wouldn’t be spiteful enough to try this. Or do I need to link his Funky Font Guarantee?

BEEF: “Not one, not two, not three…”

STATUS: Tastes Weird. Go Ahead and Pitch It

This was an absurd guarantee to go all the way to seven and beyond, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that it’s just another hype moment. So if Namath loses after his guarantee, is he an asshole… or does he just have faith in his team? If Pat Riley promises Showtime wins another championship and Bird gets the best of them, is he too arrogant? Every guarantee is arrogant.  If anything, LeBron did us a big favor by going all the way to seven. It left the door open for interpretation as to whether he really thought the Heat could win seven championships in this stacked league or if he was just excited to not be playing 1-on-5. I’m banking pretty heavily on the latter. LeBron knows there is too much talent in this league for seven-plus championships.

BEEF: LeBron didn’t want to take the big shot when it counted

STATUS: What is this?! I’m going to vomit.

Look, I don’t know what to tell the people who still hate him. If the 40-15 game and myriad playoff triple-doubles didn’t do it for you, there’s this: have you ever been in a menage a trois? Because that was the situation in Miami. Pretend everyone in the menage is equally smoking hot. Well, OK, Bosh is like an 8.5 and Wade used to be a 10 but is now looking like a 9.7. Still, you’re LeBron. You’re supposed to be the hot glue to this sexy group, but no one’s done this before. Even worse, this isn’t some Craigslist assembly of randos. These are your longtime friends. You can’t just march in and say, “I’m holding the whip. Deal with it”. Playing hot potato for the final shot for a while was inevitable. The success of this whole weird experiment depended upon balancing the emotions of the group until the two were submissive of their own accord. I wasn’t the least bit surprised when LeBron gave up the final shot to Mario Chalmers in the Boston series. He was screaming for it, like he desperately wanted in on this menage, which was already full. Chalmers, you’re never going to be in that love room. This isn’t an orgy. Either way, kudos to LeBron for not being the insufferable Black Mamba in that situation. So it cost you a championship versus Dallas. Plenty more basketball to be played.

(I have not been in a menage. Sorry if that this got weird.)

BEEF: The Headband

STATUS: Less than an ounce of Beef

‘Bron is already trying to bring back non-prescription glasses and the nerdiest post-game attire imaginable (besides Westbrook’s). Might as well try to bring back baldness and do a great service to George Costanza.

BEEF: LeBron chose the number 6 to avoid a basketball legend.

STATUS: Yeah, that’s still pretty goddamn stupid.

BEEF: LeBron should have gone to New York or Brooklyn, not Miami, because of the basketball history.

STATUS: Good God.

Could we find a more discrete way of empowering the New York Entitlement Myth? What, because Willis Reed hobbled onto the floor of the Garden all those years ago, it’s James’ manifest destiny to play there? No, no, you’re right. New York deserved this. Maybe it spits in the face of the whole ‘can’t buy legendary basketball’ status, but this is the Big Apple damnit. We’d better make sure they’re satiated 24/7 or they might just stop being so open-minded about other cities. “LeBron could have been the god in New York City.” Correction: LeBron could have been god in New York City. You know, sandwiched somewhere  between Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, DiMaggio, Gretzky, Reggie Jackson, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Derek Jeter, (a begrudgingly muttered) A-Rod, Mariano Rivera, Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Eli Manning, Tiki Barber, Broadway Joe, Curtis Martin, Wade Boggs, Keith Hernandez, and Mark Messier. What an absolute travesty for the culture capital. Please accept our humble offering of Melo and Stoudemire in exchange for not breaking off from America to become your own super hip little country. (Sincerely, a Nuggets fan.)

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About the Author

Chris O'Toole (Colorado State '12) is pursuing a Screenwriting MFA at Chapman University. He has worked for Livestrong, CBS, Examiner and other publications. Love, hate, and job offers can be sent to: chris@o2lsports.com