Stay, LeBron: An Open Letter to King James
When I first read the news that you'd be opting out of your Miami Heat contract, I have to admit, I was more than a little upset. I imagine many Miamians had the same reaction, from the guy down the block with a picture of your face and the words "STANK DON'T IT?" painted on the hood of his Chevy Caprice, to the countless parents of children with names like LeBron Rodriguez or Louis LeBron Jameson.
But I've given it some thought, and you know what? I think I get it. To my understanding, the best case scenario is that you, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh all opt out, accept lower salaries, free up some contract money to bring in new talent, and win 18 more championships.
But I'm not writing this letter for the best case scenario. I'm writing because of the other case scenarios.
You joined this team in order to win championships, and to achieve that end, you were willing to be thoroughly underpaid. No, $20 million a year is not a miserly wage by most people's standards. But you are not most people. You're a unique, extraordinary specimen of human athleticism, an outlier that exists many, many standard deviations above the mean, an anomaly that has been a splendid spectacle to watch, all the more so since you've been wearing my city's colors.
But maybe this last series shook your confidence in the team you've spent these last four seasons with, and maybe that's an uncomfortably familiar feeling. As a fan watching your rematch with the San Antonio Spurs this year, it was both inspiring and difficult to witness the moments when you, once again, had to try and put the team on your back. They were inspiring because of how amazing it's been over the last four years to watch you grow into the tenacious, brilliant leader you are for this team - a role you've adopted and adapted to as if you were born for it. But they were also hard to watch, because your team -- our team -- was faltering under the figuratively (and sometimes literally) sweltering assault of the Spurs, a point that the national sporting press emphasized to no end.
I don't know how much that media emphasis has weighed on your mind. You've certainly had plenty of practice tuning out the voices of idiots like Skip Bayless (known alias: SKELETOR) and Bill Simmons. But even a superhuman with as much experience ignoring the haters as you've had must feel weary under the strain and noise of a million critics after a hard loss like you faced in these finals.
But listen: losses are not perpetual. They are the punctuation marks between the sentences of your successes, the rest notes between one verse of victory and another. Even though that silence in the stead of song can be unnerving and unpleasant, don't think for a second that it has any kind of permanence, because the Heat will sound and sound loudly again.
I don't know whether D-Wade and Chris Bosh are going to opt out or not. I don't know if Jesus Shuttlesworth is going to keep wearing a jersey next season or whether he'll be chewing bubble gum and howling from the sidelines as a coach. I don't know what your wife or your kids or your mom think you should do, and I don't know which team is going to offer you what. I don't know whether you decided to opt out in order to make some room in the team's salary cap to make the Heat all the more formidable, a difficult choice you, Wade, and Bosh will likely be talking about and making together very soon.
But there are three things I do know with absolute certainty. One is that Pat Riley is a goddamn genius, and if anyone can make this team even stronger than it has been, it's that man. Another thing I know is that you've been with this team four years, worked your way to four consecutive NBA finals, and won two championships. I'm no expert, but that seems like a pretty good record to me.
The last thing I'm sure of is that this city loves you something fierce. I'm not talking about the assholes in the 100 section who show up in the second quarter and leave by the middle of the fourth just to beat the traffic. I'm talking about those of us who sneak down from the peanut gallery into their seats once they're gone, and about those of us who can't afford playoff tickets, but can't afford to go without a poster of our team hanging above our bed either. I'm talking about those of us who call Wade or LeBroward County home, no matter where we might go; those of us who preordered NBA 2k14 just to make sure we'd get to hold that beautiful cover in our hands; those of us who feel your wins and your losses, and who live to watch every second of each one.
A lot of people will say, "Yeah, but everyone in Cleveland loved him too, look where that got them." Fair enough. I would never presume to talk shit about your hometown while trying to convince you to keep playing for mine, but I will say that I've been around the world and watched matches of all sorts of sports, from Morocco to Madison Square Garden. And based on what I've seen, you've found your place here in Miami. Just as right as Messi looks in a Barcelona jersey, so right are you when you step on the court wearing the red, white, and black of the Miami Heat.
Of course, nobody is going to be making this decision but you. This letter will only be one of innumerable other pleas and pressures directed at you now. But know this: You're a hero that Miami has come to count as one of our own, with Heat fans worldwide shouting your praises, hoping to honor your name and number by wearing both on their backs wherever they travel. Tu no eres un piojo pegado, as my grandparents might say, tu eres parte de la familia. Whether you stay or go, that fact doesn't change. You can rest assured that we won't ever be burning your jerseys or cursing your name in the streets.
We're not done hanging banners of the O'Brien Trophy in the American Airlines Arena just yet. And hopefully you're just doing what needs to be done in order to make this team all the stronger. But just in case you're considering other options, allow me to speak for everyone who's ever banged on a pot with a wooden spoon along Calle Ocho or hung out the window of a car driving four miles an hour down Biscayne Boulevard at midnight screaming in ecstasy and excitement after some of your most stunning performances: we'd love to keep hanging those banners with you. So please stay, King James, and keep building the dynasty here for which you've already laid the glorious foundations. There's plenty more history for you to make in Miami, and I, for one, would love to watch you make it.
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