In the NBA, more than anywhere else, the Golden Rule applies. He who has the gold, makes the rules. And nobody has more gold than LeBron James.
But here’s the problem: when you start slinging your bullion around the way James does, inevitably someone rebels.
So is Kyrie Irving acting like a baby? Well, yes. Sort of. But let’s remember that Irving learned from the best when it comes to leveraging his talent, which is to say that he has clearly been paying attention as James has held countless people hostage over the last several years. James blackmailed Cleveland. He blackmailed Miami. And now he is blackmailing Cleveland again. Maybe Irving truly wants to be own his guy, and maybe he doesn’t. The real story here is that he doesn’t want anything to do with James.
And after the way LeBron has traded in teammates (and teams) in his career, can you blame him?
LeBron uses people, folks. It was only a matter of time before someone used him as an excuse to get out.
Let’s back up for a second. Recently, I stumbled upon this story on who’s at fault for Cleveland’s current situation. When it came time to distribute blame to James, the participants on this panel gave him decidedly little, which should make you throw up. Are you kidding me with this? James has gotten all of the credit when things have gone right in his career — and deservedly so. But you can’t get all of the credit and so little of the blame.
That’s called a no-lose proposition, folks. And that simply does not exist. Unlike any other star athlete in NBA history, James has treated his career like a business first, which is fine. That’s his right. But he can’t be surprised — or blameless — when someone does the same thing to him, especially as James is entering the final year of his contract amid swirling rumors that he will again leave the Cavs after next season.
So if you’re Kyrie Irving, what are you supposed to do? Wait around and let LeBron leave you hanging? Get left behind in, of all places, Cleveland? No thanks. I’d rather be proactive and pick a place I want to play. Maybe I’ll win. Maybe I won’t. But at least I’ll get some say in the matter.
Enough talk about this idea that James gets to do whatever James wants because “that’s how the world works.” Fine. So it is. But people also get tired of spoiled petulance and ultimately rebel, which is exactly what Irving is doing now.
The real truth in this story? James needs to be careful going forward, and not because of his “legacy” in Cleveland, a city he may ultimately jilt not once, but twice. (And remember, this is effectively where he grew up.) James will be 33 at the end of this calendar year. Irving’s request for a trade suggests that LeBron’s act has grown increasingly thin. From this point forward, James is likely to get worse, not better, which means there are players (and teams) in the league (beyond Golden State) that will overtake him.
Let’s say you’re Paul George, and James wants you to join him on the Los Angeles Lakers next summer. Seems enticing, right? But James will be approaching his 34th birthday by then. And he won’t go to L.A. without opt-outs and no-trade provisions in his contract. And as much as those things are James’ right thanks to his talent, they should also give pause to people like George, who should be smart enough at this point to consider James’ recent history.
After all, when things got especially hard in Cleveland the first time, James left. Then he went to Miami and jilted Pat Riley, who still seems agitated about it. Now the winds are swirling that he will ultimately abandon Cleveland again at the end of next summer, leaving everything — and everyone — in his wake.
Kyrie Irving is smart enough to see this coming. Can you really blame him for trying to take his career and life into his own hands?
Tony Massarotti is an avid Boston sports fan and has covered sports in Boston for more than 15 years for both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe. He now serves as a co-host on afternoon drive on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. He was a two-time Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year as voted by his peers and has written four books, including “Big Papi,” the New York Times-bestselling memoirs of David Ortiz. You can follow Tony @tonymassarotti.