LeBron sent a clear message by not shaking hands with Magic
There's not much debate to be had there. You're not likely to find anyone who would seriously argue that snubbing the Magic was a classy move on King James' part. The more interesting question is, Why did LeBron do it? How could a player who has really never been guilty of even the slightest public misstep in his behavior make such an obvious blunder? Or was it a blunder at all?
The simple answer would be that his sportsmanship circuitry just shorted out momentarily. This, after all, was the first time that James had lost a playoff series that his team was widely expected to win. He had never suffered an upset before and he was, well, upset. His explanation the next day hinted that he skipped out -- he didn't talk to reporters after the game, either -- because losing was just too much to bear. "I'm a competitor," he said. "That's what I do. It doesn't make sense to me to go over and shake somebody's hand."
That's almost believable, because James has grown up in an era in which the definition of a great competitor has been badly skewed. We heap so much praise on an athlete who "hates to lose" that some players don't even recognize when that hatred goes too far. It's been said that
But so many athletes are now cut from that cloth. They think the inability to deal with defeat gracefully is a sign of competitive fire, when it's often a sign of immaturity. A real competitor gives every ounce of effort to win, but is enough of a man to give respect to an opponent who does the same and prevails.
But the thing is, James has always seemed to get that. He's intelligent and remarkably mature, and beyond that, he's also extremely savvy about building and maintaining his own image. It's hard to believe he was just so overcome by disappointment that he forgot his manners. The guess here is that James knew exactly what he was doing when he turned his back on the Magic, and it had nothing to do with Orlando. By not uttering a word, he was speaking volumes to Cavs management.
It's not hard to connect the dots. James wasn't so devastated by the loss -- it had been clear at least since Game 4 that the Cavs were going to be hard-pressed to win the series, so he had time to get used to the idea -- he was sick of six games of having to do nearly everything himself to keep Cleveland from getting run off the floor. James was more angry than he was disappointed, and given his ability to become a free agent at the end of the year, that anger should have been quite frightening to GM
Now, James isn't ready to say all that publicly yet. That's where the public relations savvy comes in. He has another year in Cleveland, at least, and he doesn't want to spend it being portrayed as the demanding superstar threatening the franchise, with his eye on greener pastures. That's more of a
Ferry does have some salary flexibility to play with, so the possibility of tweaking the Cavs roster is there. But James also has some decisions of his own to make, beginning with coach
But Brown and James have a close relationship, and James will have to decide whether he thinks Brown is the coach who can lead the Cavs to a championship. You get the feeling that it will take a title next season for LeBron to stay in Cleveland, and if that's the case, James might decide that he needs a more experienced, proven coach to make that run.
It all adds up to a fascinating off-season for LeBron and the Cavs, one that began with that game-ending, message-sending walk off the court last Saturday night. It might have seemed like James had finally made a little mistake, but don't be fooled. He knew exactly where he was going.