It was a song Lois Blaisch first performed in Thousand Oaks, Calif., thousands of miles away from New York and light years from anything involving what we’re about to discuss. But her words matter right now.
It was the late 80s then, and this song, sung by Tiffany, was a weepy ballad of forlornness; the absence of a love lost. Of a love that never was. But a love that could’ve been …
And all these years later, when LeBron James completes his destiny tonight with the Miami Heat to win the NBA championship, I encourage you to turn down the sound on your television, watch him celebrate and play this song.
Could’ve been so beautiful
Could’ve been so right
You can’t hold what could’ve been
On a cold and lonely night….
After this, it will be time to let him go.
LeBron James could’ve had a red carpet rolled out for him from Cleveland to New York in 2010. He could’ve been carried here on a palanquin mounted on the shoulders of Derek Jeter, Mark Messier, Joe Namath and Walt Frazier. He could’ve made billions — yes, that’s with a b and an s — in branding and countless business ventures. He could’ve had the key to the city and the key to our hearts.
He could’ve been the new sports icon of the biggest sports city in the universe.
And it could’ve been so beautiful. It could’ve been so right.
But that’s not what he wanted. And the only criticism that decision — not The Decision, but his actual decision — deserves is that he didn’t want to be with great people like us. It’s our civic right to feel that way.
But as LeBron stands in the shower of confetti at American Airlines Arena, with that leather-skinned Pat Riley grinning with the satisfaction he failed to deliver here, you should not besmirch the player, the game or the result.
Instead, consider why he did it.
We dismissed it as weak when he chose to join forces with fellow star Dwyane Wade in his pursuit of a championship. We called him out for not having the stuff to lift a city like New York on his broad shoulders the way Messier did and sing like Michael Jackson: If this town is just an apple, then let me take a bite.
LeBron didn’t want a bite of the Apple. He didn’t want the challenge that literally brought Patrick Ewing to his knees, brought Stephon Marbury to near insanity and now has his good friend Carmelo Anthony staying behind tinted glass as often as possible rather than strolling the streets of, as Melo once put it, “the city that made me.”
He didn’t want the promise of a billion-dollar bank account, which was something Donald Trump told him would be easiest to accomplish in New York, but confidant Warren Buffet countered it was equally possible anywhere else. Nevertheless, it was a younger LeBron who talked about wanting to be a billionaire soooo freakin’ ba-a-ad. But as he matured, he learned basketball legacy can’t be measured in finances.
What LeBron wanted was to win and this, and only this, is where Riley and the Heat had the advantage. They had Wade, who had already been to the mountaintop. They had Riley, who had been there several times, as well. They added Chris Bosh, yet another all-star. And Miami had the glitz and glamour of New York without the media intensity and state income tax.
It was, as difficult as it is to admit, a relatively easy decision.
But what could’ve been, that is the most difficult to let go. Had there been no chance, had there been no salary cap space, there is no jilted emotion. Kobe Bryant was a free agent in 2005 and all the capped-out Knicks had to offer was a Mid-Level Exception. There was no reasonable pitch to be made.
For LeBron, there were no limitations. Scott O’Neill took the floor on the morning of July 1 and drove it home like Don Draper. The Knicks identified every target on LeBron’s wish list without a single hitch. Forget what was said about Donnie Walsh’s presence in a wheelchair; that wasn’t within range of LeBron’s final decision.
It was the scheme Wade and Riley hatched that clinched it days before July 1, 2010 arrived. Tampering? Child, please. Wade had no restrictions to start firing torpedoes at all competition before the first formal meeting took place.
Actually, the genesis of LeBron James in Miami was June 15, 1995, when a fax transmission arrived at 2 Penn Plaza. Pat Riley had resigned as head coach to take on a powerful role running Micky Arison’s franchise in Miami.
Riley went for the money and power — he was given an ownership stake and full control of basketball operations — despite having a Knicks team that was championship-caliber and had gone the distance in 1994. In fact, if not for Riley’s own faults (such as: failing to utilize veteran sharpshooter Rolando Blackman as John Starks was shooting blanks in Game 7), the Knicks might have won that title.
But LeBron didn’t go for the money or the power, which is what a move to New York would have been considered. LeBron went for the chance to win a championship (not one, not two, not three…).
The method, the self-aggrandizing ESPN special, the WWE-inspired stage show, the “He Hate Me” pity, was certainly worthy of criticism. But as he disposed of the superficial clutter from the 2010-11 season, LeBron seemed to finally discover exactly what was the motivation for making this move in the first place: to win. He returned to MVP form and what we’ve seen in these NBA Finals is exactly the reason whyWalsh and the Knicks gutted the franchise just to be in the game for his services. This is a once-in-a-generation player and he’s delivering a once-in-a-generation performance in these playoffs.
And in hindsight, absent of the collective disillusionment for this Heat team and Wade’s ever-growing vilification, we have to acknowledge that two years ago LeBron, at the peak of his career, put the game ahead of his bank account. Even in New York, that is something to appreciate.
But that doesn’t mean it’s something we’re supposed to accept. With Amar’e Stoudemire, with a few other pieces and Mike D’Antoni’s offense, maybe it could’ve happened here in New York for LeBron.
Maybe it could’ve been beautiful, could’ve been right.
But it wasn’t. So it’s time to let it go.