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Hayden Goethe, Published July 11 2010

Goethe: LeBron's call makes NBA look like WWE

LeBron James is going to Miami. And in the course of one hour of made-for-TV drama, he went from famous to infamous in millions of households across the country.

James announced Thursday night on ESPN during a one-hour special dubbed “The Decision” that he was not going to stay with his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers.

James told the world – or, more accurately, the seven out of every 100 homes watching the special, according to Nielsen ratings – that he would play out his next contract with the Miami Heat. By teaming up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, he felt this was his best chance at winning a championship.

And with that one decision, new heroes and villains emerged in the minds of basketball fans. And in the hours that followed “The Decision,” his former owner lashed out against him as Cavs fans took to the streets burning James jerseys and chucking rocks at the 10-story mural of him in their city.

There were feelings of rage, betrayal, disbelief and, eventually, acceptance.

In the course of his one-hour special, James had turned heel. As the night wore on, “The Decision” felt more like “Thursday Night Smackdown.”

Nobody can fault James for not being able to do what no one else has ever done, and that’s win an NBA championship in Cleveland.

James became the villain not because of what he said but how he said it.

In the summer of 2007, it became obvious to the Minnesota Timberwolves that their plans to win a title with Kevin Garnett were ill-conceived.

For 12 seasons, they couldn’t surround their one-time MVP with enough talent to even reach the NBA Finals. They advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs just one time.

Garnett didn’t always make things easy on the Wolves. There’s little doubt he was frustrated by the franchise, just like James was with the Cavs. And just like James, he wanted to surround himself with his cronies. The Wolves paid a lot of money to undeserving role players like Troy Hudson, which hampered their chances of building a winner.

So in 2007, they made the unpopular move of trading Garnett to the Boston Celtics. Garnett reportedly resisted the idea of leaving Minnesota. But as time passed, he got on board with the notion. And within a year, Garnett and the Celtics were NBA champs.

Garnett was relatively speechless immediately after finally winning an NBA title, except for screaming, “Anything is possible,” while looking toward the rafters of the arena. But when he finally composed himself, the first thing he said into the mic of ABC’s Michelle Tafoya was, “This is for everybody in ’Sota.”

Throughout his trade to the Celtics and first season in Boston, it was easy to see there was an emotional connection between Garnett and the state he spent his previous dozen seasons playing in.

When James made his announcement Thursday to leave the team he played the first seven seasons of his NBA career for – the hometown team of the Akron, Ohio, native – I never felt that connection between player and city. The emotion wasn’t there.

I think that’s why the city of Cleveland is hurting. Its residents feel burned by James, and many have turned on him. Everything just seemed too orchestrated on Thursday, and either James felt no regret about leaving Cleveland, or there was no room for heart-felt emotion in the one-hour TV special.

Emotion is what draws an athlete to play sports, and that’s what draws a fan to cheer for a team as if he or she was a part of it. What happened Thursday wasn’t about sports. Sports is emotional.

What happened Thursday was simply choreographed entertainment fit for the ring.

Readers can reach Forum Assistant Sports Editor Hayden Goethe at (701) 241-5558