The Decision: LeBron vs. Peyton By: Joshua Chamberlain Posted: March 22, 2012
I remember when LeBron James did this:
I actually watched “The Decision” on ESPN and listened to James utter his now-famous statement that he was going “Take [his] talents to South Beach.” A large, vocal percentage of basketball fans decried James’ decision to go to Miami as everything that was wrong with the NBA and professional sports in general; they were annoyed for reasons beyond simply wasting an hour of their lives (though I share that annoyance).
It is important to note that there were a few aspects of James’ decision that aroused anger in people. First, making the decision on an hour-long TV special made him look extremely arrogant. He assumed (correctly, as it turned out) that people would be willing to watch an hour of nonsense in order to hear him make his choice. Though it could be argued that most superstar athletes are at least a little conceited, many fans will never be able to overlook the sheer narcissism of “The Decision.”
Second, by choosing Miami he spurned his hometown team. James was a savior for Cleveland basketball not just because he was good, but because he was from the Cleveland area. Any true fan would tell you that he would rather lose a toe than play for anyone but his hometown team. This was obviously not the case for James. The Cleveland fans overestimated his loyalty to the area and were embarrassed and hurt by his decision to go elsewhere.
Many folks have gotten over these first two aspects. The enduring reason for the James distaste, however, at least the one I still hear discussed, is that James wanted to be around and play with, rather than against, his buddy and arguably biggest competitor, Dwyane Wade. That the team also added an all-star in Chris Bosh was, for many, just another example of James’ timidity. In many peoples’ eyes, James choosing Miami, a team that gave him the best chance to win a championship, was proof-positive that James was not the competitor they thought he was.
Contrast this with the fallout of this last week’s major offseason event, in which Peyton Manning ended his free agency and chose the Denver Broncos over a number of other suitors.
Manning, of course, did not burn bridges the way James did. By all accounts, he would have stayed with Indianapolis if he had been given the chance. He felt loyalty to the city and the organization and would have wanted to retire with the organization that drafted him.
Further, Manning did not announce his decision on a one-hour TV special. The press conference to announce his departure from the Colts was heartfelt, and Manning would have rather avoided the whole process in the first place. When he chose Denver as his landing spot, he personally called the other teams with whom he had spoken to let them know rather than making them wait to watch it all unfold on TV.
Take a look at the press conference where Manning was announced by Denver. The differences between this and “The Decision” are obvious:
I was under the impression that everyone felt similarly about things, but while listening to a number of radio and television pundits, I started to hear a different take. I was surprised to hear a number of them, and a growing, vocal percentage of the public, argue that Manning should have chosen San Francisco rather than Denver for the reason that San Francisco would have given him the best chance to win. Further, these pundits argued that choosing Denver showed Manning’s true colors as a competitor. In many people’s eyes, Manning choosing Denver, a team that did not give him the best chance to win a championship, was proof-positive that Manning was not the competitor they thought he was.
LeBron James: Goes to a sure-fire winner and is labeled a non-competitor
Peyton Manning: Goes to a possible, but not sure-fire, winner and is labeled a non-competitor.
Does this make any sense?
What the fickle nature of the fans’ response belies is that their response has nothing to do with the competitiveness of the individual athletes. Depending on the sport, youth athletes have somewhere between a .02% and .45% chance of becoming professionals. When two people do something that less than ½ of 1% of people can do, and are better than 99% of the infinitely small number lucky enough to actually do it, one cannot legitimately question their competitiveness.
By doing so, the pundits and callers simply call attention to how much they want to relate to professional athletes. People are bashing Manning’s decision not because they truly think he doesn’t want to win, but because they might actually want him to win more than he does. They relate to his loyalty and want to see it rewarded. It is personal for them, just like it was with James. These people cannot relate with anyone who would orchestrate something like “The Decision,” so they don’t want him to win.
Going to Denver is not a referendum on Manning’s competitiveness. The public reaction to his decision, however, is a clear reflection of the hopes of sports fans: since we, ourselves, can’t win, hopefully the guy just like us can.