- Scoop Jackson, ESPN.com columnist
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Now that it's all over, maybe we can return to some semblance of reality.
To help us get there, and before LeBron James becomes Public Enemy No. 2 in the next SportsNation poll -- which seems to be happening in the aftermath of "The Decision" -- let's clear up a few things. It should send us on our way back to our normal existence.
One: This has been done before in other sports. (And no one had a problem with it.)
Two: We've seen this happen before in the NBA. (And no one had a problem with it.)
Three: Michael Jordan might have done the exact same thing. (But we'll never know.)
When Alex Rodriguez was playing in Texas (or, for that matter, in Seattle), he was considered the best player in baseball. He was very much the LeBron James of his game. He had lived up to and surpassed expectations. Still, he eventually realized he couldn't do solo all the things he wanted to get done, so he went to a team that wasn't his. He went to a place where he wouldn't be "The Man," at least not at first. He "took his talents" to New York. He became a Yankee, on Derek Jeter's team.
So the question is this: What's the difference with LeBron? Where is the profound difference between what A-Rod did in 2004 and what LeBron did Thursday night?
Here's the answer: Other than LeBron's personal connection to the city he left, nothing.
Again, this has been done before.
In 1982, Moses Malone was considered by many to be the best player in basketball, certainly one of the best of his generation, and he was still in his prime. But just after he collected the second of his three MVP awards and only one year removed from playing in the NBA Finals with the Houston Rockets, he became a restricted free agent. With his team apparently regressing (the Rockets went from their Finals appearance in '81 to out in the first round the next season), Moses decided to leave Houston and go play for the Philadelphia 76ers, a team that already had one of the other best players in the game and of his generation. A guy named Julius Erving.
See where this is going?
Dwyane Wade is Dr. J, LeBron is Moses and Chris Bosh is Andrew Toney in this analogy. The Sixers went on to win the chip the season Moses joined them, going down in history as one of the greatest teams of all time. And no one said anything about damage to Malone's legacy.
Again, we've seen this happen before.
Too many times since Thursday night, I've heard people express some form of the following sentiment about LeBron: Real ballers don't join the best; they try to beat the best. More than that, I've heard people (including on "SportsCenter") use MJ as an analogy, suggesting that LeBron just did what MJ would have never done: leave the Bulls back in the day to play for the Pistons because, at least before 1990, he couldn't beat Detroit. They're calling LeBron's decision a "punk" move.
That notion needs to be squashed right here. Fact is, Jordan never had the opportunity to test the free-agent market the way LeBron did. Jordan signed his rookie contract, then, three years into it, the Bulls put an eight-year, $25 million deal on the table that he signed and rode out until well after he'd been stacking rings on his fingers.
Bottom line: Jordan was never in the same position LeBron was. Never. And if MJ's long career in Chicago is going to be used to make a point about LeBron's decision to leave Cleveland, that not-so-little factor can't be ignored.
We'll never really know.
So before anybody else goes all Dan Gilbert on LeBron, take all that into consideration. And we can carry on with our lives.
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.