When I wrote a post saying I couldn’t see how LeBron James could order up the gaudy bread and circus rituals that go along with the one hour ESPN special he’s got scheduled and then lamely announce that he was staying in Cleveland, a Cavalier fan commented with just the opposite intuition. He felt as though LeBron wouldn’t possibly disrespect Cleveland so publically and so humiliatingly and with such fanfare. Therefore, the commenter reasoned, LeBron must be staying in Cleveland.
To quote Margie Gunderson from the movie Fargo, Im not sure I agree 100% with that commenter’s police work. After all, hasn’t LeBron kind of been doing all of those things to Cleveland and its fans already with this whole annoying, self absorbed, “Maybe I will, maybe I won’t” two year cocktease?
I could be wrong. I hope for the Cav fan’s sake I am. But if LeBron did in fact go to this level of hype only to announce its “Oh, I’m staying in Cleveland”, what kind of balls would that take? I mean, he must know that such a stunt would receive the same negative reaction, probably worse, that Sugar Ray Leonard got in late 1982 when he pulled the same kind of “the joke’s on you, America” stunt the night he purportedly retired from boxing “for good”. (Turns out he was only ten years off on that promise).
For those who aren’t familiar, Sugar Ray had been forced out of boxing early in 1982 because of the discovery of a detached retina. Then late that year rumors began spreading that medical science had advanced the reattachment procedure to such a degree that doctors had actually cleared him to return to the ring. The media believed Leonard would do so and would promptly challenge the reigning pound-for-pound champion Marvin Hagler to a mega-dollar Superfight (it would have undoubtedly been the richest sporting event of all time, had a fight gone down in 1983 when both Hagler and Leonard were at their primes).
So Leonard, whom you could call the LeBron James of his day, saw an opportunity to cash in on the speculation and shine the spotlight on himself. He scheduled and actually sold tickets to a black tie dinner at which he would enter a prop “boxing ring” and presumably announce his return to boxing and formal challenge to Hagler. The “event” was held at a sold-out Baltimore Civic Arena and dubbed “A Night with Sugar Ray Leonard”. (I’m not shitting you).
Leonard even went so far as to invite Hagler to the event. So the speculation leading up to the evening’s affair was that a return to the ring for Sugar Ray had to be a fait accompli. After all, he couldn’t possibly have the balls to order up all this shit, and invite Marvin Hagler to be there, only to announce it was all a giant “put on” and that he would remain retired… right? Right?!
He did! And he didn’t do it gently either. In one of the great egotistical, disrespectful moves, Leonard teased a Hagler fight right down to the last line (“A fight between me and this man would make more money than Fort Knox…”), only to lamely end his speech and exit stage right with the line
“… unfortunately, it’ll never happen! Thank you and God Bless you all!”
And out the door he went. And all of his built up goodwill and Olympic reputation went with him. Many never forgave him for the self indulgent stunt and his image took a permanent hit from which it never really fully recovered.
Would the image conscious LeBron risk doing the same? I just don’t see it… but Sugar Ray proved that when it comes to athletes with gigantic egos, anything’s possible.