When LeBron James, replete in a red and white checkered shirt and a nervous smile across his face, sat across from Jim Gray to announce that he'd be jetting to Miami in 2010, I was six months removed from turning 21 years old. I watched what has since become known as "The Decision," the whole hour of it, at a friends house. His dad sat and watched it with us. My friend threw his phone across the room when LeBron made his intentions to leave Cleveland known. I tweeted something mushy like "what did we do to deserve this misery???" I drove home and raged with spiteful happiness when someone on the radio read Dan Gilbert's scornful letter aloud. It was all bad.
I'm older now, something that happens as time goes by, and am embarrassed of the way I felt towards LeBron from that night on. I tweeted stupid, emotional things. I celebrated his disappearing act in the 2011 NBA Finals like the Cavs had won it themselves. I couldn't grasp the nuance of a professional athlete not being beholden to a city or fanbase, much less needing to go to Florida to grow as a person and a basketball player.
In the meantime, I championed the Cavs' owner. I defended the writing of that absurd letter for years. I dismissed the predatory loan practices of his mortgage company, or the rehiring of Mike Brown only to fire him a season later, or the 26-game losing streak. I'm not proud of any of that.
As I got older, my anger cooled. I watched LeBron in a Heat uniform that final season he was in Miami more than I ever had, and enjoyed it. Since he's come back to Cleveland, I've grown to forever appreciate him, not just as the greatest basketball player I've ever seen, but as a social activist and a hilarious father to three kids. My anger over his departure never matched the act of leaving for another team in free agency itself.
That does not mean the concept of The Decision was good. There were an odd few hours on Twitter yesterday, in the midst of the brief chaos that was Gordon Hayward's "I'm going to Boston, wait just kidding I haven't decided, ok no I really am going" act, when multiple smart and respected sportswriters popped up with "actually The Decision was good" takes, seemingly out of nowhere.
It's a weird opinion to have, since The Decision was and remains bad. While Hayward's handling of his free agency on July 4th was sloppy and confusing, there wasn't anything upsetting about it. Who knows who originally told ESPN's Chris Haynes that Hayward had picked Boston, but it probably wasn't Hayward himself, and it wasn't in the midst of a live television broadcast.
I'd happily have taken a "LeBron has told Miami he'll be signing with the Heat" tweet from Stephen A. Smith followed by a piece on The Player's Tribune "written" by LeBron a few hours later over The Decision. Let us not forget that ESPN made us wait almost the entire hour before LeBron sat down with Gray, then trudged through an awkward and painful interview capped by LeBron being visibly shaken by a video of a fan burning his jersey. For a long time people criticized Clevelander's anger towards LeBron, comparing it to being unable to let go of an ex-girlfriend. If that's what it was, then The Decision was truly like your current significant other hosting a television special to announce to millions that she was leaving you for someone else without telling you in private first.
Not to mention that LeBron's entire team has since admitted to regretting the spectacle. Yes, money was donated to the Boys & Girls Club, but that has always felt more like a rationalization of the event than an actual benefit of it.
The Decision was weird, awkward and painful here in Cleveland in a way that LeBron's choice didn't need to be. And simply because others' free agency choices haven't gone smoothly (i.e. DeAndre Jordan getting locked inside a house), it doesn't all of the sudden make The Decision good.