Being an ultra-rich, megastar athlete has its perks — namely, wealth and fame. Yet, is it almost a necessity that acquiring such prominence comes at the cost of becoming an insufferable egomaniac to large masses of people?
For Alex Rodriguez, at least, that has been the case. He was, at one time, almost universally liked — playing alongside Ken Griffey Jr. in the golden days of the Kingdome can have that effect. But once he left his original team to seek something greater than what he had, his list of detractors and haters grew exponentially.
As Tyler Kepner of The New York Times noted this weekend, LeBron James is moving in much the same direction.
The story points out the fact that both A-Rod and LeBron were painted as saviors to their respective sports as far back as their high
school days, and both played seven years with their original teams before moving on.
Now, the two are once again drawing parallels, as Dwyane Wade serves as LeBron's version of Derek Jeter. A-Rod won his title last fall, but it wasn't his team. It has been Jeter's team for a decade, and it will remain so until he hangs up his spikes for good. The same can be said for Wade in Miami.
It's an interesting story, and it's one that isn't likely to go away until (or if) James wins a championship with the Heat. The question that lingers is regarding whether it's good or bad for LeBron to become basketball's version of A-Rod.
Immediately after he announced his decision, LeBron was called a coward by many pundits who believed LeBron lacked the guts to lead his own team in Cleveland or play under the intense scrutiny of New York City. To them, Miami seemed like the easy way out.
On the other hand, it's not a ridiculous stretch to use LeBron's decision as a good example to kids who are playing the game. Obviously, we all could have done without the 73-minute celebration of LeBron, which was coordinated by LeBron, paid for by LeBron and starred LeBron in one of the most over-the-top moment of ego in history. However, the fact is that LeBron is sacrificing a huge piece of the spotlight in Miami. He'll sacrifice his numbers. He is sacrificing the title of "alpha dog" on his team.
And why? It's not for the money, as he sacrificed a ton of that, too. It's simply to win a championship. There's no way to argue that he's "taking his talents to South Beach" for anything but a better chance to hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy next June. And the June after that. And so on.
For the time being, LeBron is going through the experience of becoming an enemy for essentially the first time in his life. He'll be booed when he plays in Madison Square Garden, there will be demonstrations outside of Quicken Loans Arena when shows up to play against the Cavs and maybe — just maybe — a TV analyst might actually say something bad about the man.
There's a chance that might change him, perhaps turning him into the cartoon character that A-Rod was in New York until last year. Eventually, A-Rod seemed to find some clairvoyance in 2009, and it ended with his first World Series. He was a major contributor, but he wasn't the MVP, and really, that didn't seem to bother him.
If LeBron can adjust quickly to his new role as the bad guy, it could mean a handful of titles for him and the Heat. If he can't, his career could turn into something long and lonely, something that A-Rod knows all too well.