What was the single craziest scene?
Probably Greenwich, before the decision. It seemed like a train wreck by appointment. You saw it coming flying there, then driving there, then waiting for it to start. Everybody had a sense that this is not good. All 200 people in the room had a healthier sense of foreboding than he and his people did. And with Kanye West there—just add Kanye West and you increase your surreal quotient by a factor of ten. So I'd have to say Greenwich was the strangest moment in a month of strange moments.
For excerpts from "Three Weeks in Crazyville," our September cover story on LeBron James, and behind-the-scenes video and photos, click here.
I heard your hotel in Cleveland kind of summed up the whole feeling of the city.
The hotel was near the arena, and there was this groaning coming through the walls. I've stayed in hotels where groaning could be heard through the walls, but this wasn't that. The night clerk told me it might be the elevators, but the elevators were clear on the other side of the building. And so in my mind it came to stand for the audible mood of Cleveland, which was gloomy. There was really a pall hanging over the city, and this constant groaning in my room kind of captured that for me.
Talk a little bit about LeBron's inner circle—not just family and publicists, but the old teammates and coaches you met in Cleveland.
Well, he was surrounded by a layer of family, then a layer of old friends, and then a layer of Nike people—so Cleveland was where I really got the sense that he is possibly, really insulated from the outside world. All famous people have entourages and inner circles, but this struck me as something larger, even more protective, and harder to break through. I got the sense also that it might've been what kept him from gauging the mood in the real world as people waited for his decision. He really did seem to be at the center of an enormous group of handlers, helpers, and managers—and I'm sure that makes him feel good on a day-to-day basis, but there's a downside to that, too.
You propose in the story that LeBron might have been happiest when he was playing with his best friends, his old high school teammates, and that the Miami move was an attempt to regain that playing-with-friends sort of thing. But is it good that all those people from back in the day are still hanging around?
I think that's hard to know from a distance, but I do think that he draws obvious comfort from being surrounded by people who love him—and I don't see anything wrong with that. But as with anything, all that comfort comes at a cost, and I think that his fear of being alone keeps him at times from walking through the fire that we all have to walk through. Maybe sitting alone in a room and thinking might have helped him realize that an hour-long special devoted to his decision was ill advised. My suspicion from watching him surrounded by people wherever he goes is that he's not spending a lot of time alone in a room thinking through things.
With this tumble down the likeability scale, how does LeBron respond?
There's that old journalism rule that sunshine is the great disinfectant—which is how reporters bust their way into meetings and such all the time. In sports, I really think winning is the great disinfectant. And so I think the danger is that he'll go to Miami, they will be a super team, they'll win, their fans in South Beach will love them, and he won't ever be forced to examine his choices. If he goes to Miami and it's a big disaster, then maybe he'll be forced to take a hard look at his life. But my suspicion is that he'll go there, they'll win, and there won't really be an incentive for him to look back at the last year and do any post-mortem.
Now that we've all had a chance to digest the decision, what's the biggest story going into the season?
I think it's LeBron being booed wherever he goes. This is not just a Cleveland problem. This is a guy who had a Tiger Woods-esque fall from grace, even though he didn't really commit any sins—cardinal or venal or otherwise. His sin was that he made a marketing gaffe. He presented himself in an unflattering light. That's not much of a sin on the scale of public sins. And yet he's become a villain. I don't think we've had anything like this in sports history. We haven't had a beloved sports icon become a villain for something so aesthetic. He's despised, absolutely despised, because of a TV special. He didn't cheat on his wife, he didn't drive drunk, he didn't take drugs, he didn't test positive for PEDs, and almost overnight he went from being a loved guy to being hated. That day-in-day-out condemnation is the story.