Joe Tait didn’t mince words when asked about LeBron James leaving Cleveland to play for the Miami Heat.
“I think he demonstrated a lot about him personally that we either ignored or just didn’t know,” the longtime Cavaliers radio play-by-play man said Tuesday. “I thought he was going to stay. I would be lying to you if I said otherwise.”
Tait, who will receive the Curt Gowdy Media Award on Thursday evening when he’s inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, said part of James’ struggles in Cleveland’s Eastern Conference semifinal loss to Boston stemmed from the fact he already knew he was headed elsewhere.
“He knew what was going to happen,” Tait said. “He knew he was leaving. He knew for two years.”
The 73-year-old stopped short of saying the two-time league MVP quit, but added James was not himself in the series.
“The way Boston was playing, he may have awakened to the fact we weren’t going to beat them,” he said. “He lost the eye of the tiger, so to speak.”
Tait, who will retire after the 2010-11 season, also said James, an Akron native, may regret leaving Cleveland.
“He has removed himself from the best possible comfort zone any athlete could have,” he said. “It took Michael Jordan years to ever come close to that in Chicago. LeBron had it going in.
“Sometimes it’s like the parents giving the kid everything he wants whenever he wants it, and he ends up stealing the car.”
Given the benefit of hindsight, Tait said James may never have been the leader he claimed to be.
“We may have seen the limit of what LeBron could do in leading a team to a title,” he said. “He just wasn’t individually quite good enough to haul everybody up to that level.
“He may be more of a follower than a leader. Real leaders don’t talk about it, they do it.”
With James joining fellow superstars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, Tait said the league will be in danger of developing a few super powers if something isn’t done when the collective bargaining agreement expires after this season.
“They’ve got some serious work to do to repair the damage that has been done,” Tait said of NBA executives. “The inmates have been running the asylum for a number of years now. Now, they’re thinking about burning down the building.
“You wait,” he added. “Next year, you’re going to see two more guys go to New York and two go to L.A. You’re going to have a three-team league.”
As for life without James in a Cavs uniform, Tait only has to deal with it on a professional level for his one remaining season.
“They’re going to have to go through some rebuilding,” he said. “But I’m not going to be here. I’m not worried about it.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 21-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.