LordhaveMERcy! there has been a lot of action in the world of sports recently, so much that I have welcomed this All-Star break; I needed the breather. Usually this time of year is one of two death-valleys in sporting news, the other being around the NBA All-Star break in mid-to-late February. But in this mid-summer of 2010 the sports wire is just crackling with electricity; stories abound: the World Cup, Baseball, LeBron’s decision and the rest of the NBA free-agency, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, and some high profile passings, all with NFL training-camp looming on the horizon. So now that the dust has settled somewhat after all these earthquakes, and their subsequent aftershocks, I’d like to provide my commentary on them, starting with the biggest story of all:
LeBron’s decision to leave Cleveland, and “take [his] talents to South Beach”
Everyone knew that wherever LeBron decided to play this Fall, it would send shock-waves throughout the NBA, and the sporting world in general, but no one could have predicted that LeBron’s bomb would be of the nuclear variety, with all the accompanying fallout.
I’ve been a big LeBron fan from the get-go; I’ve marveled at the way this kid has delivered on the astronomical hype that has followed him since his skull completely hardened, all while managing to maintain a relatively good head on his humongous shoulders. I’m pretty jaded and cynical about athletes and celebrities, so it is a rare thing when I can genuinely respect one’s character as well as their talent: LeBron is in this rarefied air as far as I’m concerned. But with that being said, LeBron takes a real big hit in my book over how he’s handled this whole situation.
Now I don’t feel that LeBron James owes Cleveland anything really, but the city and it’s fans certainly did not deserve the kick in the teeth they got during the circle-jerk that was the ill-conceived, hour-long ESPN “special” (more on those ESPN jerk-offs later.) The whole program was weird, unnecessary, and blatantly self-serving for all involved. And what’s up with holding it at a Boys & Girls Club in Greenwich, CT? arguably the wealthiest fucking town in the WORLD! Matt Taibbi has a great take, as usual, on the whole ESPN debacle here on his new RollingStone.com blog.
While LeBron is taking the most criticism for the poor handling of his announcement, he’s also taking a lot of heat for choosing the Heat. As much as I want to buck the consensus of the sports opinion echo-chamber, I will have to agree that Lebron’s choice to join Dwayne Wade, and now Chris Bosh, in Miami can be described as weak, at best. For all the talk about legacy, and the next Jordan, and “King” James, and being “Chosen,” or “I Am A Witness,” the fact is apparently lost on LeBron that in choosing the Miami Heat, attaining the legendary status he at one time seemed destined for will be a lot less likely, regardless of how many championships he wins with the Heat. The reason I say this is that leading the Cavs or Knicks (full disclosure: I’m Knick fan, albeit a dormant one) to an NBA title is equal to 5 with the Heat. People will now expect Miami to go on a dynastic run now that they have three of the premiere players in the league, including arguably two of the top 3. Where’s the fun in that? Sure, in order to win it all, an NBA team usually needs two all-star caliber players, but this should happen way more organically than the contrived way the Miami deal went down. And Miami is Wade’s town anyway; he was here first, drafted the same year the Cavs took LeBron first overall, and is the only one from that class to lead his team and city to a championship. So Miami will always be Wade’s town. Ideally LeBron would stay with the city he was drafted by, Cleveland, a title starved, passionate town, who also happen to have the bonus serendipity factor of being 30 miles from LeBron’s home town and people of Akron, Ohio. We all love a good narrative, and LeBron bringing home the Larry O’Brien trophy to Cleveland would certainly qualify as story-book.
With all that being said, I can totally understand why LeBron would be ready to move on after 7 years in Cleveland, and, again, I don’t begrudge him for doing so. Can you blame a 25-year old with hundreds of millions of dollars for not wanting to settle down in the Rust Belt? But if he had leave Cleveland, there were a number of better options from a legacy and narrative perspective. There could have been another great narrative had LeBron chose to play for the New York Knicks and resuscitated that historic but atrophied franchise. Think about it: the day LeBron signs with the New York Knicks, he instantly becomes bigger than Jeter, A-Rod, Eli, and Sanchez…combined. I could even live with LeBron in Chicago, where at least he’d still be the Alpha Dog on roster talented enough to make a deep playoff run. And perhaps the most delicious scenario of all, from a narrative perspective, would be if LeBron went to the Los Angeles Clippers. It would be fabulous if LeBron James left Cleveland to fight Kobe in his own back yard for the hearts of L.A. and the title of World’s Best Baller. Ahhh, dare to dream.
But Miami? Ugh. Another reason this move is weak-ass is that Miami is kind of a shitty sports town, and no one will convince me otherwise. In my opinion the amount of true sports energy and fandom in and about a city is inversely proportional to the attractiveness of it’s average citizen. In other words: there is simply too much hot scattered ass in Miami for people to take more than a fleeting interest in it’s sports franchises. Of course Miami is gonna sell-out every home game and will be the hottest ticket in town for awhile, and will appear to be like the East Coast version of L.A.’s “Showtime”, but they will never have the local and national fan base of the legendary Lakers; hell, the Miami Heat have only been in existence for 22 years.
Again, I can’t completely blame LeBron for wanting to do his thing in a hot party town, with perfect weather, and in a state with no state income tax. I’d probably make the same decision. And while we’re on the subject of taxes, this issue should always be factored in when discussing the migration of professional athletes. Florida and Texas, and all their myriad pro-sports franchises, have become a very attractive destination for free agents on the verge of signing huge contracts. In the case of LeBron, he would pay around $12million in state taxes in New York, and about $6million in Ohio, but zero in Florida. And that’s just counting his NBA salary income.
But again, and in summation, from strictly a psorts-narrative angle, Lebron’s move to Miami is pretty lame because he chose not to step up to the plate, be The Man or The Alpha, and take on the heavy lifting that is leading a passionate, hungry fan-base to a championship. Because of all of this he is now just a great basketball player to me, and not the transcendent “Chosen One” I hoped he could be.
…for my take on the aforementioned other sports stories. This post just became too long for me to delve into that other stuff. But here’s a preview:
- Cavs Owner Dan Gilbert: While I understand his beef over how LeBron handled things, I gotta kill this cat over how childish and short-sighted his comic-sans-fonted tirade was.
- ESPN’s Coverage and Radio bits: “The Worldwide Leader’s” sycophantic drooling over LeBron’s announcement was very annoying. And while their radio programs and hosts are actually very good, they need to leave the comedy bits to the professionals.
- The passing of “The Boss.”: Say what you will about Yankees Owner George Steinbrenner, you can’t deny he was a very complex character, and one of the most consequential owners in the history of professional sports.
- A Quick World Cup postmortem: Something about this tournament really has stuck with me, and I may find myself starting to follow soccer more.
- The State of MLB: The ‘Year of Pitcher’ is turning out to be way more exciting than the typical collective bludgeoning that pitchers have been subjected to over the past few decades.
- NFL Training Camp: In about two weeks NFL teams start reporting to college campuses and training facilities around the country, and I’ve already got a chubby.