Let me indulge in a little basketball banter this morning, with my thoughts on the whole LeBron James saga. Yes, I’m glad LeBron James isn’t going to the Knicks. And I’m also glad that King James is about to take the most despised sports superstar title away from Alex Rodriguez (who really should have gotten that dubious crown lifted from him after the Yankees won the 2009 World Series.) Because the way LeBron handled The Decision – with an hour-long nationally televised dog-and-pony show – made A-Rod opting out during Game 4 of the 2007 World Series look positively restrained.
Look, I’m not going to be a hypocrite and chastise LeBron for leaving Cleveland and heading to to the Miami Heat – or “South Beach,” as he called it. After all, I root for the New York Yankees, a team loaded with free agents who did just what he did. And James is taking less money to be with a franchise where he thinks he’s got a better chance of winning it all. Kind of like how A-Rod was willing to take less money to get out of Texas, and how he gave up the chance to be the greatest shortstop of all time by going to the Yankees and deferring to Derek Jeter.
But LeBron had better win – right away – or he’s going to get the same reputation as a postseason choker that A-Rod did for so long with the Yankees. I saw a lot of talk on Facebook and Twitter last night about how the Miami Heat is Dwyane Wade’s team, the way many Yankee fans said when A-Rod came to New York that the Bombers were Jeter’s team. Although James and Wade (and Chris Bosh) are all friends – apparently they cooked up this scheme to play together back in the 2008 Olympics (reminds me of the rumors that Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens planned going to the Houston Astros months ahead of time), Wade already has his ring. And if the Heat falter in the playoffs, James, not Wade, is the one who is going to get the, um, heat over it.
Frankly, given James’ failure in the postseason, capped by this year’s debacle against the Celtics, I’m surprised he doesn’t already have more of a rep as somebody who can’t hack it in the playoffs. Or as a very poor sport – I lost a lot of respect for him when he refused to shake hands after losing in the postseason.
LeBron has put as big a target on his back as A-Rod did with his $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers. People forget that A-Rod’s rep was squeaky clean – and he was a beloved figure – when he was with Seattle. But when he left the Mariners at age 25 (the same age LeBron is now), A-Rod’s reputation took a huge hit, and it never really recovered. Heck, they’re still throwing fake dollar bills at him in Seattle, as they did just last night!
I don’t think there was any easy way LeBron could have left Cleveland. But I also think he couldn’t have handled it much worse, from having the six contending teams kiss his ring, to not giving the Cavs a heads-up to his plans, to making his decision a nationally televised debacle. ESPN’s Stuart Scott is defending what LeBron did, saying they were giving money to charity with the broadcast. So what, who cares, as Joy Behar would say.
I loved that Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert issued such an over-the-top, furious statement last night, calling James a narcissist and a coward. It was like something George Steinbrenner would have done back in the day, showing as much passion for the team as the fans do. Give me anger like that anyday over some mealy-mouthed corporate statement issued by some PR drone.
And I don’t exactly feel sorry for the Knicks. My worst fear about the Yankees is that the Steinbrenner kids one day sell the team to the Dolans. What kind of sport is basketball, that you can essentially tank two seasons (yet still sell your tickets at full price), and cheat your fans out of good basketball, just to clear some cap space? Oh, and how about the Knicks’ “closer”? You bring in Isiah Thomas, the person who single-handed killed a 50-year-old basketball league, and who helped destroy your franchise, to get the job done? Unbelievable.
Yes, I am loving that LeBron James is not coming to New York. After all the Get LeBron and C’mon LeBron nonsense, after all the tabloid journalists acting like cheerleaders to get him on the Knicks, and the expectation that him coming to New York was inevitable, I’m loving that the city’s mediots got their LeBron pom-poms knocked out of their hands.
At any rate, I think the person happiest about this whole LeBron thing is A-Rod. Now James, not Rodriguez, will be sports’ punching bag pinata when it comes to complaining about athletes. Alex has to be relieved.