Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A General Call For The Setting Down Of Torches

You might not have expected this, but I'm going to defend someone today. His name is LeBron James.

First off, let's put up the list of what James did wrong:
1) He participated in a one-hour program on ESPN where he announced what team he was signing with.

No question, this was a gaffe. He looked uncomfortable, Jim Gray was an idiot (nice fingernail question, Gilligan), and ESPN did an awful job of formatting the show.

It did, however, raise $4-5 million for the Boys And Girls Club. Is that a free pass? No, but at the same time, do you think any of the thousands of kids that get helped by that money give a damn that LeBron had a special on ESPN? No.

So that's what he did wrong. Now, let's look at what he's done right.
1) He didn't negotiate in the press.
Free agents are notorious for using the media to pit one team against another. James didn't do this--he didn't say anything to the media during the process.

2) He didn't hold any teams hostage.
Within 8 days of being able to sign a contract, James had made his decision. He didn't wait for months, holding rosters hostage in the process (I'm looking at you, Brett Favre).

3) He wasn't selfish.
I saw dozens of articles the day before he announced the decision that said he was "too selfish" to fit in with other great players. Then he goes to Miami to play with two outstanding players, and some of those same writers said he went because he "couldn't stand on his own."

He's taking $15 million less than he could have gotten from Cleveland. Bosh and Wade are taking $15 million less, too. Why isn't this being celebrated--the athlete for whom winning is more important--instead of being condemned?

James scored 29.7 points a game last season, with 7.3 rebounds and 8.6 assists. Those numbers are utterly, completely ridiculous (2nd in points, 6th in assists). I can only think of one player in history who compares, and that's Oscar Robertson, who was one of the greatest players in the history of the league. And in comparison, Robertson's numbers are inflated in comparison to James as well, because there were (roughly) 30+ more possessions in an NBA game (per team) in the 1960s than today, and the 3-point line in no way cancels that out.

Stone cold badasses, both of them.

I think it's entirely possible that James will either lead the league in assists next year or average a triple double. Or both.

Other things he's done right during his career:
--never accused of taking PEDs
--never accused of being a bad teammate
--never arrested, no DUIs
--still with his high school sweetheart (that may not be categorized as "right", but given how pro athletes often act like whoredogs, it does indicate maturity)
--took a pig-ugly, 35-win roster (without him) and turned it into a 60-win team.

Look, Cleveland's roster is terrible. They're a lottery pick without James. And this was one of the rare times in his career where he could go play with better players? Why the hell wouldn't he leave? He would have been a fool to stay.

If he wanted to win, then he had to leave. Nobody wins an NBA championship with one great player these days. Jordan never won without Pippen. Bryant never won without O'Neal or Gasol. O'Neal never won without Bryant or Wade. Cleveland had years to build a team around him, and they failed, and that's not his fault.

If a General Manager had traded for James, Bosh, and Wade, or was perceived as having driven the process, they'd be calling it the greatest executive move in NBA history. But because the players drove it, now it's a bad thing?

Then there's the owner of the Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert, who managed to come off as a far, far bigger dick than James ever could. Gilbert wrote an "open letter" to Cavs fans after James's announcement, and it included some choice phrases like "cowardly betrayal", "shameful display of selfishness", "shocking act of disloyalty", "heartless and callous", "quitter", and many other fun phrases that you can read here. The flecks of foam in Gilbert's rant make him sound like he's in stage one of Mel Gibson Disease.

Never mind that the Cavaliers were 17-65 the year before James was drafted, or that James has made Gilbert millions of dollars in revenue that he would never have seen otherwise. Cleveland has a proud basketball history, but the four years before James came, their record was 32-50, 30-52, 29-53, 17-65.

After James arrived? 35-47, 42-40, 50-32, 50-32, 45-37, 66-16, and 61-21.

Gilbert became the majority owner of the team in 2005, and the last 77 games were sold out. That's almost two years without an empty seat. How many empty seats would there have been with a 30 win team?

Gilbert gave an interview to SIs Ian Thomsen yesterday, and he cut loose on a few additional grievances:
"Family members were getting a couple of suite passes, it was that kind of thing -- but we did those things for all of the players," Gilbert said. "He really never did ask and go above and beyond for material things. We were 'enabling' -- not on that stuff -- but probably just on how he conducted himself and the respect level.

"I wish I'd brought the hammer out on that stuff earlier. Returning people's text messages -- whether it was the p.r. people or my own. Overall, he showed up to the key things, he was never late to practice. But in certain meetings he was kind of like the kid in the classroom looking at his BlackBerry."

Wait, those are grievances? That he was getting what the other players were getting? That he was never late for practice?

Oh, wait--he wasn't returning text messages. Oh yeah, sharpen the stakes and light the torches.

Look, I'm not saying James is perfect. He puts his foot in his mouth at times (although, in his defense, everything he says is scrutinized at a microscopic level), something weird was going on in the playoff series against Boston last year (ask Delonte West--Bros before Mos, Delonte), and he shouldn't have signed off on that stupid one-hour special.

He is not, however, the stereotype of the "selfish athlete" of today. He doesn't appear to be anything like it, really.

Oh, and for all the people who say the Heat aren't going to win--good luck with that.

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