Archive for the ‘LeBron James’ category

The LeBron James Doctrine: There Is No Team in the Word ‘Team’

July 15th, 2010

I kept trying to put my finger on it.

What was it about the LeBron James free agency process that was nagging at me?

It wasn't so much that he left Cleveland. As a columnist covering the Cavaliers, I wasn't thrilled about it, but players leave teams behind all the time.

It wasn't that the idea of playing with his buddies appealed to him.

It wasn't even that every move seemed calculated, as if to squeeze every drop of marketing muster out of the process.

No, something was distinctly different. What was it? How had I been mistaken about him—or at least miscalculated what motivates him?

LeBron’s affection for his hometown of Akron, Ohio, is well-documented and his loyalty to St. Vincent-St. Mary High School is widely known.

When the Cleveland Cavaliers won the draft lottery and the rights to James in 2003, it was too good to be true. The hometown boy would be staying home.

The fondness that fans in Northeast Ohio already had for this young wunderkind would blossom into a full-grown love affair. For the next three years, James did and said all the right things to make people believe it was, like a good marriage, everlasting.

It was after the 2005-06 season that LeBron began showing the signs of a wandering eye. I, like the fans of Cleveland, didn’t see it—or didn’t want to.

Rather than accept a five-year, $80 million contract extension from the Cavs, James opted for a three-year deal with a player option for a fourth. After that, he would become an unrestricted free agent.

Most observers believed it made good business sense. Most also believed, however, that James selected the shorter deal as insurance—a guarantee, of sorts, that the Cavaliers would remain committed to improving each year.

Which they did. The following season, the overachieving Cavs made it to the NBA Finals. By years three and four of LeBron’s contract extension, they had led the league in regular season wins for two years running.

Along the way, they had worked within their limited salary structure to bring in veterans like Mo Williams, Shaquille O’Neal, and Antawn Jamison (all distinct upgrades over players on the 2007 team), remodeled an arena that was only 10 years old to begin with, and built perhaps the finest practice facility in the league just minutes from James’ home—all in an effort to show LeBron that they were committed to building a winner.

We all know the rest. Despite those league-leading victory totals in 2009 and 2010, the Cavaliers came up short in the postseason. This year, they looked horrible doing so, and James looked out of sync.

After the Celtics had sent the Cavaliers packing in game six of the Eastern Conference semifinals, James was subdued at the postgame news conference. At one point, he was asked about the future.

“It’s all about winning for me," he said , "and I think the Cavs are committed to doing that.”

So far, so good.

“But, at the same time, I’ve given myself options to this point.”

O-kayyyyyy...go on.

“Me and my team, we have a game plan that we’ll execute and we’ll see where we’re at.”

When I first heard those words, I was pleasantly surprised—because historically when LeBron had spoken about “my team” and “my teammates,” he had meant the Cavaliers.

My first reaction, then, was that he and the Cavs would discuss ways to improve the team, and, if he was satisfied, he would stay.

I was, to put it mildly, being naïve.

In fact, in a split second James had redefined what the word “team” would mean for NBA players, if not professional athletes in general, from that point on.

It didn’t mean the franchise he played for. It didn’t mean his teammates, his coaches, the uniform, the tradition, the city, or the fans.

No, it meant his agent, his marketing advisors, his lawyers, his friends, and even his mother.

But his basketball team, the Cavaliers? Who were we kidding?

Over the next six weeks, his new definition of “team” would govern his actions.

When it came time for “The Decision,” that odd and distasteful exercise in self-aggrandizement, this new definition was clear for all to see and hear.

“I want to thank all six teams that I had an opportunity to sit down with,” he said , before unleashing the zinger:

“And my team…”


“…they hear what we had to say also.”

My team. There it was.

His team was his, and his alone. It was for him, about him, and dedicated to him.

“I expected to be able…to sit down with my team and sit across from other teams and hear how they feel,” he continued.

His team, quite obviously, was not who we had always thought it was.

And so it went, for several more excruciating minutes, before James finally announced that he was going to Miami.

Like everyone, I knew it could happen.

Yes, I thought it was rude for James to divorce himself from a franchise, a city and a loyal fan base in such a public and thoughtless manner.

Yes, I thought it was peculiar that he had made such a spectacle out of having six teams vie for his services like so many contestants on “The Bachelor,” thereby ensuring that five of them, and their fans, would be alienated by his final decision.

But the decision was his to make, and he was free to do so. He played by the rules, and this is what the rules allowed.

Still, I found myself wondering what had changed in his manner and his approach. Eventually, I concluded that it all came down to that one word: team.

In the end, his new definition made all the difference. Because of it, I doubt that Cleveland ever had a chance. Truth be told, they had ceased being his team long before he rejected them on national television.

Miami, enjoy your new superstar. He is remarkably gifted, and he will thrill and entertain you.

Just don’t get too comfortable with the idea that the Heat are, or ever will be, his real team.

LeBron James has made it clear who that is, and where his true loyalties lie.


The Top 25 “Where Were You When . . .?” Moments in Sports

July 15th, 2010
Whether wonderful or horrible, magical or sorrowful, agonizing or triumphant, we always remember where we were and what we were doing for the truly landmark world events. The Kennedy Assassination, the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, man walking on the moon, 9/11, and so on. And so it is with sports as well. The question naturally arises—will "The Decision" be one of those moments? Years from now, will we remember where we were and what we were doing when we found out that LeBron James was taking his talents to South Beach? I think not. Here's a look at the Top 25 such moments, at least according to this guy.

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Dan Gilbert’s Revenge: How the Cavs Can Retool the East’s Contenders

July 15th, 2010
With an angry parting shot, Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert officially declared war on LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Gilbert even went so far as to declare that Cleveland would win a championship before LeBron did. While Cleveland wont be in a position to win a championship any time soon, the Memphis Grizzlies and Minnesota Timberwolves have both proven that bad teams can have a large say in what team will win the NBA championship. Just ask Lakers and Celtics fans. So with the Pau Gasol trade very much the guide, here are some trades that will help the rest of the East's elite, keep up with Riley in South Beach.

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The 10 Most Hated Athletes in Sports: 2010 Edition

July 15th, 2010
In today's world of sports, the hated athletes tends to get more attention than the beloved ones. While some athletes get hated on for legitimate reasons, other athletes are simply hated for being great at what they do. What you may find interesting about my list is that some of the most hated players are also some of the most respected.

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LeBron James’ Free Agency Fiasco: The Seven Biggest Winners

July 15th, 2010
It's been almost a week since LeBron James went on national television to build his brand and announce what was apparently a foregone conclusion. In the wake of LBJ's crab dribble to the Miami Heat, all hell has broken loose. The outpouring of criticism has been immediate and staggering when you consider this was an athlete who once enjoyed such an incredible approval rating. The voices of skepticism include David Stern, Reggie Miller, Charles Barkley, Chris Webber, the New York Times, ESPN, FOX Sports, and everywhere in between. The harshest condemnation came from Cleveland Cavaliers' owner Dan Gilbert. The one resident of the Sixth City with ZERO reason to complain took the platinum pacifier out of his mouth long enough to spew some truly ridiculous and counterproductive idiocy. Nobody's gonna have sympathy or patience for a whining billionaire who had seven years of exclusive ear-bending to convince LBJ to become a lifer. Of course, the fun didn't stop there as Jesse Jackson took a page from Gilbert's book and one-upped him on the stupidity scale. Sadly, the Reverend's knack for sniffing out racial machinations everywhere they hide means his comparison of obscenely privileged professional basketball players to slaves doesn't even sneak into his top 10 dumbest blunders (I have the Duke lacrosse abomination and his hostility toward Obama's genitalia battling it out for the title). Outside of humility, it's clear the biggest losers in this unnecessary mess have been the city of Cleveland and LeBron James, himself. But who (or what) walks away from the mushroom cloud with the biggest smile and cleanest hands? In honor of each year the dethroned king so charitably gave to a place he'll always call home, here are the charade's seven biggest winners.

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