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Saturday, July 10, 2010

Can't take the Heat? Get out of the kitchen


Go figure that LeBron James takes a bunch of Heat, then takes the Miami Heat's offer... but not before aligning with the mainstream media to turn his free agency process into a top-story news saga that did more to embarrass the sports media than it did to elevate/desecrate LeBron's image or report on any actual news.

Here's the thing with reporting on trades and free agency in pro sports: There is only one type of news that actually matters, and that's when a deal is actually made. All the rumors, all the hearsay, all the insider info... they come and go and rarely is any of it ultimately right or even valid: Often it brews from a throwaway comment in conversation blown very far out of proportion, speculation passed along as fact. No reporting in sports media is more consistently worthless that the reporting of trade or free agency rumors.

Couple that with LeBron's insistence on formally prolonging his decision and then aligning with ESPN to conduct a one hour special where he announced his decision (a decision he by all accounts made two weeks ago), and all you've got is equal parts three ring circus and pied piper, pulling the gullible masses along, of which includes the mainstream media itself, thirst for something to report on in the doldrums of baseball season with the World Cup winding down, the NBA and Stanley Cup Finals having long since concluded and NFL football season still more than a month away.

Thus I give very, very little credence to criticisms of LeBron James' character. He made no secret that he was unhappy with the Cleveland Cavaliers and that he would test the market. Given the obvious widespread interest in the superstar's services, LeBron was virtually assured of signing elsewhere. For LeBron to leave a perpetually underachieving Cleveland Cavs team is not an act of treason, but simply a desire to play for a better team. He owes the Cleveland Cavaliers nothing except his services over the life of his contract with the team, which expired after this season. Any moral arguments to the contrary are, like those trade and free agency rumors, all hot air in a media world that's already full of it.

Nobody told Michael Rosenberg.

Michael Jordan announced on national television he's leaving Chicago to join the Detroit Pistons. Jordan said it was tough to bolt Chicago, where he was the most popular athlete in many years, because he thinks he has a better chance to win a championship if he plays with Pistons star Isiah Thomas. Jordan said by playing together, he and Thomas "won't have the pressure of going out and scoring 30 every night."

That would have sounded absurd, right? Well, it is no more absurd than what LeBron James is doing. Jordan was 27 years old in 1990, slightly older than James is now. He had never been to the NBA Finals. He had been beaten up by the Celtics and Pistons for years. He doubted his supporting cast was good enough.


First of all, Michael Jordan was part of a carefully assembled, vastly improved team with strong role players (a young Scottie Pippen and BJ Armstrong, Horace Grant, John Paxson), and an innovative and effective coach in Phil Jackson. His team was loaded with young and improving talent, plus effective veterans (Grant, Bill Cartwright, Paxson, etc) with a lot of mileage left.

LeBron was on a hastily thrown together team of okay-ish players (Mo Williams, Delonte West) declining veterans (Shaq, Anthony Parker, Zydrunas Ilgauskas) and maybe one other young talent that might be an effective counterpart over the long haul (JJ Hickson). Their coach, the recently fired Mike Brown, was a terrible strategist and had barely the first idea of how to manage his personnel. With no head coach as of yet, no assurance the Cavs would hire a good coach, and no young supporting cast, not to mention a constantly transitioning roster with no identity let alone no style.

Save for improving to a winning record the last few seasons, the Cavs were nothing, NOTHING, like the Bulls team that Jordan elected to stay with. The situation MJ had in Chicago was vastly superior to the situation he would have found somewhere else. In Chicago, Jordan could be the leader of a young, stable, improving unit under a great strategic coach who also ran the team with a calm, balanced and yet suitably authoritative demeanor. No other team could have provided all of that, and a group he was familiar with to boot.

As for LeBron, he walked away from a rag-tag group that definitely would have to be rebuilt over the next season or three, and could well spend the rest of LeBron's youthful years rebuilding. They didn't even have a coach, nor much of an idea who they wanted to coach.

Contrast that with a fractured but reloaded Miami Heat team that just re-signed Dwyane Wade and just acquired star post man Chris Bosh. They have an incumbent and effective coach in Erik Spoelstra working under legendary Pat Riley. Yes, Miami has to reload that roster, but they also now have three very strong players in James, Wade and Bosh to build that team around. Compare this to the fractured and perpetually directionless situation in Cleveland, and it's no wonder James would choose Miami over that.

Oh wait, Rosenberg's not done yet.

the self-proclaimed King said everything you need to know about him.

1. "You have to do what's best for you, and what's going to make you happy."

This is what's going to make him happy? Sharing a stage with two other stars? Really?


Well... yes!

First of all, Michael Rosenberg, who are you to decide what should and shouldn't make a star player happy? If LeBron James decides tag teaming with two star players instead of being the star leader on another team is what makes him happy, then who are you to tell him that's wrong? It's none of your business to decide what LeBron James does and doesn't want.

I guess that's all LeBron is: A complementary player with superstar talent. We should have figured this out before: He got that giant CHOSEN 1 tattoo on his back and calls himself King James because he is desperate for reassurance.


Actually, the MEDIA and his cohorts dubbed him King James. He ran it because well why the hell not.

And Rosenberg plays sports psychologist again, telling us with certainty that James got those tattoos because he was desperate for constant reassurance. Maybe LeBron just thought they were cool nicknames synonymous with his reputation. People get tattoos for a variety of reasons, some of which make more rational sense than others.

So far, we've got an article heading forward with a full head of steam on the basis of three very hastily assembled and poorly thought out presuppositions concocted purely in the author's imaginative mind. I have a bad feeling about the rest of this piece.

2. "We don't have the pressure of going out and scoring 30 every night or shooting a high percentage."

Whoa. Hold on there. Scoring 30 a night is too much pressure for one of the five most talented players ever?


Well, when defenses are tighter than ever and every team you play is focused intently on stopping you... yes, Michael, yes it is. I don't care if you're Jesus Christ and have blessed yourself with a 68 inch vertical leap, and the refs are giving you every call ever.

LeBron would rather be on a team where other stars provide a sthreat and, if he ahs a down night, others will be able to pick up the slack... than be a 30 point guy on a team where if he doesn't throw down 30 his team's probably losing because everyone else sucks. LeBron isn't perfect and can't play 82 spectacular games a year, plus 15-25 spectacular games in the playoffs, if his body can hold up to that kind of pressure. Strange, I know. There are very few players that could play consistently great all the way down the stretch in those conditions, and the list consists of Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and... uh....

Find me another all-time NBA great who would utter those words. Jordan would rather do an adidas commercial than say that. Bryant must have laughed as he heard the so-called "King" say that. Larry Bird? The next time he complains about pressure will be the first. Magic was the greatest team player of the last 40 years, but he was also so competitive that he wanted to play Jordan one-on-one in a promotional event -- and this was when Magic had won titles and Jordan had not, so Magic had more to lose.


Now would be a good time to note that Jordan had Scottie Pippen and, later, Dennis Rodman. Bryant had Shaq during his first title run and Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Ron Artest during his 2nd. Bird had Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish. And Magic had James Worthy and some dude named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on his team, who BTW I hear is only the NBA's all time leading scorer. Yeah, none of those had or needed any help whatsoever. None.

3. "I know how loyal I am."

The man just dumped his hometown(s) on national television.


LeBron, like the rest of us, is loyal to an employer as long as he is technically employed by them. And like the rest of us, he is as loyal to his hometown as long as living there serves him well. He owes Cleveland nothing. Do we serious think Michael Rosenberg would stay loyal to SI if they treated him badly and another media outlet offered him three times the money to write for them?

This is pretty sad to read, because Rosenberg generally is a fairly decent sports writer. But this just reeks of Rosenberg being pressured by his employer and peers to craft up false moral indignance over a decision that honestly makes sense for all parties.

LeBron James just jumped into an elevator and wants us to think he can fly. Sorry, but we know better. We know that he did something Michael, Magic, Bird and Bill Russell never would have done. We know he ditched Cleveland for an All-Star team.


Right, because if Michael Jordan were the leading scorer for a rag-tag Cleveland Cavs team instead of the young, improving Bulls team he was a part of upon free agency, he totally would have stayed. If Bill Russell were the only good player on the Clippers, he totally would have stayed. Magic would have eschewed good money to be the man on a team of nobodies with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Oh wait, all of those players were great players on great teams with great teammates and great coaches, and LeBron walked away from a fractured team with the revolving-door roster and no coach.

I've already given this terrible piece more attention than it probably warrants, so I'll just say that while LeBron's media whoring was amusingly annoying, it made sense and his ultimate decision made sense.

Media hot air, however, will never make sense. Aside from drawing attention to said outlets, it rarely if ever provides any real sociocultural value.

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