Jul 11,2010

Kingdom Come

The professional sports teams that a person roots for often says a great deal about them.  LeBron James, for instance, is a fan of the New York Yankees, Dallas Cowboys, and Chicago Bulls.  What do all of these teams have in common?  They’re popular and they win A LOT (or at least did while young James was growing up).  Is it that much of a surprise then that the Ohio native, who famously wore a Yankees cap to an Indians game, would choose winters in South Beach over sexual advances from Betty White?  Not really.  And can we blame him?  Again, I’m going with not really.

While I admit the hype and hoopla surrounding the “Decision” was ridiculous and overblown, it was also pretty damn inventive.  No, I didn’t think it was cool of LeBron to put the city of Cleveland on blast like that.  Yes, I think he should have opened by stating how much he appreciated his time in Cleveland and how he’d always be thankful for the Cavalier fans.  But let’s also remember that he donated all of the money he made from the hour long special to charity.  Some say it was a media stunt – and that’s probably true – but the Boys & Girls Club of America is still getting that dough regardless of LeBron’s motivations.  Besides, millions of rich folks donate money to charity so they can skimp on their taxes, and no one is hating on them.

Speaking of rich folks… Cavs owner Dan Gilbert posted an open letter to fans, stating that James had “deserted” and “betrayed” his team and by proxy his city.  He went on to personally “guarantee that the Cleveland Cavaliers [would] win an NBA Championship before the self-titled former ‘King’ [won] one.”  First of all, that would be awesome and I think sports fans everywhere would like to see it.  Secondly, em… good luck with that.  Cleveland couldn’t manage to build a team around The Chosen One after SEVEN years.  How then does Gilbert plan to make Mo Williams and “Z” Ilgauskas (who, by the way, was traded away and resigned as the result of a “business decision”) the heart of a championship franchise?  Come on!  If anything, Gilbert’s comments make James an empathetic character.  As Jacob Simpson very astutely put it in his most recent blog on Bleacher Report, “… never in my life have I seen a billionaire try to paint himself as a victim like Daniel Gilbert did in his ridiculous letter. Before writing that letter, I’m sure Gilbert counted all the money LeBron had made for his franchise last year.” 

LeBron James and new teamate Dwayne Wade

Before I start getting tons of hate mail, let me say that I feel for Cavs fans.  I really do.  Between the Indians, the Browns, and now the Cavs… it sucks to be you (and that’s coming from a Cubs fan).  You have every right in the world to be angry, crushed, and heartbroken,  But business is business.  LeBron James changed the game, momentarily taking the power away from the league and giving it to the players.  I think that’s pretty damn smart. Here’s a 25-year old kid with nothing more than a high school diploma (and a wickedly brilliant agent) outdoing and manipulating some of the richest and most powerful people in the nation.  Bra-effing-vo.

Ultimately, I think people are more disenchanted than upset by this whole episode.  It’s like we’ve all just seen the little man behind the curtain and can’t believe that we were played like puppets.  After all, for most people, professional sports is about “rooting for the home team” and “fan loyalty” and “community.”  It’s about supporting your favorite player by wearing his/her jersey or reminiscing about where you were when that idiot ref made that idiot call.  Unfortunately, we often forget (and for good reason) that it’s also about dollars and cents.

I believe that LeBron – who has “Akron” and “330” tattooed on his lower right arm – still has love for his hometown and the people of Cleveland.  Sadly, however, sometimes love just isn’t enough.