Spoiler alert. It’s NOT because I generally can’t stand basketball.
I had an epiphany during this World Cup. There are a lot of people I know and respect that just don’t give a sh*t about soccer. They couldn’t care less. They wouldn’t be able to tell you a damn thing about the game, any of its players, or why it was borderline remarkable that the United States made it out of the group of death.
But they still ask me, how’s the U.S. doing? Are you enjoying the games? Germany beat Brazil 7-1…that’s good, right? Why do they ask me? Because I care. This one month out of every four years is among the most exciting in my life. I sleep less. I take time off of my day job to watch games. Four years ago when it was in South Africa, I got up at ungodly hours to see games live. They know it matters to me.
My buddy, a huge basketball fan, comes up to me at work today and says, “Dude, LeBron is going back to Cleveland! How crazy is that!?” My initial thought was, “Of all people who might actually give a sh*t about what player is going where, you thought I was a good candidate?” But then it hit me. Why would I be an ass when so many people have been the exact opposite to me, inquiring as to my thoughts about the World Cup because they knew I cared about it and enjoy talking about it. So I made the resolution, I will no longer rudely dismiss conversations about basketball. Let’s not get crazy, I’m not going to start enjoying watching the game. But the least I can do for a fellow sports fan is engage them in a conversation if that’s what they want.
So my response was, “Hm. I guess I wouldn’t have expected that. Why do you think he’s going back to the Cavs? Are they expected to be better than the Heat next year?” He says, “No! He just wants to go play in his hometown. He wants to make it up to the people of Cleveland for ditching them four years ago.”
The rest of the conversation lasted about seven minutes, and then we got back to work. But I thought about it. Is he really going home to make it up to the people of Cleveland? I did read the Sports Illustrated letter. It’s classy and articulate. I’m sure it was ghost written for him, or at least he was coached through it. But apart from the douchy way James left Cleveland four years ago, he is a pretty classy guy. He doesn’t get in trouble with the law. He doesn’t do drugs. He’s a family man. As far as larger-than-life athletes go, he’s a guy who could definitely fall into the “likeable” category. But let’s be real here. He is a professional athlete, and a mercenary. He’s made plenty of money, but with no shortage of suitors who will pay him the maximum amount of money allowable under the collective bargaining agreement, he’ll go where he has the best chance to win.
Is Cleveland more likely to win next year than Miami? You bet your bottom dollar they are. DeWayne Wade is a shell of his former self. Injuries have taken their toll. The high-impact style of the former superstar has robbed him of his explosiveness. Sure, he could still be a quality sixth man for a contender. Come off the bench, play 25 minutes or so, and contribute significantly. Chris Bosh is still in his prime, though nearing the end of it, and wants to cash in. Can you blame him? Ray Allen, who Miami brought in for his deadly three point shooting and to be kind of a fourth musketeer to the “Big Three” is another year older. Sure, they made it to the finals, but largely on the back of James’ excellence and a variety of factors would indicate they are not on the ascension, they’re on a decline.
Meanwhile, Cleveland has Kyrie Irving, a mega-stud young point guard. They just drafted Andrew Wiggins. They have the cap room to chase another star player next year such as Minnesota’s Kevin Love, if they don’t work some kind of sign and trade deal for him earlier than that. And what do you have? Another big three with a fourth musketeer.
Sure, Ohio is home to James. That makes Cleveland appealing. But let’s call it what it is. He’s going to a team where he thinks he has a better chance to win than the one where he was. The fact that Cleveland is where he started is a coincidence. Had any other team had the first overall pick in the draft the year he made himself eligible, they would have taken him too. He could have started in Charlotte, or Atlanta, or with the Clippers. Any number of teams. It happened to be a team in his home state. So that’s cool and all, but is there any real evidence that James was a Cavaliers fan growing up? Are there any pictures of him as a youngster sporting a Craig Ehlo or Brad Daugherty jersey? Maybe.
ESPN/Grantland’s Bill Simmons, an excellent and intelligent writer, describes here James’ performance in Game 6 of this year’s NBA Finals, petulantly not shooting and passing to teammates in a fashion that says, “this is the team you put around me,” or something like that. What exactly was wrong with the damn team they put around him? They made it to the CHAMPIONSHIP FINALS! They just happened to lose to a better team, or at the very least, one that played better for those six games.
There’s a bunch of other stuff in the article about James being a genius, or something like that. It’s entertaining to read, but the reality is, he’s a 6 foot 9, 270 something pound mega athlete who is physically superior to nearly everyone who attempts to defend him. So opposing defenses throw multiple defenders at him, leaving teammates open. I hardly think it takes genius to pass to an open teammate when three defenders are focused on you. It’s a statistical certainty that at least half of your teammates on the floor at that point are uncovered. Anyway, that’s just my opinion. It’s still a good read.
Anyway, this is why I don’t care. It’s all crap. James is used to Ohio and likes it there, apparently. The team is in a position where it can field a competitive squad for years to come. They can pay him the maximum amount of money allowed by a team he wasn’t already on the previous season. No more, no less. Does that make him a bad person, taking the situation that is quite simply best for him and his family, and nobody else? Of course not. Superstar players across all sports go to the highest bidder all the time. The only thing fans should be concerned with is that the player gives 100 percent on the court or field while he is on that team. Sure, it’s romantic to think there’s a sense of loyalty, a la George Brett or the late Tony Gwynn. But more realistically, just look at all the players who have taken the money to go to the Yankees, or Dodgers, or Patriots, or Broncos, or Manchester United and Bayern Munich, the list goes on.
Again, James is not a bad person for doing this. We all do what’s best for us and ours. I like my job quite a bit, but if someone offered me a maximum salary of some sort, say for argument’s sake double what I make now, to work elsewhere, I’d take it, so I could afford the house my wife and I live in, and to provide a more comfortable life for us and our future children. That makes sense, right?
And this is why I don’t care. All the notions being invented out there that his move “back” to Cleveland is anything other than a man doing what’s best for him and his are fantasy. There is no drive to make anything up to the fans that burned his jersey upon his departure, or the owner that eviscerated him in a public letter. If he did it for half of the maximum contract, I might buy it. Might.