Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.
If history repeats itself, NBA Commissioner David Stern, and the owners he represents around the league, better start brushing up on Boxing History 101.
The Decline of Boxing
The sport of boxing, which was once considered one of the premier sports in the United States, has been diminished almost to the point of irrelevance. While there are many factors that have contributed to the sport’s slip into obscurity, one of the key issues that has threatened the viability of boxing is the selfish “pay-day” mentality of its athletes.
The history of boxing has been always been defined by its great fights: Ali versus Frazier, Joe Louis versus Max Schmeling, Sugar Ray Leonard versus Marvelous Marvin Hagler, The Rumble in the Jungle. These were all fights slated to determine which fighter was the best, and the sport thrived as a result. Nowadays, fighters like Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather allow contract disputes over paychecks and other trivialities to get in the way of those potentially great battles, the types of battles that would benefit EVERYONE in the boxing world.
Boxing promoters such as Don King, Bob Arum, and Lou DiBella have helped to facilitate a shift in focus for the sport, and a greater emphasis has been placed on the fighter at the expense of the event. These “super fighters” have become more important than the “super fights” by usurping the authority of the boxing sport. Now, boxing is driven by the whims of its biggest stars, not the needs of the sport.
What is important to the sport has been superseded by what is important to the athlete.
Premier bouts were moved first from network to cable broadcasts, and then from cable to pay-per-view. Why? So the fighters and promoters could draw bigger paychecks. The problem is that the move to pay-per-view has restricted the accessibility of the sport, and the general public has lost interest because it cannot easily (or affordably) view the greatest matches.
Boxing condoned a system where the athletes and promoters were allowed to be self-serving and focus on their personal benefit, rather than the benefit of the game. Selfishness and greed have completely changed the sport of boxing, and it is all bad.
Boxing’s journey is the history lesson the NBA needs.
LRMR Marketing, the brain-child of LeBron James and his high school buddies, has essentially become a boxing promoter in the NBA. It has started to shift the focus of the sport away from the most important event – the game – and onto the athletes themselves.
Celebrity over Substance
LRMR has already orchestrated countless scenarios where pre-game and pre-season activities are becoming a bigger spectacle than the games. From choreographed pre-game introductions and LeBron’s puff of baby powder to “The Decision” and the fiasco that was the 2010 free agency season, LRMR has successfully placed their premier athlete on a pedestal above the league itself.
The result of these actions? The future of the NBA (at least for the next several seasons) has been scripted through back-room deals between selfish players rather than on the court, where it SHOULD be determined. LRMR, behind the free agency of LeBron James, has staged a coup where IT (and not the competition of the league) has set the course of events for the NBA. LRMR’s machinations have also cheapened the value of ESPN, an organization that claims to be a legitimate sports NEWS source. LRMR hijacked the network and turned it into yet another tool for self-promotion.
First, a full hour was reserved… dedicated prime-time coverage (with almost no notice) so that LeBron could make a 30-second statement. This statement was not that he would be running for Congress, or that he was retiring from the game, or any other sensational news story that would normally warrant this kind of attention. No, he was just announcing the team he intended to sign a basketball contract to play for. And he took a FULL HOUR!
Then, last week, an article was published on ESPN.com that highlighted the escapades of LeBron as he threw a lavish Las Vegas party. However, the article (which portrayed LeBron James in a less than favorable light) magically vanished from the website just minutes after it was published.
Those incidents have cheapened the value of ESPN as a viable organization by giving the appearance that it is nothing more than an extension of LRMR Marketing. Rather than risk the ire of a sports celebrity and get on his bad side by remaining UNBIASED in reporting, ESPN has sold its agenda to the latest pop-culture star.
The Snowball Effect
LeBron is not the lone stud in LRMR’s stable of celebrity talent. New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul (who happens to be another buddy of LeBron’s) has joined the three-ring circus at LRMR Marketing, and cast aside the seemingly sound (and successful) advice of his previous representation to get his moment in the sun.
Following the lead of the league’s newest prima donna, Paul feels he is OWED a championship, and with the help of LRMR has attempted to force a trade so he can join his own version of an All-Star roster.
Although no charges or allegations have been made regarding specific actions, warnings have been issued across the league against tampering.
The league does not usually issue a tampering warning when a player wants an early out from their current contract, so why issue one in this case? If you read between the lines, the implication behind that warning is very straightforward – LeBron and LRMR Marketing have already proven once that they are willing to negotiate the future of the NBA in closed-door, back-room deals, and it is assumed that they will do it again.
All of these actions by LRMR Marketing, and the two athletes whom it represents, have done nothing but cheapen the value of the NBA. They have chipped away at the competitiveness of the league in an attempt to take (rather than win) a championship via the path of least resistance. They have demonstrated that player collusion (whether permitted by the rules or not) to use to manufacture an ideal situation. They have shown that their motivation is self-service, even if it comes at the expense of everyone else in the league.
I am not advocating a system where a player should have no say in their future. However, a delicate balance must be maintained between the two. In the battle between teams and players, if either side assumes “control” over the other it is bad for the league.
The NBA is a league centered around TEAM competition. The interests of the league are best served when the overall competition of the league and its TEAMS (not players) are protected. When individual players begin to chip away at the level of competition in the league, all in the pursuit of self-service, it is bad for everyone involved.
The NBA should learn from the state of boxing as it exists today. The more control that individual players have over the game, the more the viability of the league is eroded away.