The TSD Best of 2010 Debate… A Win For the Fans

December 29, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Sports Geek.

The single most defining sports moment of 2010 happened off the field of play.

There is little doubt that 2010 was the year of LeBron James. He rolled into the year as the favorite son of the NBA, with the stage set for him to take the next step in cementing his legacy among the greatest that ever played the game. He was the game’s brightest young star, and as his contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers was set to expire in the summer, the entire league was forced into a holding pattern until he revealed the team whose uniform he would next don.

Tensions were already high across the NBA as the build-up to 2010 free agency played out, but when James and his partners in LRMR Marketing announced their plans for the decision to be announced in an hour-long television program, events moved to a frenzied pace.

But it was not James’ decision that led to the best debate of the year, it was the fallout.

Immediately following “The Decision” Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert fired off a letter to the fans of the Cavaliers that became a controversy all its own. The emotionally charged letter first ripped James for the manner of his exit from the city of Cleveland, and then offered several lofty promises to the fans of the Cavaliers.

It was a situation where the business of sports was overshadowed by emotion, and I LOVED it!

The culture of sports today is one where the participants are perceived as businessmen and celebrities first, and athletes second. Decisions are made based on dollars and cents, and athletes today have little or no regard for the crowds in front of whom they play. They use the fans to their advantage, getting rich off of their hard-earned money. Sure, when things are going good they get along very nicely with the fans, but as soon as convenience dictates, they sell any sense of loyalty down the river, leaving fans high and dry.

That’s why the debate around Gilbert’s letter to Cavaliers fans was so fascinating to me. In a league like the NBA, which has been completely hijacked by superstar athletes like LeBron James, most people expected Gilbert and the Cavaliers to quietly lick their wounds and move forward. While that road to recovery from the loss of James (both financially, and in terms of on-court success) will be a long and painful one, the anticipated response from the front offices in Cleveland was one of political correctness. Gilbert would address the team and his fans the following morning, offer all the clichéd comments – “We are a team, not one man”, “The team existed for years BEFORE LeBron James, and will exist just as well without him”, etc. – but he would surely NOT burn any bridges by attacking the league’s star attraction.

We were all wrong.

Gilbert did not wait until morning. He didn’t even hold his breath and count to ten. Instead, he let the ‘fan’ in him come through. He felt as though James had slapped him, and so he struck back, which is exactly what the rest of the fans in Cleveland wanted to do. He didn’t care about playing nice with the most powerful athlete in the sport, and he didn’t care about fines that could (and eventually would) be levied against him. All he wanted to do was communicate his own frustration to his brothers and sisters in Cleveland.

Even if only for one night, Gilbert wasn’t the owner, he was the fan.

Outside the city of Cleveland, Gilbert’s actions were called into question. Should he have lashed out so reactively? And more importantly, should he be punished?

I can understand the league’s desire to prevent owners from launching personal vendettas against the players, but as the resident Bleacher Fan here at The Sports Debates, I absolutely respect Gilbert’s reaction. In fact, it endeared him to me in a way that no coach or player has in a very long time. I had no problems at all in defending his actions then, and I would still defend them today.

I want to thank Gilbert, personally, for taking a stand on behalf of the fans. We have been the long-suffering third party in sports transactions, and it was nice to see that someone of power in sports, even if only for the briefest of moments, cared more about the fans than he did coddling a prima donna superstar athlete, or by playing nice politically in the “business of basketball.”

Dan Gilbert wins Bleacher Fan’s Award as the Best of 2010, because he put the fan first.

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The Dan Gilbert Tirade Debate… The New King of Cleveland

July 14, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

After LeBron James’ spectacular “Screw-you” to the city of Cleveland, Cavaliers’ owner Dan Gilbert published a letter to Cavalier fans (a.k.a. Clevelanders), lambasting LeBron’s classless and shameful display of self-glorifying betrayal, then reaffirming his commitment to them with a pledge that was loaded with spite, malice, and just a hint of implied vengeance.

It was petty, it was ill-advised. And it was PERFECT!

Make no mistake. This was not a knee-jerk reaction kicked off in a passionate fit of rage. It was a calculated tactical maneuver, and it accomplished much more than just an airing of grievances. Most importantly, it was Gilbert’s only REAL option.

Dan Gilbert may be a part of the NBA, but he ultimately answers to the Cleveland fans. The rest of the NBA can be as mad at Gilbert as they want to be. It is Cleveland that gets Gilbert’s focus and concern.

It does not matter what the various sportswriters around the country, or Jesse Jackson, think about Gilbert’s letter. It does not matter what LeBron James thinks about Gilbert’s letter. They don’t have to deal with the people of Cleveland. Dan Gilbert does.

And although those people are tired of being perpetual “losers” in sports, that is not the real source of their frustration. There is a giant chip on Cleveland’s collective shoulders, and when LeBron announced – and then followed through with – his hour-long special telling the world that he was leaving Cleveland… it was the final straw.

What REALLY upsets Clevelanders today is being the butt of everyone else’s joke.

Many people may not understand that, including Browns’ owner Randy Lerner and Indians’ owner Larry Dolan. Lerner has been criticized in Cleveland as being an absentee owner who cares more about his British soccer team than he does his NFL franchise. Dolan is often viewed as a clueless, careless saboteur whose only priority appears to be keeping payroll at a minimum.

Dan Gilbert, by contrast, gets it.

When LeBron James made a public spectacle out of the suffering of the good people of Cleveland, turning heartbreak into an hour-long television extravaganza, Gilbert fought back. He stood up for the fans of his beloved team, and used his position of power to tell the world exactly what the people of Cleveland felt.

He not only spoke on behalf of the people of Cleveland, he spoke directly to them. On a night which was intended to be a victory for LeBron James, it became a victory for Cavs fans. Dan Gilbert managed to steal the spotlight, and the event that was supposed to be all about LeBron became instead the night that Cleveland struck back. It secured not just one, but several victories for Gilbert.

First, it made Gilbert into the new “King” of Cleveland sports. Many different athletes and sports figures have claimed to understand the fans, but Gilbert was the first to stake his reputation on it in a very long time. Rather than remain politically neutral, as so many in the sports world are apt to do today, Gilbert drew a line in the sand. He knew that his comments would upset some people, but accepted that as a small price to pay to demonstrate where HIS loyalties really lie.

His comments were not selfish, and they were not patronizing. They were raw, emotionally charged, and GENUINE sentiments that eloquently verbalized what all of Cleveland was feeling. They were also a little bit crazy (just like many of us).

For once, a major sports figure made the choice to stand WITH Cleveland, and Clevelanders will forever love him for that. That love has already begun to manifest itself in the public outpouring of support from Clevelanders who have even gone as far as offering to help foot the bill for their owner’s $100K fine.

Second, it helped Gilbert (at least in the short term) salvage the “business” of the Cavaliers.

LeBron James sells tickets, there is no way around that fact. Now that LeBron is gone, Gilbert is left with a franchise that must find a way to still sell those tickets. He needs to give the fans a reason to come and watch games, because, in all honesty, wins have officially become a lot harder to come by for the Wine and Gold.

Gilbert’s VOW to beat LeBron in a race to a championship may be far-fetched, but it serves as motivation. It lets fans know that he is not quitting on them, so they should not quit on him. It gives fans a glimmer of hope, and that glimmer will be enough to ensure the Cavaliers do not fall into obscurity.

Once more, a Cleveland franchise must brace itself for rebuilding, and Gilbert let those fans know that there is a light at the end of that tunnel. He has demonstrated a full commitment to doing everything in his power to make each of his franchises successful in the past (unlike Lerner and Dolan), and the fans genuinely believe him when he promises an even greater commitment moving forward.

It is small consolation, but it is enough to keep the Cavaliers relevant.

There is also a superstitious victory.

Cavaliers fans have dealt with their own “curse” for many years now. We have tried every way to break the curse, except one. That was the one thing that Gilbert just did – he put the maloik on someone else. Who knows, maybe all that the curse was waiting for was a new home.

The NBA may have fined Gilbert $100K for his comments, and outside the city of Cleveland Gilbert may have lost some respect and/or credibility. But those are small prices to pay. The cost of a token fine and some bad PR outside of Cleveland are nothing compared to what he gained amongst his constituents INSIDE of Cleveland – where it ACTUALLY matters to him.

It doesn’t matter what folks in Seattle, New York, or Poughkeepsie think about what Dan Gilbert does or says. Dan Gilbert’s world is Cleveland, and today he is her favorite son.

Victory – Gilbert!

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The Dan Gilbert Tirade Debate… What’s Eating Gilbert’s Grape?

July 14, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Bleacher Fan.

The world has been wondering “What was Dan Gilbert thinking?” when he typed up the now famous Open Letter to Cavaliers Fans.

Well, I will tell you this much: He wasn’t thinking about the damage he was doing to the future of his fan base. He wasn’t thinking about how insulting the intelligence of the people of Cleveland could come back to bite him. And he certainly wasn’t thinking about the damage he was doing to his credibility. The $100,000 fine imposed by NBA commissioner David Stern should be the least of Gilbert’s worries right now. He should be concerned about how much more despondent and depressed Cavs fans are going to be when they finally wake up and realize they’ve been lied to by the one man they should have been mad at all along.

I am sure that the Cavaliers faithful will ardently disagree, but it’s true. The people of Cleveland have no one to blame for LeBron James leaving Cleveland EXCEPT for Dan Gilbert. To prove my point briefly examine the reasons LeBron left. It obviously wasn’t for the money. The Cavaliers were offering him the most cash and longest contract, and all those inflated projections of him earning the biggest payday from endorsements in New York obviously did not have enough sway to win LeBron either. It clearly wasn’t a lack of love and fan support in Cleveland. Cavs tickets holders and viewers were ravenous in their fanaticism for James. Bleacher Fan himself openly admitted that every usable inch of the city was dedicated to LeBron love in Cleveland’s campaign to stay. I seriously doubt he would get that much loyalty anywhere else. So, it pretty much boils down to exactly what LeBron has been telling everyone for quite some time – he wants to win championships.

Gilbert knew what LeBron wanted, but failed to deliver. He could have gone after a Dwayne Wade or Chris Bosh himself if he wanted to do everything in his power to get James to stay. Even making a deal to sign a star, like Amar’e Stoudemire or Carlos Boozer, the way the Knicks and Bulls did in their pursuit of James would have been better, but Gilbert didn’t. Are we really to blame James for leaving, when he publicly stated he would like to win championships, and even went as far as to indicate interest in playing with guys like Wade? No! Gilbert failed to put the Cavs in position to retain LeBron and he should shoulder the blame for his leaving. But he doesn’t even do that, instead he points all the blame on LeBron in a temper tantrum of dramatic middle school girl proportions.

The self-indulgent rant does far more long term damage than good. It promises things Gilbert and the Cavs can’t possibly backup. Guaranteeing the people of Cleveland a championship before LeBron wins one may feel like a good thing to say, but it is irresponsible at best. It’s like losing your job and then telling your depressed wife and kids, “It’s going to be alright, I’m going to win the lottery!” Sure, making such a promise may dry up the tears if the family is desperate enough to believe it, but sooner or later when the cash doesn’t show up the fear and hurt comes back tenfold, and the family learns that daddy is a liar. That is exactly what Gilbert has done to the people of Cleveland, except winning the lottery may be a more realistic goal than the Cavs even sniffing the playoffs without LeBron James for the next five years.

Gilbert’s thoughtless words should not be praised as the work of a caring owner or even a business strategist that gave his people hope after a huge loss. Rather his statement should be interpreted for what is – a cowardly attempt to focus the blame on someone else. Gilbert’s letter should insult the intelligence of the people of Cleveland. He is clearly trying to give the city a common enemy, someone besides himself to serve as the scapegoat, and LeBron fits the bill. It is an age old strategy. Redirect people’s anger and fears into hate for a mutual enemy. It’s a cheap trick that appeals to the basest side of human nature. Hitler used the same hatemongering theatrics to turn the Germans’ frustrations after World War I into power and support for himself. Before I start drawing Jesse Jackson comparisons for statements on the LeBron situation that border on lunacy, no, I am not calling Dan Gilbert Hitler. I am merely pointing out that he is using old tricks that the people of Cleveland shouldn’t fall for.

Gilbert’s actions and words have absolutely destroyed his credibility. The man’s comments about LeBron never winning a championship until he does “right” by Cleveland more closely resemble a gypsy curse than they do a public statement by an NBA owner. How can he be taken seriously as an owner or businessman when he releases letters with the validity of Miss Cleo fortunetelling?

Even though Gilbert has temporarily closed his mouth, the drama lives on in his propaganda. His recent claims, that he is rejecting the good people of Cleveland’s offers to pay his $100,000 fine, prove as yet another self serving media ploy. He even panders for the alleged donations to go to the Cavaliers’ Youth charity because there is nothing to defuse an ugly situation like philanthropy. He is spinning a punitive action which was intended to teach him to give pause before turning public statements into a campaign for Cavalier love for their owner. We don’t even know if these donors truly exist, and if they do they have obviously sipped way too much of the Gilbert’ Kool-Aid. (FYI – it comes in two new flavors, Lunatic Lies and Unfulfilled Promises. The latter is harder to swallow.)

The letter may temporarily buy Gilbert some time, but when the smoke clears, Cavs fans will realize his promises were empty. When they finally call on Gilbert to deliver, it will be much worse than if he simply acknowledged LeBron’s contributions to the city and helped the people move on.

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The Biggest NBA Free Agency Story Debate… Super Friends in Miami

July 9, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Sports Geek.

It’s over! Done! Finished!

No, I’m not talking about the mind numbing drama of the LeBron James free agent extravaganza. I’m talking about the 2011 NBA playoffs. That’s right, I said it. Mark it on your calendars – July 8, 2010 – a date which will live in sports infamy because it is the day the Miami Heat won the NBA championship before the season even started.

In the immortal words of Will Smith, “Welcome to Miami, Bienvenido a Miami.” This city has just become the center of the basketball universe as three real life supermen – LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh – converge on the same team and leave the rest of the league reeling in the wake of this Earth shattering decision. This is the single most shocking development in NBA free agent history. Never before have stars of this caliber collaborated to assure the creation of a super team and potentially one of the greatest dynasties in sports history.

For all the doubters and haters out there that question if three such stars can coexist and work well together I’d like to point out they already have. James, Wade, and Bosh are a world class trio and they’ve got the gold to back it up. Former Olympic teammates, the fearsome threesome helped lead Team USA to a gold medal in basketball at the most recent Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. Olympic teams are comprised of the best players each country has to offer, and now three of the best players from the world’s best team will be running the boards during each home game in South Beach next season. One key to the Dream Team Reboot’s success was a less selfish approach to the game, something we are going to see demonstrated all season long in Miami next season. They have done it before, and they are going to do it again. Coexistence won’t be a problem, but deciding how to divide a league MVP three ways might be.

While I don’t pretend to be a soothsayer or fortune teller, anyone can see the writing is on the wall for the Heat to win multiple championships over the next five years. They pretty much have to, because LeBron’s legacy is riding on it. He cited the urgency to “win championships” as one of the most important factors in his decision. Wade and Bosh figure to help him do exactly that, and continue doing it for a long time to come. Last night during the ESPN coverage of “The Decision” Michael Wilbon said he thought that the Heat were likely to win three championships over four years. I think that’s a conservative estimate.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of good teams out there, but they won’t be able to compete with this new breed of mega team. Riding the success of just one of these stars, Wade, helped the Heat make the 2010 playoffs. LeBron alone was enough to lead the Cavaliers to the conference semifinals, where his team even took a couple of games from the eventual conference winning Boston Celtics. Add them together, and throw Bosh in the mix, and this looks more like an honest to goodness All-Star team than anything else.

There is no way anyone else can compete with the Heat now, especially since a number of teams mortgaged their immediate future attempting to clear space for James. The Knicks have a great weapon in newly acquired forward Amar’e Stoudemire, but the Heat have three times the talent (if not even more) in James, Wade, and Bosh. While the Knicks wait yet another year to fill in the missing pieces to the puzzle (and Knicks fans made no bones about who they want as chants of “Car-mel-o, Car-mel-o, Car-mel-o” filled the night sky around the Garden yesterday), the Heat will be dominating each and every game.

Despite tough words from the Cleveland’s owner, the Cavs now face the uphill battle of building a winning team without the anchor they’ve relied on for the past seven seasons. The voodoo-esque curse that he tried to saddle LeBron with, that he wouldn’t win a championship until he does right by Cleveland, is ridiculous for a two reasons: a) Dan Gilbert is an NBA owner not a gypsy and b) LeBron already did right by the Cavaliers for the past seven years. There is no way Cleveland poses a threat to Miami. The only team that stands a chance is the L.A. Lakers.

With the magic of yet another Phil Jackson three-peat in the making, Kobe Bryant will match his best against the Miami Triad. That seems more like a fair fight, but the smart money remains on the triumvirate of league greats. Kobe is great, arguably the greatest player of all time, but can even he hang with James, Wade, and Bosh? Only time will tell.

The emergence of the Super Team in Miami is revolutionary, athletes of the highest caliber placing winning above money and team above self. It is a model in sports that has a proven track record, but rarely been implemented. I do not think this will inspire other stars to follow suit, but it will make for the most interesting basketball of our generation.

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The NBA Free Agent Double Standard Debate… We Are All Witnesses… to a Crime

July 8, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

Thank goodness it all ends today!

My office sits right in the heart of Cavalier Country (or perhaps LeBron Land is the more appropriate term), right next door to Quicken Loans Arena on East 9th Street in Downtown Cleveland. Outside of my office window sits one of the hundreds of banners hung all over town to tell LeBron James how much the city of Cleveland loves him. Outside and below my office window for weeks stood groups of people who were literally REQUIRED by their employer to stand, waving similar banners, blowing air horns, and inciting traffic to honk back at them.

Why? As Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports writes, “So that these hard-working people can “beg a diva who doesn’t care about them to accept a $100 million contract.”

Sounds ridiculous, right?! Well, it is.

LeBron James has made a joke of himself (a WEALTHY joke, perhaps, but a joke nonetheless), and a joke of the good people of Cleveland. Whatever his decision, his actions leading up to tonight’s pathetic excuse for a serious announcement will have forever altered the relationship he has with the city he once claimed as his home.

If he leaves, he will join the ranks of Art Modell as one of the most vile, despicable people to have ever associated their name with Cleveland sports. If he stays, the pain and anguish that he put the city through will nevertheless hang like a shadow over the collective hearts of Cavs fans everywhere.

They will forgive him, but they will never forget.

And although this abhorrent display of pompous selfdom has reached a fever pitch since Free Agent season began on July 1, it is actually the culmination of a process that began several years ago.

Do not fool yourself into thinking that this circus developed organically, either. The NBA, and the greater sporting world at large, has actually been little more than pawns in a game that LeBron James and his cohorts around the league began playing more than two years ago. They have manipulated the league and its fans like puppets in a show, all designed to build up towards the climax that will be “The Decision.”

For the past two years LeBron has strutted all over the NBA like a tease on prom night, feigning interest in anyone who would bat an eye in his direction just long enough to get them worked up to a near frenzied state – only to a cold shoulder just at the point where it would make them crazier, rather than turn them off.

He has been very blatant in his intentions, and spoken openly about how excited he was to play the field when the 2010 period of free agency opened. He made it known that he would openly solicit all suitors, getting team officials and fans alike salivating at the possibility of having “The King” grace their own court.

For two years LeBron has dangled his free agency like a carrot on a stick, all for one reason – to inflate his already overinflated value. Unfortunately for everyone who is NOT LeBron James, his strategy worked.

So what did Dwayne Wade, Amar’e Stoudemire, Chris Bosh, and Joe Johnson do? Like a shark smelling blood in the water, they joined in on the fun.

And of course the scavenging media quickly followed. Every tweet from one player to another, every piece of clothing that one of the players wore, and every game played in the city of a prospective future employer became a headline story. And when James, Wade, and Bosh allegedly met for a “summit” (the fact that it was even dubbed a summit is ridiculous) to seriously discuss all options and strategize what would be the best thing for each of them to do, the process which started out as little more than a self-marketing campaign took the plunge into full-fledged collusion!

If this three-ringed extravaganza had been put on by team officials trying actively to recruit LeBron and company, they would have immediately been punished. The NBA prohibits collusion among team officials because they don’t want teams to have the ability of manipulating league conditions to manufacture an unfair advantage over the players or fans.

That rule does not apply to players, though, and so LeBron and his buddies were permitted to run unchecked, and the result was the manipulation of EVERYONE, all for their own selfish gain. It was a vicious cycle that continued to feed itself, ultimately snowballing into one of the most absurd and ridiculous sports spectacles ever.

A pack of free agents, led by LeBron James, was able to completely monopolize the free agency process.

What would have surely been an intense period of contract negotiation instead transformed into a sports version of “The Bachelor.” with the free agents each holding open court to see which teams would jump highest and bend farthest to give all they had.

Teams cut their own throats for two full seasons, all on the promise that they would be “allowed” to talk to James, Wade, and the other free agents. Fans across the country had to endure frustration, grief, and anguish, all on the hope that it would be worth it after July 2010.

The problem is that only one team can sign LeBron James and/or Dwayne Wade, so what about those other teams? The New Jersey Nets and New York Knicks, for example, had dumped every possible contract they could to make as much cap room available as possible. If they should fail to land any of the marquis free agents (Amar’e Stoudemire will be playing in the Big Apple, but by himself that is small consolation) the teams will both be hamstrung for the NEXT three to five years, after having willingly committed suicide over past seasons.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are another organization completely crippled by this power heist the players have committed. LeBron James had worked the system so much in his favor that the Cavaliers literally NEED him to sign with them. They had invested so much time and money into supporting him that if he leaves, the team will be crippled. They will have no means to begin the rebuilding process, and would simply be cast aside like a used up husk, all because LeBron James no longer found value in their organization.

What will happen to the Cavs?

When the curtain falls on this Shakespearean tragedy, many teams will be left in utter ruin, all so that four or five free agents could get maximum contract offers (AND maximum exposure). They have hijacked the entire NBA, and forever altered the course of professional basketball.

If the NBA wishes to regain ANY control over the situation to prevent this from ever happening again, the league needs to impose the same restrictions on free agents as it does on team executives. The “business” of basketball should play out in a business-like fashion, with the same rules applying to both sides of the bargaining table. Without that EQUAL responsibility, you end up with what we are “Witnessing” today, which is a one-sided free-for-all, where the whims and egos of a few can assume far too much control over the many.

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The Getting LeBron James Debate… Show Me the Money

June 30, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Sports Geek.

The future of LeBron James is a topic we have debated regularly on this site. Our most recent edition debated the team that would provide the best fit for LeBron.

When the city of Cleveland was brought into the conversation, Sports Geek wrote about the various business aspects of why LeBron should stay in Cleveland, and pointing them all back to one single point – Cleveland gives LeBron the best chance to win a championship.

Obviously, that statement is debatable (especially in light of the latest rumors that Miami could be poised to sign Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, AND LeBron). What is not debatable, however, and what ultimately leaves the city of Cleveland in the absolute BEST position to keep LeBron is this: No other team can offer LeBron James the long term salary that the Cavaliers can.

I know that LeBron talks about wanting to play in a city that gives him the best opportunity to win a championship, but every single team in the NBA can make an attempt at that argument. What those teams cannot do is pay him.

LeBron James could make as much as $30M EXTRA by staying in Cleveland. For him to leave the Cavaliers and play somewhere else, he would essentially be PAYING $30M just for what he PERCEIVES as a better opportunity to win a championship.

Is LeBron James at a point in his career where he is so DESPERATE for a championship that he would actually sacrifice $30M that was on the table to get it? I don’t think so.

If we are still having this conversation in another ten years, and LeBron STILL has not won a championship, then I think his level of desperation would put him in the mindset that sacrificing money for the legacy of a ring would be worth it.

That is not the case today.

LeBron James is only 25-years old, and is the most talented player in the NBA. He has won back-to-back league MVP awards, and no matter where he ends up playing basketball, that team will be a postseason threat.<br.

There can be no denying that LeBron James has a very bright basketball future STILL ahead of him, and that he will remain in contention to win a championship every single season of his career no matter WHAT jersey he wears. Time is not yet running out for LeBron, and he knows that.

While he may be hungry to win that first championship, it is a mistake to classify him as desperate.

As much as LeBron talks about wanting to win a championship, or loyalty, or any of that other fluff, his motivating factor is and always has been his ego (I don’t mean to imply any negative connotation from that). As with all of us, LeBron is going to make the decision that best serves him. Every choice he makes will be made to provide maximum boost to his already well-established legacy.

While he has publicly stated a desire to win a championship, he has ALSO publicly stated that he wants to be a billionaire athlete, and that comes only one way – making as much money as possible, as quickly as possible.

For LeBron James, there is only ONE team in the NBA that gives him the opportunity to meet BOTH of those goals – the Cleveland Cavaliers.

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The Tom Izzo Decision Debate… Izzo Isno Mercenary

June 17, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Bleacher Fan.

It has been well documented in this space that I am a fan of Tom Izzo. In fact, the other writers here at TSD poke relentless fun and me both in their articles and during production meetings because of it. For the record, I have no ties to Michigan State University or to Izzo personally. I do, however, have a great deal of healthy respect for the man. Simply, he is one of the best coaches ever in the history of college basketball. Exactly half of his teams have made the Final Four in the last 12 seasons. Twelve! Outside of John Wooden and Dean Smith – two legends – only Izzo has had more sustained, consistent success. It is a powerful and true statement.

It makes perfect sense for Izzo to stay put in East Lansing and continue building a program he has engineered to national prominence. Izzo is a practical coach; you see it in his decision making during games and his management of various personalities on this team. Even in recruiting. Some coaches go after the elite type players where academics are a question mark. Not Izzo. Izzo recruits players for four years. He expects that. It is a rarity, but a practicality, that college basketball is largely missing.

If a person is one of the best active coaches in college basketball, and has the opportunity to become one of the best in history, why would they potentially compromise that rare legacy based on twice the salary and a professional superstar’s silence?

As alluded to already, Izzo is in rarified air when it comes to the greatest college basketball coaches of all time.

John Wooden, one of my all-time favorites, coached at two universities in his entire career. Few remember his early days at Indiana State (1946-1948), but his legendary coaching days at UCLA from 1948-1975 are well documented. His level of sustained success as a coach in college basketball is thought to be unapproachable again. His ten national championships will likely never be repeated by any coach.

Dean Smith has the second most wins all time as a head coach in college basketball, and coach North Carolina into national prominence from 1961 to 1997. He won national championships 11 years apart, and was a regular winner of conference and regional tournaments. He is an institution in the state of North Carolina. His ability to stay in one spot and be successful, though, has extended his institution status well beyond the confines of a single state and promoted him to legend throughout basketball.

The reality is, Tom Izzo is in the conversation with these coaches. Part of the successful model Izzo is following by making the right decision to stay at Michigan State is coaching at one institution for a long period of time… like Wooden and Smith. He is still relatively young at 55 years of age, and has only been head coaching at Michigan State for 15 seasons. He will have ample opportunity to win additional championship and reach many more Final Fours. When all is said and done, Izzo will be in the conversation as one of the five best coaches in college basketball history. If he were to abandon this path to assured legendary status now, his accidental ambition would be compromised. The potential of coaching LeBron James and winning an NBA title simply is not worth that.

Another reason Izzo is smart for staying at MSU is because his style of coaching is far better suited for college basketball than professional basketball. Simply, the motivations for collegiate athletes and professional athletes (who often become mercenaries, bouncing from team to team for more money or playing time) are different.

College athletes do not have leverage with coaches. Coaches are in control and can punish, reward, inspire, and motivate accordingly. Izzo is a master at this. When he needed to bench his best player, point guard Kalin Lucas, early last season for not being the type of team leader the team needed, he did. He had every possible button to push at his disposal. In the professional ranks, can any of us imagine Izzo getting away with benching LeBron – either from the fans OR media OR players? If Izzo believes that is the right decision to make, in college he has the power to make it. In the NBA, a notoriously and frustratingly player’s league, he does not.

Professional athletes are mercenaries. Loyalty to team or cause takes a back seat to earning potential and contract value nearly every time. Rare is the case when professional basketball players turn down a big contract because they BELIEVE in what their team is doing. Izzo is the type of coach that must never be in a position where he has to convince a player to believe. Trust is important. Back to our previous analogy, would LeBron trust Izzo that sitting on the bench, healthy, is in the best interests of the team? No.

The NBA is full of players that demand more money or more playing time, and the Cleveland Cavaliers are no random exception to this obvious truth. The quality of character which Izzo pursues in the players he recruits would be a more difficult pursuit in the NBA. Izzo would simply be a coach in the NBA, not a coach and GM as he is in college. The difference is stark and no easy adjustment.

Despite Cavs’ owner Dan Gilbert’s best efforts, Izzo is not the type of coach to simply be plugged in to coach up professional assets. He’s an emotional person, he’s a believer. The NBA strips players and coaches of the idealism college basketball thrives on, and Tom Izzo has mastered. Yes, Izzo made the right decision by staying true to who he is as a person – a legendary college basketball coach in the making.

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