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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The Tom Izzo Decision Debate… Izzo Izz NOT Making the Right Decision

June 17, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Sports Geek.

Tom Izzo is allegedly a great coach. Our very own Sports Geek even goes so far as to laud Izzo on his ability to coach up teams to perform better than their raw talent would otherwise dictate. Sports Geek also gushes worshipful praise upon Izzo’s hallowed visage for his ability to stay strong and find success, even when the odds appear to be against him.

Yet, when Izzo’s feet were held to the fire, he shied away from an opportunity to advance his career, nay, his legacy. This “legendary” coach, who has undeniably had success in college, just didn’t have the guts to take the leap to try and coach the “big boys” when the real pressure was on.

Why the sudden and apparent cowardice? Izzo could not get CONFIRMATION that LeBron James would be playing in Cleveland. If he had gotten that confirmation, he would be packing his bags for Lake Erie as you read this article. But since that guarantee was unavailable to him, he will instead remain a big fish in the little pond of college basketball.

Translation – Izzo just didn’t want to have to put forth the EFFORT of possibly having to rebuild a successful team in the NBA. Instead, this coach whose alleged greatness comes from his ability to build, coach up, and maintain a successful basketball program tucked tail and ran when the opportunity came for him to put his money where his mouth was.

Tom Izzo would rather “safely” coach college kids against the likes of Thad Matta, Ron Zook, and Fran McCaffery than he would test his mettle in coaching better, professional basketball players against better coaches like Phil Jackson, Doc Rivers, and Stan Van Gundy.

Sports Geek will argue that Izzo is one of the few coaches who has the unique opportunity to finish his career in the very place he started. He will also argue that NCAA coaches have not traditionally found success after attempting the transition to the pros. Both of those are feeble attempts to justify a decision to play it safe, rather than make a decision to challenge yourself to do something great.

And it is not like he would be coaching the New Jersey Nets.

Consider the situation that was presented to Tom Izzo.

On one hand, LeBron James stays with the Cleveland Cavaliers. In that case, Izzo inherits the best player in the NBA, on a championship-ready team, with the undying support of one of sports’ greatest fan bases and all for an owner who has publicly promised to do everything in his power to make the Cavaliers a championship team (which, in fairness, he has absolutely backed up).

That sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me.

On the other hand, LeBron James decides to leave Cleveland and play elsewhere. In that case, Izzo would STILL inherit a tremendous supporting cast that is just one superstar short of NBA championship contention. He would also STILL be coaching for a very passionate fan base, AND working for an owner who PROMISED a championship (note – that promise did not come only on the condition that LeBron stays in Cleveland).

As owner of the Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert has committed to winning a championship – no strings attached. If LeBron James leaves Cleveland, Gilbert would not just throw his hands up in the air with an attitude that “we tried our best” and then just pack it in and call it quits. Instead, if LeBron suits up elsewhere next season (and that is still a VERY big IF), Gilbert still has the means and the motivation to keep the Cavaliers in contention.

Let’s be real – LeBron James does not EQUAL a championship. Yes, his talent puts his team in a great position to PLAY for a championship, but in the 64-year history of the NBA there have been 64 different championship teams, and NONE of them included LeBron James.

Tom Izzo had an opportunity to do something that very few basketball coaches will ever find, and that is to coach in the NBA. The fact that other college coaches such as Rick Pitino and John Calipari failed to make the transition is poor and cowardly justification for Izzo not to try, especially when considering Pitino’s teams in New York and Boston, and Calipari’s New Jersey Nets, were nowhere NEAR as well-equipped as the Cavaliers for success, with or WITHOUT LeBron James.

Izzo had the opportunity to coach some of the most talented basketball players in the world on the game’s biggest stage – for a LUDICROUS salary – all of which would have been supported by an owner with some of the deepest pockets and arguably the most ambition in all of the NBA. And he turned it down. Why? Because he only has a CHANCE of having LeBron James on his team, rather than a guarantee.

No matter how successful Izzo may be in his future seasons at Michigan State, it will not compare with the success that he could have found in the NBA.

When you consider the qualities that have made Izzo a great coach for the Spartans, along with the opportunity that he was being presented with, it seemed to be a perfect fit.

Izzo made the wrong decision!

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The Cavaliers Playoff Loss Debate… Cleveland Was Too Cavalier

May 17, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Sports Geek.

I’m not normally one to gloat (especially when I never wanted to be right in the first place), but – I told you so!

Last year, after the Cavaliers lost to the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference finals, I highlighted the many serious shortcomings of Cleveland’s newest version of Marty Schottenheimer – head coach Mike Brown. Brown’s inability to make good adjustments during the game, combined with a blind reliance on talent to overcome strategy, cost the Cavs a shot at the 2009 NBA Finals.

Rather than acknowledge Brown’s problems last year and fire him when they SHOULD have, the Cavs’ owner (Dan Gilbert) and GM (Danny Ferry) allowed the regular season accolade of “2009 Coach of the Year” to cloud their judgment – a decision that has now come back to haunt them (possibly at the expense of LeBron James).

Getting Outcoached

Without rehashing shortcomings of Mike Brown that I already highlighted 12 months ago, I will simply reiterate a couple key indicators:

  • Lack of Halftime Adjustments: The Cavaliers were outscored in the third quarter by the Boston Celtics by a total of 30 points over their four losses in the six-game series.
  • Poor Execution When it Matters Most: The Cavaliers were out-rebounded 144-168 in the four games they lost to the Celtics, and 230-239 overall. Likewise, the Cavs had 71 turnovers to the Celtics 53 during their four losses, and 93 to 76 over the entire series.
  • Matchup Problems: Once again, Mike Brown failed to play the matchup game, and the result was that Rajon Rondo, who is generally a B-class point guard, ended up looking like a superstar against the seemingly hapless Cavaliers. Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison were ineffective, and LeBron (hurt elbow or not) was completely shut down for much of the series.

Creating a Culture of Winning Being Laid Back

Added to those problems that were evident even last season, however, came a new realization as the ALLEGED best team self-destructed once more. Mike Brown has no control over the players on his team.

During a January 27 interview, Mo Williams was quoted as saying that Shaquille O’Neal called the Cavaliers, “the most laid back team he’s ever played on.” At the time the comment seemed innocuous enough, but in hindsight that is a VERY telling statement.

Consider some of the other teams that Shaq has played for that weren’t “laid back:”

2005-2006 Miami Heat: Coached by Pat Riley all the way to a championship.

1999-2004 Los Angeles Lakers: Coached by Phil Jackson, won THREE NBA championships, and reached the Finals a fourth time.

Coaches who create and demand a championship culture actually WIN championships, while coaches who are laid back get laid back effort. That is not a coincidence!

The Cavaliers lost to the Boston Celtics because Mike Brown is an impotent coach who has failed to lead, instead delegating that responsibility to his players.

During games, players (including LeBron James) could often be seen clowning around on the bench, rather than paying attention to what was going on out on the court. It was silliness, plain and simple, which by itself is not a major crime. The Cavs were winning games AND they were having fun. Consequently, the fans were all having fun with them.

Those acts, however, were symptoms of a bigger problem.

From overly elaborate, choreographed player introductions to that STUPID “gooseneck” gesture, it should have been evident THEN that the team spent FAR TOO MUCH time focusing on trivial (and CHILDISH) games, and probably not nearly enough time focusing on winning a championship.

If THIS is how seriously they approached the regular season, why should we have believed their approach to the playoffs would be any different?!

Rather than committing 100 percent to building and maintaining a championship culture, where WINNING was the top priority, Mike Brown allowed his team to instead commit to making up fancy handshakes as though they were forming a secret club for sixth-graders.

Phil Jackson would NEVER tolerate that kind of foolishness from his players. Even with larger-than-life personalities on his teams such as Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, and Dennis Rodman, Jackson was the unquestioned leader. He maintained the role as coach and boss, and DEMANDED that his players act accordingly, as was the case for Pat Riley with all of his championships in Miami and Los Angeles. Mike Brown, however, is apparently okay with unfocused goofing off, which has been paid off in kind.

Everyone on the Cavaliers’ team simply EXPECTED to reach the Finals. The problem is that no one actually helped them prepare to get there, and that is where Mike Brown has ultimately failed. The result was an ineffective performance by unprepared players against a team who KNEW what to expect, and (more importantly) HOW to win when it mattered most.

Good luck to the Boston Celtics and their coach, Doc Rivers, who truly embody the essence of being a CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM – something the Cavaliers may never be – at least with Mike Brown at the helm!

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The Hate in the NBA Debate… Fueling the Fire

May 7, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Loyal Homer.

I would love to wax poetic on the virtues of non-violence. There truly is far too much aggression, anger, and hatred in this world, and the Earth would be a MUCH better place if everyone got along.

It is extremely ironic, then, that an event which is centered on competition, and celebrates winners over losers, can actually unify in the act of dividing. Don’t believe me? Then I would strongly recommend you tune into the events that will take place beginning in June in South Africa.

The World Cup is a perfect example of how people with the utmost hatred and disgust for each other can still come together and celebrate even the smallest commonalities between them – a game of soccer. Likewise, the Olympics present another rare opportunity for people to come together in a competition of NATIONAL pride that will not wind up with excessive blood spilling or death.

Sport, at its very core, is peaceful.

That does not mean, however, that sport is (or should be) entirely without aggression and even MILD violence. Many of the best rivalries in sports today have evolved from deeper lying disputes that have absolutely nothing to do with sports in general.

The Origin of a Great Rivalry

The greatest rivalry in American sports – The Ohio State vs Michigan football game – actually stems from a land dispute in 1835 called the Toledo War. That’s right, every year when the Buckeyes take the field against the Wolverines, it is quite literally a battle fought as an extension of a nearly 200 year old WAR. And although the reasons for that war have been lost over the centuries, the mutual dislike between Ohioans and Michiganders has continued to fester. Folks in Ohio HATE folks in Michigan, and vice versa.

Consequently, when Ohio State supporters watch their Scarlet and Gray clad warriors set foot on the gridiron, they do so with the utmost dislike for the Maize and Blue soldiers of Michigan and their flag-waving counterparts in the stands (with that hate being reciprocated by the Michigan faithful). Consequently, they EXPECT their on-field representatives to share in that hatred, as well as the hope for the athletic destruction of the vile opposition.

The Curse of Free Agency

In recent years, however, that sense of passionate rivalry has been lost in the NBA (and professional sports in general). While fans of the game still feel deep-rooted love for their teams (and vicarious hatred for all others), a disconnect has developed between the fans and the athletes who represent them.

Free agency has KILLED rivalry.

Fans today feel no relationship at all with the players who don their beloved uniforms because they know that the players have no real attachment to the city in which they represent. A kinship that once existed between players and fans has been lost, because we as fans know that the player filling the uniform is fleeting. By this time next week, my beloved power forward may very well be plotting where he will be playing next season, perhaps for the team that I despise.

Likewise, players have become so ingrained in a culture of contract performance that they no longer care which colors they are wearing as long as they are being made rich in the process. Taking that a step further, athletes have become business-savvy enough to recognize that too much animosity towards a certain market may actually HURT their chances at making a bigger paycheck in the future. Rather than alienate fans of a prospective future fan base (burning bridges BEFORE crossing them), they have completely disconnected from the fans.

Hometown Heroes

Athletes like LeBron James and Derrick Rose are so exciting in the NBA because they’re hometown heroes. Not only are they some of the game’s brightest stars, but they are authentic representatives of the teams and cities they represent (at least for now). LeBron James, for example, isn’t just a kid who was DRAFTED by Cleveland Cavaliers, he IS Cleveland. He becomes a focal point of support and love that fans can rally around, and equally becomes a focal point of animosity and hatred for those who resent what he represents.

Speaking on behalf of all the Cleveland fans out there (of which I PROUDLY claim membership), we NEED LeBron to act and feel as we do. It is as simple as that. (Why do you think we took such offense when he showed up to an Indians playoff game in a Yankees hat?)

We as a city and as a people have been abused, belittled, and berated by the rest of the sports world for long enough. From insulting nicknames (“The Mistake by the Lake”) and berating implications (“You don’t live in Cleveland!”), to heartbreak and failure on the field, the city of Cleveland has long suffered.

Finally, though, we have a player who truly UNDERSTANDS. He grew up with us, lived in our struggling economic environment, shops in our stores, and can truly REPRESENT us. There is a bond between LeBron and the fans of the Cavs that MOST in sports will never understand. I’ve played basketball on the same St. Vincent St. Mary’s court as LeBron. I’ve sat in the same stands as LeBron while enjoying a University of Akron basketball game. Having attended a rival high school of LeBron’s, the best man in my brother’s wedding has a poster of himself getting dunked on by LeBron.

He is not just a hired gun who was called upon to bring a little justice to our neck of the woods, he is the local boy making a stand. He is one of us.

So when he steps onto the court, I don’t WANT to see him shaking hands and playing nice with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. I don’t want to see him hugging and laughing it up with Rajon Rondo. I want him to lead the rest of the Cavs in an all-out rampage to dismantle and EMBARRASS the Boston Celtics, whose players and fans have NO IDEA about what it is like to lose the way that we have in Cleveland (an 85 year championship drought in baseball means absolutely NOTHING when your basketball team has won 16 NBA Championships in the meantime).

When the Cavs lost to the Magic last year, I didn’t want to see LeBron shaking hands. Instead, his act of storming off of the court was the perfect representation of how we ALL felt in Cleveland.

We don’t WANT LeBron to hate the Celtics as much as we do. We NEED him to. Since I won’t have the opportunity to get in Garnett’s face and tell him what I REALLY think about him, I have to trust that my faithful and duly appointed representative, Mr. LeBron James, will satisfactorily handle that responsibility in my stead.

Loyal Homer is absolutely correct that we don’t need anymore gun-toting, riot-inducing incidents in sports. However, Babe Ruthless is also correct in asserting that the NBA cannot afford to shed all of its edginess without risking the overall appeal of the product to the fans. This is not a friendly game of Chutes and Ladders we are talking about, here. Instead, this is a physical test of superiority. It is a battle that takes place on hardwood flooring, where our best physical specimens will matchup against your best physical specimens, and only one side will walk away victorious in the end.

If the NBA tries to hide, diminish, or eliminate physical and aggressive rivalries, they will ultimately lose appeal. Babe Ruthless is awarded the victory for this debate by recognizing the importance of these intense rivalries to the most important people in sports – THE FANS!

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