One of the main problems with the NBA is that it’s too offseason focused. If you’re a fan of a perennial loser – think Philly, New York, New Jersey, Minnesota, L.A. Clippers etc. – the discussion is never about what your team can do this year, it’s always how can we tank enough games/free enough cap space to make a run next year.
It’s a terrible way to run a league, but hey, David Stern is a “genius.”
I could take down Stern for the fraud he is (real tough to “popularize” a league when you come in with Bird and Magic, and then get thrown a Michael Jordan bonus). But with the biggest names on the planet purchasable to the highest bidder starting Thursday, now is not the time for that column. Instead, I’ve decided to take the advice of Rockhound from Armageddon.
It’s time to “embrace the horror.”
I’m as rapt in the LeBron James drama as every other NBA fan (as if ESPN gives me a choice). For months now, I’ve been counting down the clock to July; anticipating the biggest offseason day in NBA history – the day when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are officially on the open market (sorry Joe Johnson and Amar’e Stoudemire, but you’re Tier 2 this year).
I have always wanted LeBron out of Cleveland. I didn’t care where he went, I just wanted him out. (Don’t get mad yet Cavs fans … I think you’re going to like how this turns out). I said so adamantly on the Ready, Set, Go podcast with Spike Eskin and Chris Johnson.
LeBron to ABC (Anywhere But Cleveland) was in my best interest. Professionally, James changing teams in his prime would create innumerable writing opportunities. Personally, the drama of an ABC LBJ would necessarily add instant hype and excitement for the 2010-11 season.
But something Spike said during that podcast changed my mind. Actually, something Mike Vick said (Spike quoted a recent interview he did with Vick) convinced me that the right place – the only place – for LeBron James is Cleveland.
On June 4, Spike asked Vick what he thought James should do (because who better to ask about an NBA superstar decision than an embattled ex-NFL superstar).
“If I was LeBron James, I would stay in Cleveland,” Vick told Eskin. “I think it’d be great for him to bring a championship to that city through hard work and great effort. I think he has the intangibles to do that, I think you just have to get some guys in around him … all the great ones stay in one spot, and win championships.” (emphasis added)
All the great ones stay in one spot and win championships.
That nugget has been reverberating in my brain for a few days now … and the more I think about it, the more sense it makes.
Michael Jordan. Magic Johnson. Larry Bird. Tim Duncan. Bill Russell. Hakeem Olajuwon. Willis Reed. John Havlicek. They all stayed, they all won, they all became heroes. (Shaq and Wilt are notable exceptions.)
Even in other sports, the truly elite ones never go anywhere once they’ve established their dominance. (I don’t count the late-career “I’m obviously holding on too long because I desperately crave the mass adulation” moves.)
The last great player to change teams in his prime? Alex Rodriguez. Alex got himself a ring out of it. But he is universally hated for his lack of “character” and will never be considered a “true Yankee” the likes of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte. A-Rod is undeniably a better baseball player than each of those Yankee greats, but his popularity and fan following is dwarfed by the Core Four.
Why? Because A-Rod is a mercenary. A bat for hire.
We always speculate as to what A-Rod needs to do to get himself on Jeter’s level. He needs to win a ring. Check. He needs to be more clutch. Check. He needs to have a game-winning World Series hit. Check. He needs to start bagging A-listers. Check.
A-Rod has leapt over every hurdle the sports world has put in front of him, and while New York fans are appreciative … he’s still not Jeter.
He never will be.
And it’s not because A-Rod is generally dislikeable. He is, but that never stopped Celtics fans from loving Bird, Philly fans from loving Lindros or San Francisco fans from loving Bonds.
The problem isn’t Rodriguez’s demeanor. The problem is Rodriguez isn’t one of the fans’ guys. And that’s mainly because he hasn’t always been around to be that guy.
LeBron, you need to learn a lesson from A-Rod. You need to understand your own greatness and understand that despite all the love you’re getting from other suitors, no fan base will love you as much or need you as much as Cleveland.
LeBron, the greats don’t chase championships. The greats bring championships to them.
Cleveland is your home. Not just because you grew up in Akron, but because it’s the only professional home court you’ve ever played on; because it provides you with the only professional jersey you’ve ever worn.
Sure, as a fan and writer, I’d love to see you in blue and orange or red and black.
But LeBron, big fella, if you are truly thinking about your legacy, if you really want to be one of the greatest players to ever lace them up, you better stick with the crimson and gold.
Email me at email@example.com; follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/leerussakoff.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.