August 18, 2010

Cleveland Rocked

Cleveland seems to always be taking a hit. They say things happen in cycles. When it comes to Cleveland, it seems the cycle is “trauma-recover from trauma-more trauma,” and somehow the triumph and vindication part of the cycle gets bypassed. The economy there is tanking.  And let’s not forget the newly thin, hosting someone else’s game show version of Drew Carey.

But July 2010 was especially unkind to the Forest City. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that last month Cleveland suffered the loss of two of its own, though it wouldn’t exactly be right either.

It’s true that the Cavaliers lost LeBron James but, as this month’s Esquire profile makes abundantly clear, LeBron never considered himself a Clevelander.  Even so, Miami’s gain was Cleveland’s loss.

Just five days after LeBron’s Decision, George Steinbrenner died. Steinbrenner was a Buckeye to the bone. He was born and raised in Ohio, his first major business venture was a Great Lakes shipping business, and the first sports franchise he ever owned was the Cleveland Pipers of the ABL. But George will be forever remembered as a New Yorker, the American Dream as sung by Frank Sinatra.

I’ll discuss Georgie Boy in more detail in a separate post. That’s my Decision and I’m sticking to it. Let’s start with LeBron, who has taken a lot of Heat, I mean heat since announcing he is headed to Miami. Only some of it is deserved.

The argument that LeBron owed it to Cleveland to stay put and win a title rings hollow. The Cavaliers had seven years to put together a title-worthy squad and failed to do it. Cleveland’s appearance in the 2007 NBA Finals was a testament to LeBron’s individual brilliance against an unfocused Pistons team. Over the past three seasons Dan Gilbert and Danny Ferry have made moves that smacked of desperation or misjudgment. High on the list was keeping Mike Brown as coach well past the point when Cleveland’s half-court was exposed as nothing more than LeBron and four guys standing around. Maybe the lack of spacing and movement was a function of LeBron’s selfishness or uncooperativeness. Even so, seven years is long enough for LBJ to know that the brain trust in Cleveland wasn’t to be trusted. And Dan Gilbert’s histrionic response to LBJ’s decision didn’t engender a whole lot of sympathy for the Cleveland owner.

A pro athlete can choose where he wants to play when he becomes a free agent. That includes playing with your friends or mutually agreeing to join forces to try to win an NBA title. LeBron exercised his rights, period.

And the Heat still have to prove they can live up to the hype. Is there steak behind the sizzle? I wasn’t disappointed when I found out Wade, Bosh and LeBron were going to play together, but when I saw the three of them appear together a few days later, preening and vamping while the smoke machines and disco lights worked overtime, I yearned for the day back in 1983 when Moses Malone predicted “Four, four and four” (some people say the exact quote was “fo, fo fo”) before the NBA playoffs began, and came within one game of delivering on his promise.  Give me Derek Jeter, who doesn’t celebrate until the final out of the World Series, and who only stands under the disco lights in a disco. 

Dwyane Wade has won a title, but Chris Bosh has never won a playoff series. Are these guys tough enough to get through Boston and Orlando and the Lakers? Time will tell. I am hoping that a team with two of the three best two-way players in basketball will play some beautiful basketball. Since you can’t really double team two guys at the same time, there are sure to be lots of mismatches for the Heat to dissect. Will they do it was well as MJ and Scottie did? Will the team defense be Bulls-worthy? I look forward to finding out.

Here’s what LeBron did that he shouldn’t have done:

1. He didn’t tell the Cavaliers his decision before the Decision telecast. That showed a lack of courtesy and made a tacky production even more graceless.

2. He ceded alpha dog status to D Wade, and thus lowered the ceiling on his legacy. It’s almost as if LeBron didn’t care about winning an NBA title as much as he cared about how never winning an NBA title would affect his brand name. So he was going to stack the deck any way he could to get over the hump, even if it meant being Scottie to someone else’ MJ. Given that LeBron just strung together three of the greatest statistical seasons of the past 40 years, that’s a damn shame.

So now LeBron’s career is a no-win proposition. If he wins a title in Miami, he shares top billing with Wade. It’s never going to be LeBron’s team, not the way Kobe pushed Shaq out the door and took over the Lakers in 2006. LeBron will never be vindicated for as long as he is in South Beach. And I think this is where the LeBron decision becomes ironic and sad because LBJ’s brain trust, by trying so hard to elevate LeBron James’s marketability, only succeeded in hurting his reputation indefinitely.

Here’s hoping that in three years LeBron comes to Brooklyn, regains alpha dog status and finds redemption by bringing an NBA title to Kings County.

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