What's crackin', friends and frienemies? Unless you live under a rock or in parts of Iraq, even if you're not a pro sports fan, you probably know that over the past week or so there's been big buzz in the news over where now-former Cleveland Cavaliers basketball star LeBron James would land in this season of free agency. He landed in Miami...last night.
Awesome news for the Miami Heat and the team's fans. Great news for sports journalists - especially those based in South Florida, given the amazingly talented trio of James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosch, now leading the Heat. Not so great news for folks in Cleveland.
But amidst all the hype surrounding this story, there are a few highlights - good and bad - that have been missed.
No worries. JB has 'em for you - five considerations for jocks, fans, and media on Lebron James's move to Miami:
- To the sports journalists and angry Cleveland fans who say James can no longer be considered a superstar, because he's pairing up with another superstar, where were you for all the years the Los Angeles Lakers stacked the deck? Does anyone remember Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant playing together? Granted, Bryant was a rookie when they started. But they still played together. What about Magic Johnson and James Worthy? Seriously, you would never put down the superstar quarterback of your favorite NFL team for wanting to play with a superstar wide receiver. Oh, the horror! Two big stars on one team! It's the end of pro sports as we know it! Moving right along.
- At Cleveland.com, online home of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, there are hundreds of comments by former James fans suggested that their lives and their region have been ruined by his departure. These are clearly people who have not faced layoff at work or cancer or an earthquake or a tornado, because LeBron James leaving town should not ruin the lives of people who were not close to him. Folks in Cleveland and disjointed sports journalists, James wasn't your friend. If you weren't at his kids' christenings or at his house for a barbecue now and then, he wasn't your friend. He wasn't in an intimate relationship with you. Friends and lovers are people who owe you something, people who know you. James's relationship with you was an extension of his business relationship with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Deep Breaths. It'll be alright.
- To the sports journalists who have sided with Dan Gilbert, Cavaliers' owner, in calling James a coward and a traitor and disloyal for leaving the team, how many of you, who are not from New York or LA, or Chicago or DC, or Miami (had to slip that in there!), still live and work in your home towns? If loyalty to where you're from means that much, why aren't you broadcasting and printing from the weak-signaled TV and radio stations and three-page newspapers in your tiny home towns? Why'd you all clammer early in your careers to get to Chicago or New York or LA...or Miami? 'Cause you wanted to do your thing in settings that gave you a better chance at media stardom, bigger money, or both.
- I've had a theory for a long time that modern pro sports is just a few steps away from modern slavery. Cavaliers' owner Dan Gilbert's reaction to James sort of sealed it for me. Don't get all squirelly and uncomfortable. But think about it. Rich men bid in informal auctions on the services of strapping young men. That sums up the free agency element to pro sports. My point is the logical mind gets that sports team owners offer jocks sums of money to play for a number of years. Jocks play. Owners pay. When the agreement ends they renew it on different terms or they part ways. The blood-boiling reactions from Gilbert and many Cavs fans though would have you believe that James's name was actually Toby, that he was their property and that he had no right to leave town, that he, not his uniforms and paraphernalia, was property of the team and the town. The only way Lebron James still "owed" Cleveland anything would be if he hadn't fulfilled his contract. Gilbert paid, James played. Done deal. Yeah, James promised a championship and never brought it. So what. Shaq promised a second championship to Miami and got traded before that happened. I don't see any bounty hunters after him for leaving town.
- LeBron isn't completely blameless in the swirl of anger and bad feelings surrounding his departure from Cleveland. Although I have to say the level of rage aimed at him last night makes it seem like a very wise and safe decision in retrospect to make his announcement outside the state of Ohio! Seriously, though, he should fire whichever public relations pro advised him to announce his decision in a one-hour televised special last night. It smacked of mega-ego - not the "standard" kind that we come to assume all elite athletes have, but rather the arrogant, indifferent kind that lazy, privileged types often display. That announcement show was more dragged out than elimination night on American Idol. James should've held a standard, traditional news conference, announced in five minutes or less his decision, his "sadness" over leaving home, and how much he was looking forward to taking his career in a new direction in Miami. Then he should've opened the floor for questions for 20 minutes or so, taken the inevitable beating that good journalists would've laid on him, and called it a night.
PS. Follow me, please, at twitter.com/jamesburnett.