The High School to College Jump Debate… Getting Schooled, NBA Style

March 1, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Bleacher Fan.

Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Kevin Garnett.

Each one of those names represents a supremely talented player that comprises the modern face of the NBA. These men define the very best in terms of talent the NBA has to offer. Each one of them has been named to the All-NBA team. Each one of them is a former NBA All-Star. Each one of them is a former first round draft pick. These are all extraordinary accomplishments from extraordinarily talented players, but the most striking of the commonalities shared by these players is the fact that each one of them was drafted right out of high school.

That’s right, folks. These players learned to dominate the league without having to go to college. While it may not be politically correct to romanticize the fact these guys went on to experience great success without the benefit of a college education or the experience of NCAA basketball, that is exactly what happened. Though it may be true that not every player who declares for the draft right out of high school experiences this type of success, these men prove it is indeed possible. When the ludicrous talk of making incoming players wait three years after their high school graduation before they can become eligible for the NBA comes up, I dismiss it as a flawed and outdated notion.

This proposal is as ill fit for the NBA as James Franco was for Oscar hosting. (Editor’s Note: Nice.)

This rule may work for other leagues, but it would be ill fit for the NBA. No one in his or her right mind would expect an 18-year old to be ready for the NFL. The game just moves at too fast a pace, and the body of an 18-year old simply isn’t developed enough to take the grueling punishment of an NFL season. Comparisons may be made to MLB, seeing as how prospects are signed right out of high school, but that is a tad misleading. While clubs frequently sign young players fresh out of high school, they are given ample opportunity to develop the required skills for the majors in the league’s vast farm system. It may take a player years, or even a decade, to mature into a true big leaguer.

In either scenario, the maturation of the player is key to their success, and the NBA is no different. HOWEVER… I argue that placing an arbitrary timetable on that development process does nothing to improve the game. No two players develop the same and therefore they do not uniformly fit a one-size fits all approach to development. Some players are simply ready right out of high school and others aren’t. I don’t suggest that every player be drafted right out of high school, JUST the ones that are ready for it.

Forcing a pro-ready talent like Kobe Bryant or Kevin Garnett to waste three years playing college ball is completely unnecessary. Those are 3 years that a pro-ready player is risking their health and in turn their livelihood playing out an NCAA sentence to appease a misgiven notion that rushing a player into the pros hurts both the player and the league. The truth is, it doesn’t. Much like the popular phrase “Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.” Players out of high school shouldn’t be drafted to the NBA, pro-ready players should be drafted out of high school to the NBA.

You might be asking yourself, “How does one determine the difference between a pro-ready high school grad and a kid making a rash decision?” That’s an issue between the player and the teams willing to draft them. If a player thinks they are ready, and a professional team wants to take a chance on them, more power to both. The NBA doesn’t owe NCAA basketball anything. It is a ludicrous infringement of the free market that the desires of the colleges to hang on to the best players (for the sake of their school’s economic success) should supersede the right of the player to sign with a professional team and actually get compensated for playing. College programs would literally be steamrolling over the rights of both the players and the NBA franchise that wishes to sign them.

There are lots of great college stars who are huge NBA busts. There time playing NCAA basketball didn’t help them better establish their pro-level game, so why reinforce the myth that it does?

Professional athletes have a very limited and uncertain window to make money. They are always just one injury from being out of the league for good. Forcing a player to forgo three years of the prime money making years is simply idiotic. We can pretend the lessons of playing college ball and attending class are priceless, but are they really?

Put yourself in these players’ shoes, or rather the shoes of their family. If you had a son who was a senior in high school who was offered the 4.2M that comes with being drafted with the number one overall pick, or taking a three year scholarship to Duke, which would you encourage them to take? Invariably I would tell him to take the NBA deal.

With that NBA deal comes the type of cash that could pay for his tuition, his children’s tuition, and his grandchildren’s tuition many times over. With the college deal comes three years laden with risk to the players health and draft status. Those are risks not worth taking.

Normally I’m an ardent proponent of education, but here it just doesn’t make sense. Sure, you can say without college the player won’t know how to manage that money, and if they get hurt in the pros they have nothing to fall back on, but that is just a cop out. The managing of an individual’s personal finances is not a matter of public concern. If an NBA player loses all their money Nicolas Cage style, Boo-freakin-Hoo! The lack of a college education is not to blame. I’ve had eight years of graduate and undergraduate collegiate studies and not once did I have a class on how to make a personal budget, balance my checkbook, or make wise personal finance decisions, so let’s stop kidding ourselves that college is the cure all for wise resource management.

There have been some 42 NBA players drafted right after high school. Of those 42 they have accounted for three number one overall selections, two rookie of the year awards, and four league MVPs. They prove college is not necessary for NBA success. While I don’t think every player should skip college ball, colleges standing in the way of the future of the players that are pro-ready is a travesty. We wouldn’t tell a singer, chef, or any other talent-based profession they had to wait to enter their respective field for the good of colleges, so why should basketball be any different?

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The Spurs Leading the Pack Debate… Mis-Leading The NBA

February 9, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

Obviously the Spurs are good. The simple fact they are the first team to 40 wins in the NBA this season proves as much. But are they really the best team in the NBA? I am not sold.

Admittedly, a quick glance at the first half stats would lead one to believe the Spurs are indeed the best team in the NBA. After all, the San Antonio Spurs own an NBA leading 42-8 record and hold a 6.5 game lead over the team with the next best record in the Western Conference – The Dallas Mavericks. What’s not to like about that?

But upon closer inspection of the record books the Spurs don’t look quite as well… sharp. The Spurs have absolutely been dominant at home (25-2), and absolutely dominated all but the best teams in the league (winning 26 of 29 games against teams with less than 30 wins). But it is their strength that also exposes their weaknesses.

The Spurs have been upset more than once by teams they should have beaten easily, and those losses usually came on the road. The Portland Trail Blazers, New York Knicks, and L.A. Clippers are by no means among the worst teams in the league, but they are opponents that the Spurs should have been able to beat. Each upset pulled off exposed the soft underbelly of the Spurs’ road game to the league.

Obviously most teams haven’t been able to capitalize on this weakness, but most teams aren’t really in the Spurs’ league. The Spurs really haven’t been challenged much this season. More than half of the team’s wins have come against sub .500 teams. Similarly the Spurs have played almost twice as many teams with less than 30 wins than teams in the 30-plus column.

It is the teams in this latter category that have been especially good at making the Spurs look beatable this season. The Boston Celtics (38-13), Orlando Magic (32-20), Dallas Mavericks (36-15), and New Orleans Hornets (32-21) are all what I would consider worthy opponents for the San Antonio Spurs, and they have each found ways to beat the NBA’s “best.” This general point includes a 22-point beat down by the Magic and a 24-point shellacking at the hands of the New Orleans Hornets. Keep in mind this is the same Hornets team that earlier in the season dealt the Spurs one of only two defeats on their home court. It appears that when matched against the league’s best, the Spurs lose a bit of their shine.

You might be asking yourself, “Hey Babe Ruthless, if the Spurs aren’t the best team in the NBA then who do you think is better?”

I don’t propose than any one team is, but rather a few teams. For starters, the Miami Heat. Now I am well aware that all my unabashed LeBron love doesn’t sit well with everyone (even the judge for this debate), but I ask the haters to give me the benefit of the doubt on this one. Heck, even Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban admits the Heat are the best and he is an ego maniac.

LeBron James and the Miami Heat own the second best record in the Eastern Conference (37-14) and the most road wins in all of the NBA with 18. The team is heating up as the season progresses. They are among the hottest teams in the NBA right now, as they are currently in the middle of a six game win streak, and don’t show any signs of letting up. Imagine if the Heat had opened up out of the gate as strong as they are playing now, there would be no doubt they would be the undisputed best in basketball. That calls the Spurs claim into question.

Similarly, the success of the Boston Celtics (an important link to read) serve as another crack in the foundation of San Antonio’s claim to the top spot in the NBA. With a 38-13 record the Celtics are just a handful of games off the Spurs’ pace. The Celtics, who beat the Spurs 105-103 earlier this season, have posted nearly as good a record in arguably a tougher conference than the Spurs. Add to that the fact that the Celtics have been slowed of late by injury and a grueling road schedule, and we are talking about a team that might just be better than their record reveals.

The point of today’s debate was merely to cast a shadow of doubt on the Spurs claim to being the best and the best. Personally, I’m not even sold that the Spurs are better than a team in their own division – the New Orleans Hornets, who bested them twice already this season – but I feel confident that the stats prove the Spurs cannot be anointed, unequivocally, as the best team in basketball.

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The Miami Heat Playing As A Team Debate Verdict

January 28, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Babe Ruthless.

I really, really hate that I have to judge a debate like this. Call me a basketball purist, but one of the things I really enjoy about basketball is the fluid motion of five guys running an offense, communicating on defense, etc. It can be such a graceful sport to watch for that reason. You may read that and say that I’m immediately biased in favor of deciding that the Miami Heat MUST play a team game in order to be successful in the post-season. That is incorrect.

While I regret that much of the NBA has moved beyond the fluid team game that I believe basketball should be, that regret has no bearing on my understanding of what it takes to be successful in the NBA. Kobe Bryant’s Lakers have won the last two NBA championships. If that is not somewhat of a ringing endorsement of selfish play, I don’t know what is. On the other hand, the Boston Celtics have been very successful and they have a very team-oriented style. Bu, I went into this debate with an open mind. Let’s go to the arguments and see who emerges victorious.

Truth be told, I thought Babe Ruthless summed up his argument in the title of his post: “There’s No “I” in Team, But There is in Win.” Babe Ruthless is always big on individual achievement, and great players taking a team to victory… and this argument is no different. If this debate had popped up a month into the NBA season, Babe Ruthless would have no shot at winning, seeing as the Heat were a royal mess at that point in time. However, since King James’ cathartic Cleveland experience where the Heat demolished the Cavs, the Heat have been on a roll, and now Babe Ruthless’ argument holds a lot of weight.

Loyal Homer really gave no statistics to back up his argument, but his reference to the post-season struck a chord with me. He talked about how the rigors of a seven-game playoff series can expose holes in your team, leading the reader to infer that individual talent may be able to win for one night, but that it takes cohesive team play over a seven-game series to bring home the crown. At this point, I still hadn’t made up my mind who won the debate.

However, the more I thought about it, my inference from Loyal Homer’s post won him the debate. I thought back on my formative years as a Chicago Bulls fan, watching Michael Jordan (and eventually Scottie Pippen), two of the greatest NBA players of all time, bang their heads against the postseason glass ceiling a few times before breaking through. What did the trick for the Bulls? Jordan realized, as Kobe has now, that you need help to win a championship. Sometimes you need Steve Kerr to take the last shot because the better basketball move is to use your supreme talents as a decoy. It is not disrespect if you touch the ball less than your teammates, and only get the ball in crunch time now and then. Individual talent can be dominant in the regular season (see last season’s Cleveland Cavaliers), but it takes a cohesive team to win the trophy. Will Miami be that team? Dwyane Wade doesn’t think they need to be, but Loyal Homer and I disagree.

As a token of congratulations to Loyal Homer, I award him a pair of D-Wade’s sweet new goggles. Please understand that I am in no way making fun of Wade’s migraine issues. Migraines are brutal and frustrating to deal with, but I genuinely miss the era of guys running around with wild-looking goggles. Medical reason or no, I think D-Wade can bring them back – right after he sends his first pair to Loyal Homer.

Babe Ruthless will argue the Heat don’t need to play a team game to win, while Loyal Homer will argue the Heat need to play a team game to win consistently. Why don’t you take your talents to these articles, and the poll, and decide this question?

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The Miami Heat Playing As A Team Debate… There’s No “I” in Team, But There is in Win

January 27, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

Newsflash, America – the Miami Heat are not comprised of team players!

Did that shocking news revelation really just blow your mind… because it shouldn’t have. We all knew LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were never going to end the season first and second in the league in assists, but apparently there is a bit of an uproar that the Heat should be more “team-y.”

Criticism of Miami’s recent four game losing streak prompted Dwyane Wade to make comments defending his team’s unique strategy of letting star players loose to do their thing. Wade elaborates that the Heat are, “not [one of] these kinds of teams that need to play together.” And he is absolutely right! The Heat were designed to be a team of hired guns who keep the ball in the talented hands of their playmakers, then sit back and watch as LeBron, Wade, and Bosh do the rest. Why are people surprised when Wade makes a comment like this stating the obvious?

Playing to their Strengths

The Miami Heat currently sit atop the Southeast Division of the Eastern Conference of the NBA with a 31-13 record for a reason – they win games. The Heat have a core of explosive playmakers on offense that, when hot, are virtually unbeatable. Putting the ball in the hands of James, Wade, and Bosh has propelled them to success thus far throughout the season, so why abandon that game plan at the first sign of struggles? Letting James and Wade play their preferred type of game is simply playing to their strengths.

Asking the Heat to change their game to be more team oriented is like asking the Yankees to abandon an affinity for the longball in favor of National League style small ball. Obviously the team aspect of small ball works for some clubs, but the Yankees simply aren’t built with that type of game in mind. Ignoring this fact in favor of a more team friendly approach would be placing an arbitrary handicap on the Yankees. Just as no one would expect Albert Pujols or Alex Rodriguez to quit swinging for the fences at the first sign of a minor slump, no one should expect LeBron and Dwyane Wade to move the ball around at the first sign of struggle.

Rewarding Experience

Although it doesn’t sit well with those big on “team play,” letting LeBron and D-Wade hog the ball is a viable and effective offensive strategy. It was this same individual focused rewards strategy that turned around the Heat’s season after struggling out of the gate. Coach Erik Spolestra decided that when his players made big stops on defense they would have liberal doses of freedom on offense. This motivation technique, although controversial, yielded results. It helped the Heat to set franchise records as they won eight straight by double digit margins. This in turn helped them pull ahead of the Magic and take the top spot in the division.

Critics of this rewards system will point to the fact that the Heat still trail teams like Boston, and claim that it is a flawed strategy. It should be considered that the Heat have been playing in the only Eastern Conference division with two other teams with records above .500 (Atlanta 29-16 and Orlando 29-16) and are still winning. Similarly, they have a far superior road record (15-8) than other division leaders like Boston (12-7) and Chicago (10-10). The system works, despite all the naysayers who second guessed the players’ ability to coexist. The Heat’s 96-82 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats saw both James and Wade put up 30 plus point games, proving not only that they can coexist but dominate as well.

Harping on the fact that basketball is a team sport is, in this case, arbitrary rhetoric. True there are five men on the court wearing the same jersey, but each shot is taken by an individual. In Miami those individuals seem to be at their best while playing their own game. Dumping that strategy now would be foolish.

It’s a long season, and the Heat are a new team still working out the kinks. We have yet to see how the players will function in the post-season, but if its anything like the regular season has been thus far, the league should be prepared to handle an explosive offense with a unique style that is hard to handle.

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The Miami Heat Playing As A Team Debate… No I in Team

January 27, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

The topic of today’s debate the part of sports that I really don’t believe in. Unless I am playing golf, tennis, or any other individual sport, I don’t believe in individuality in athletics. I never have. I had that instilled in me by my little league coaches when I was a scrawny little dork playing in sweltering South Georgia heat. In baseball, you hit the ball to right side of the infield to advance the runner over. In basketball, you pass the ball to your teammate if you feel he has a better shot. You rely on those teammates to achieve the ultimate goal, which is to win the game.

Evidently, Dwayne Wade doesn’t prescribe to my school of thought. He said, “We’re not the Boston Celtics. We’re not these kinds of teams that need to play together. We have guys that have the individual talent, and sometimes the individual talent, one-on-one ability is going to take over. Boston has more of guys that have great individual talent, but they feed off each other.” Guess the Celtics do it the wrong way, huh D-Wade? That’s why, entering action on Tuesday night, they had a 2.5 game lead on the Heat for the best record in the Eastern Conference.

The popular theory is that the NBA is a superstar driven league where individualism is magnified and necessary. How often does the end of a game come down to a one-on-one “iso” play, after all? But it’s been evident in recent years that even the great ones need not only good teammates, but need to learn how to play together as a team. Kobe Bryant, when commenting recently about Carmelo Anthony’s current plight with the Denver Nuggets, essentially implied he had the misfortune of playing with the likes of Smush Parker. He knows the importance of teammates, despite his reputation of being a selfish player, and that’s why he has five rings.

I give all this background data knowing full well it has nothing to do with the 2010-2011 Miami Heat. This Heat team features three players who at one time or another have been the focal point of their team during their careers, and now they are going through a process of give and take. All three of their respective scoring numbers are down slightly, but they knew that would happen. After all, LeBron did say they realized their days of winning MVP titles were probably over.

In a seven game series everything is magnified. The half-court offense becomes more a part of the game, and even superstars need teammates in those situations. There are no games against the Cavaliers where anyone can loaf. Everyone must bring it every night. The Heat really need to learn how to play together, and Wade needs to take this seriously if he has visions of earning a second championship.

Do you remember at the beginning of the season when the Heat were struggling, and much of the blame that wasn’t being put on Eric Spoelstra was put on the fact that the big trio didn’t play much during the pre-season? They hadn’t had time to develop much chemistry. We’ve had the team chemistry debate on this website, and while Sports Geek didn’t feel it was that important in the verdict, I certainly felt, and still feel, team chemistry plays a big part in a team’s overall success.

The bottom line is the “one-on-one” mentality that Wade speaks of is not the type of mindset to have in the playoffs. Perhaps we’ll see the “team” talent in Boston against the “individual” talent in Miami in the post-season, and see whose talent prevails. I think Mr. Wade will realize that he needs the help of the role players on the TEAM to help bring a title to South Beach.

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The 2010 Biggest Story of the Year Debate… The Decision

January 2, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Optimist Prime and Loyal Homer.

It takes a lot to shock Americans these days. After all, we are a culture where pop icons have to don suits of raw meat at awards shows, and stay-at-home moms have to have eight children at once to make a name for themselves. But, the free agent contract negotiations of one NBA player did seem to capture the attention of the nation for the better part of a month.

For a short while last summer, the LeBron James free agent saga unfolded in such a way almost no one could have predicted, in the process running the cities of Cleveland, New York, Chicago, and Miami through an emotional ringer. It was THE story of the year. LeBron James, arguably the most coveted free agent of all time… for any sport… was weighing his options, and in the process potentially altering the landscape of the NBA for years to come. Would he stay in Cleveland – the city that loved him like no other could? Or would the bright lights of the Big Apple lure him away? The options were many, the tension palpable, and it went on like this for weeks.

LeBron news dominated sports coverage around the country. Many joked that the attention that ESPN was paying the spectacle warranted its own channel (perhaps ESPN12…The King’s News) and that was before they decided to give him a one hour signing special – The Decision. James coverage was so all consuming that before it was all said and done many viewers were reporting symptoms of LeBron-lash (a disease marked by anxiety, irritation, and nausea from too much hype).

The whole fiasco climaxed in a nationally televised sit down interview with Jim Gray. It had the potential to be an edgy interview as Gray had a reputation for asking tough questions, instead it turned out to be a lot of coy skirting around the matter at hand before finally getting down to the business of determining where King James would sign. After some trivial banter which prompted SNL head writer Seth Myers to Tweet “Foreplay from Jim Gray just as satisfying as I’ve always imagined it would be” … LeBron finally announced he would be South Beach bound.

Miami rejoiced. Chicago scratched its head. New York went back to the drawing board (chants for Car-mell-o, Car-mell-o already filling the streets outside of The Garden). And Cleveland went through the seven stages of grief.

But the real story wasn’t so much that King James was on the move, but rather how he announced it. He did it in the most grandiose, spectacular way in all of NBA history. The obvious self-promotion of the event rivaled on a publicity stunt of Spencer Pratt or P Diddy. Whether it was good publicity or bad publicity, it was indeed the greatest publicity I have ever seen attributed to one individual athlete or team in my lifetime. Barry Bonds’ steroid scandal never hit such a fevered frenzy. The Brett Favre’s consecutive starts streak drama didn’t even come close. Even Curt Schilling’s bloody sock and the Red Sox 86 year drought-breaking World Series victory all pale in comparison in terms of media coverage and pop culture significance of The Decision.

Popular support for James and the move was split. Americans either fell into the Pro-LeBron camp, which supported the move and the super team which it created, or the Pro-Cleveland camp, which despised the abandonment of the city and team that supported him during his rise to superstardom. It was eerily reminiscent to the Team Edward and Team Jacob controversy which had divided America earlier. (Side note – it’s not really even a choice. Clearly Jacob is right for her. He loves Bella and she wouldn’t have to change for him.)

Even the fallout from The Decision was headline news. Within minutes the Cavs owner, Dan Gilbert, released a passionate and critical statement about James’ choice to leave Cleveland. That reaction (which won him Bleacher Fan’s nod for Debate of the Year) prompted a response from Jesse Jackson, who compared the whole ordeal to slavery and not so subtly questioned the racial bias of Dan Gilbert and anyone who questioned LeBron’s choice. It seemed that anyone and everyone had an opinion about The Decision and it was being made as public as possible.

The Sports Debates is no different. We have tried to hash out the issue in debates both on the website and off. In fact, we are still arguing the issue to this very day. Sports Geek and I quite frequently try to hash out never really finding common ground. Perhaps I just root for the villains too much or perhaps LeBron isn’t the orphan hating kitten strangler the city believes him to be (another side note – I actually think Cleveland might prefer an orphan hating kitten strangler to LeBron at this point). But the fact remains that LeBron’s decision is still a polarizing entity in the sports world, even today.

In some respects, LeBronmania is still in full swing. But the question remains, why? Is it that he is the greatest, most important sports figure of all time? Probably not. Is it that his decision was so shocking that we simply cannot or will not accept it? Again, I think not. I believe the issue is and always was the spectacle of it all.

Americans like drama and LeBron is drama. Michael Jordan playing for a team other than the Bulls would have at one time been unthinkable, although not impossible. But even if the Jump Man had jumped ship it probably would never have been done in quite so flashy a way, and might very well have been received by the public in a very different way. The difference is in the approach. LeBron’s legacy is flash, and The Decision was the biggest flashpoint of 2010, if not of all time in the NBA.

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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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