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 2010 Sportsman of the Year Debate… Kobe by Default

December 27, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless, and Optimist Prime.

Well, 2010 was special year for sports fans!

Several very long-standing championship droughts ended, as the New Orleans Saints (43 year drought), Chicago Blackhawks (49 year drought), and the San Francisco Giants (56 year drought) each won championships in their respective leagues.

For those of us with a deep sense of national pride in our sports teams, the Men’s U.S. Hockey and Soccer teams treated us all to some of the most exciting and dramatic athletic performances of the year in the Winter Olympics and World Cup, respectively.

Speaking of soccer, 2010 will always be a special sports year to me as my alma mater, The University of Akron, won their first ever National Championship by claiming the College Cup in very exciting fashion over the Louisville Cardinals.

The year also had its share of goats.

LeBron James’ “Decision” proved to be a PR nightmare, Rex Ryan apparently has a foot “thing,” and we learned about everything from travel destinations to bathroom habits thanks to the incessant media bombardment of “Tiger Watch” and “Favre Watch.”

Like I said, 2010 was a special year.

But even with those spectacular performances and storylines, the task of naming a Sportsman of the Year is tricky. You see, despite the exciting performances that we were all treated to as fans, no one really separated themselves from the pack in terms of individual performances.

Sure, there are some obvious default options to look to. Drew Brees certainly became the face of the NFL in 2010 after leading the Saints to their first ever Super Bowl championship. Here’s the problem – I credit Sean Payton, not Drew Brees, with winning that game. While Brees had a remarkable season leading up to that Super Bowl, it is important to note that performance came in 2009, not 2010. So far this year Brees has played well, but Tom Brady and Michael Vick (along with several others) have been far more impressive.

Being quarterback of the championship NFL team is not enough on its own to earn the “Sportsman of the Year” crown.

Moving on to baseball, several pitchers tried to make cases for themselves. In the post-season, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Tim Lincecum all pitched to historic levels. Halladay’s post-season no-hitter was the greatest individual performance, but Lee’s and Lincecum’s pitching had far more significant value for their teams.

All three pitched exceptionally well, but once again none separated themselves enough from the others to claim the title.

In golf, Phil Mickelson’s emotional victory at the Masters was the perfect start to the 2010 season, but Lefty proved unable to do anything more as the season played out. After winning his third Green Jacket, Mickelson could do no better than taking one more second place finish, and only six top-ten finishes on the year.

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge Jimmie Johnson’s accomplishments in NASCAR this year, having won his FIFTH consecutive Sprint Cup Championship. He has become nothing less than a one-man dynasty, and is right now the single most dominant person in sports. The only reason I am hesitant in recognizing Johnson any further is that I am forced to now question the quality of his competition. With all due respect to his accomplishments, are his championships the result of Johnson being that good, or is it that the rest of the field is that bad?

By default, we are forced to look to the NBA to find our Sportsman of the year.

In the NBA, names like LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Carmelo Anthony dominated headlines. Free agency in 2010 was undeniably the biggest sports story of the year, overshadowing even the NBA Finals. But it is Kobe Bryant who should be recognized as the Sportsman of 2010.

This year, Bryant quietly led the Los Angeles Lakers to a second consecutive NBA Championship. I never thought I would use the words “Kobe Bryant” and “quietly” in the same sentence, but in a year where it seemed that LeBron James was the ONLY person being talked about in the NBA, Bryant proved definitively that his Lakers, not LeBron’s Cavaliers (or now the Miami Heat) were the absolute best in the game. He led the Lakers to a Western Conference-leading 57 wins, and unofficially resolved the “Kobe versus LeBron” debate. This year brought Bryant the fifth title in his career, and the 17th in the history of the Lakers’ franchise.

Bryant’s stability and leadership (I really can’t believe I am writing this…) carried the Lakers into the post-season and through the Finals. When all the world was enamored with the courtship of LeBron James, Bryant busied himself with winning a championship.

Through nothing but his phenomenal talent, Kobe Bryant continues to keep the Lakers as the team to beat in the NBA. No matter how great the Miami super-team may hope to be, they are still playing in Kobe’s league.

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The 2010 Sportsman of the Year Debate… The Once and Future King

December 27, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Bleacher Fan, and Optimist Prime.

In 2010 LeBron James not only redefined himself, but perhaps all of professional sports as well. Though he has been thoroughly scrutinized and lambasted for the way he set about this redefinition, it may just be the price one has to pay for experiencing growing pains as one of the most public sports figures in the world.

Critics, fans, and whole cities came to despise LeBron James in the wake of The Decision, but I believe his announcement on national T.V. was ultimately more good than bad, more help than harm, and more hope than heartbreak.

Everyone thought they knew LeBron James best. Cleveland, New York, and Chicago all thought they understood the man and launched campaigns to appeal to what they thought motivated him. In Cleveland, they appealed to his heart, making passionate pleas to his sense of loyalty. Chicago played to his competitive nature adding players – like Carlos Boozer – that most analysts thought would put James in a position to win, given his particular style of play. New York appealed to King James’ ego offering him the treasury and throne in what may very well be the capital of the sports world. But in the end LeBron shocked them all and did what few saw coming before the day The Decision, announcing he would take less money and share the limelight in order to assemble quite possibly the most the most dominant super team the world has ever seen.

LeBron did the what we all believed was unthinkable. As one of if not the most sought after free agents in sports history he chose team victories over individual accolades, he chose championships over salary and sponsorships, and he put the urge to win above self. While this made him a heel in Chicago, a fool in New York, and public enemy number one in Cleveland, it also made him the Sportsman of the Year in my book.

Profound Consequences

I am certain that those loyal to teams spurned by James will be slow to see what he did as a positive (it might take Sports Geek and Bleacher Fan 50 years or so to come around), but that is exactly what it was – a good thing for both professional sports and athletes. LeBron proved it was possible for a player to put competitiveness and team success above self and still make it a profitable proposition.

While it is a crushing blow for sports mega-markets like New York, it opens up a world of possibilities for other franchises throughout the league. Maybe it is a sign that a fat stack of cash doesn’t guarantee players like it used to, and then again maybe its not. But it definitely provides a glimmer of hope for the rest of the league. Likewise, I am certain that franchises like Cleveland will view this as the nail in the coffin on the long term competitiveness of small markets without squads of superstars to attract more, but that is not necessarily the case either. This decision was also about who LeBron wanted to play alongside with as much as it was about the competitiveness.

Before the off-season arrived, James had been making public musings about free agents basically colluding for the betterment of a particular franchise. He suggested that if players like Bosh and James decide together where they thought they could make the biggest impact they could change the NBA’s landscape in a big way, and that’s exactly what they did. While maybe not completely within the rules, it does evolve the empowerment of the modern free agent.

Since James’ epic decision there has already been evidence of trickle down effects in other sports. Major League Baseball recently watched the hot stove pursuit of ace pitcher Cliff Lee take a James-ian turn as he turned down more lucrative contracts with New York and Texas in order to sign with a club he simply wanted to play for more. Just as was the case with King James, Lee’s addition to superstar players like Roy Halladay, Cole Hammels, and Roy Oswalt makes for one of the most dominant pitching staffs in team history, possibly MLB history. This trend could very well spread to the NFL this off-season and reshape the competitive landscape there as well. The fallout from James’ choice is as immense in its magnitude as it is controversial.

King Sized Perks

LeBron made his off-season choice known in a grandiose TV special that exceeded even the wildest of expectations in terms of anticipated hype. While “The Decision” may not have lived up to the anticipation in terms of climactic drama, it no doubt captured the attention of the nation. ESPN’s one hour special on the LeBron’ signing was the highest rated program on television the night it aired, and clearly caught the attention of more than just serious NBA fans. What’s more is a large portion of the profits from the special were donated to the Boys and Girls Club. Critics point to the fact that he could have done more, but in reality he could have done nothing at all. When was the last time you remember an athlete using their free agent leverage for charity? Having trouble? That’s my point exactly. Like a noble monarch, King James let his benefits trickle down to the people and that is a gesture seen far too seldom in sports today.

Admittedly, I am not the biggest fan of the NBA…or at least I wasn’t before this season, but all the craze of this post-season’s free agency carried over to the regular season and now I’m hooked. I’ve purchased six tickets to NBA games this season (one of which is a Miami Heat game), which is 600% more than I have purchased in the last decade. While my personal habits do not make for a scientifically significant study, I do believe there is something to be said for LeBron making the NBA more popular during the off-season.

I realized I may not have made a believer out of anyone, but I feel that LeBron James deserves more credit than he has received. He was the biggest story in all of sports this year and the positive impact of that legacy earns him my vote for Sportsman of The Year.

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The Is LRMR Good For the NBA Debate… LRMR Spells Collaborative Empowerment

August 3, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Bleacher Fan.

This whole LRMR thing is getting out of hand.

The problem is people don’t know what LRMR is and what it is here to do. So please allow me to clarify. Contrary to popular belief, it is not an enemy of the state. It’s not a seedy crime syndicate. And it’s not an evil force out to destroy the world.

So now that we know what LRMR isn’t – the Taliban, the mafia, or Justin Beiber – let us try to establish what LRMR is.

It is a marketing agency, plain and simple. A marketing agency that is trying to strengthen the brand of those it represents through collaborative endorsement, not undermine basketball.

Think about the Michael Jordan brand. On his own MJ is one of the most marketable sports stars in history, but somewhere along the lines he discovered that his brand was stronger and more valuable when it was supported by a broad network of stars. Today, names like Derek Jeter, Jason Taylor, and Carmelo Anthony all represent the Jordan brand in different sports and cities, now the Jordan symbol is truly iconic and transcends basketball. That’s similar to the approach that LRMR is implementing, but it is not just limited to a player’s brand. Now players seek to establish control over their careers and where they will play by working together. This collaborative empowerment is not a threat to basketball, but is simply the next logical step in the progression of the game. LRMR is leading the way though the journey is not without its fair share of struggles.

At the very heart of the issue is the simple fact that LRMR is a marketing agency that is ironically experiencing a bit of bad publicity. The focal figure of the agency is the talented and controversial LeBron James. The company was built by, for, and around King James and his brand. That means as goes the public perception of James, so goes that of LRMR. Despite being nearly a month removed from “The Decision” there is still a significant backlash against James, and not surprisingly the negative feelings carry over to LRMR.

But what has the company actually done wrong? I say, “nothing!” LRMR has put its clients in the driver’s seat to their future. It has driven up value through collaboration with other stars. Nowhere is that more apparent than with James’ decision to join with stars and friend Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. Clearly James and his agency believed that his worth as part of a super team was even greater than being the biggest fish in a small pond. The fact that it wasn’t just LeBron choosing, but James and Co. deciding where the best opportunities exist for everyone speaks volumes of this new collective player empowerment.

Some critics may attack this strategy and decry it as collusion, but that’s far from accurate. Collusion refers to a secretive agreement, which James decision to consult with other free agents certainly wasn’t. Near the end of the playoffs James seemed to be telling anyone that would listen that he felt that he and other free agent stars could reshape the NBA landscape by collaborating on where to go and how that could impact the NBA for the better.

This is somewhat of a paradigm shift for the NBA and sports in general. It demonstrates how owner’s control over players and the league is continually eroding as players demand more control. James’ decision was so shocking in part because it was one of the few times in sports where a player decided something besides money – owners’ biggest bargaining chip – was their biggest priority. Make no mistake, this was no fluke. It was a benchmark in the evolution of player empowerment.

It has been happening for a while. From free agency to no-trade clauses, players have slowly been assuming more control over their own careers. This is yet another milestone in that journey. Just as factory workers demanding more money, better conditions, and a shorter work day was once unfathomable it became a reality through cooperation and worker unity. So, too, is the case for modern athletes. By no means am I saying they are underpaid or ill-treated, but they have discovered that they are stronger together than they are apart.

My opponent for this debate, Bleacher Fan, will no doubt point to the actions of New Orleans guard Chris Paul. Despite two years remaining on his contract with the Hornets, he has attempted to force a trade since signing with LRMR. I will concede the point that it is neither ethical nor wise for players to try to void their legal commitments with a team in order to further their worth and brand. But Paul is an extreme case which really hasn’t worked out. If anything, his attempts at forcing a trade illustrate an isolated incident of the growing pains the league faces as players attempt to test the boundaries of their new found power.

Right now LRMR may not be liked. It is certainly not like by those who stand to lose the most when players gain power – the owners. But it is just part of inevitable progress. No one is asking the owners or media to like it… just accept it. I would be foolish to think I could persuade today’s judge, Sports Geek, into thinking LRMR is the greatest thing to hit basketball since the three point shot, but it is progress. It is an undeniable example of athletes taking ownership of their career, just as any worker would want to do in their respective field. Professional athletes are some of the most handsomely rewarded workers in the world, but they are workers nonetheless. We should not be surprised that they are following a historical path to progress. The LRMR is not the enemy. It is the future.

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The Biggest NBA Free Agency Mistake Debate… “King” Leaves His Court in Disgrace

July 16, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Sports Geek.

The biggest mistake of the NBA free agency period had nothing to do with the signing of a player, the loss of a player, or a contract given to a player.

Instead, the biggest mistake was the decision of LeBron James to announce the decision of LeBron James to the whole world on a televised hour-long special that became the worst decision of them all.

When Mark Cuban is the person calling you out for poor media relations you KNOW you screwed up!

Perhaps if LeBron James had taken his two words of advice and undergone some “media training” he would not have seen his celebrity stock drop as much as it has. And don’t let yourself be fooled by the things that LeBron says, he cares MUCH more about being a celebrity than his words may lead us to believe.

If he DIDN’T care about being a celebrity he would have never scheduled the hour-long “Decision” on ESPN in the first place. Likewise, he would not have made such a spectacle out of his free agent status for the past two years.

Ironically, it is that one thing that he had hoped to boost the most through this whole fiasco that is the one thing to suffer the greatest.

While LeBron’s stock as a basketball player may remain exceptionally high, his stock as a celebrity superstar has PLUMMETTED since his foolish announcement into a prime-time special. The announcement of this prime-time special drew immediate backlash from fans and the media alike, and people who were already growing tired of the overblown coverage and obsessive scrutiny of LeBron James’ every action were finally pushed fully into the realm of disgust.

Where He Went Wrong

LeBron’s FIRST mistake was to entrust his larger-than-life persona wholly to a group of buddies rather than to consult with trained professionals who have been involved in exactly this type of situation HUNDREDS of times. This is not an episode of Entourage we are talking about, after all. This is the NBA, and as Mark Cuban implies, there are certain people who are more qualified to navigate this situation than others.

As much as Richard Paul, Maverick Carter, and Randy Mims (the “R”, “M” and “R” of LRMR Marketing) may have LeBron James’ best interests at heart, this was one time where friendship should NOT have superseded the need to make a sound BUSINESS decision.

There is a reason that no athlete before LeBron had ever tried to pull of the publicity stunt that he did – it is a TERRIBLE idea. Perhaps if he had employed some people with the actual experience of having been in this situation more than once in their lives – or had at least solicited their advice – he could have avoided one of the biggest publicity screw-ups of all time.

LeBron and his own versions of Turtle, E, and Johnny Drama allowed their egos to cloud their judgment. They believed they knew better than everyone else. Which, after all, is why LeBron fired his “professional” agent. He wanted to entrust his most important asset – his brand – to people whose only qualification was that they sat next to LeBron in algebra class.

What he and his pals failed to recognize is that it is a bad idea to string six different professional franchises (and MAJOR markets) along for two years so that you can then break almost ALL of their hearts via a self-aggrandizing television “event” that serves only the purpose of self-service and self-promotion.

It is simple common sense -if you must upset more people than you will make happy, you should do so DISCREETLY.

Honestly, what did he EXPECT to happen? That folks in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Cleveland (his own home town) would actually stand up and CHEER?!

And the reaction that he received following “The Decision” should not have been a surprise. The almost IMMEDIATE public backlash to the announcement of his upcoming announcement (it sounds stupid to even DESCRIBE it) was a clear indication that this was going to be a bad idea. But instead of reading the writing on the wall and changing his mind to possibly salvage the situation, he tried to cover up the mistake by hiding behind a charity.

Perhaps he thought the token gesture of allowing all the proceeds to go to the Boys and Girls Club would make up for (or COVER up) all the pomposity he had demonstrated up to that point.

He was wrong.

The Cost

LeBron James went ahead as scheduled. Hidden in a room many miles away from the millions of hearts he was about to break, cowering behind the cover of a room full of children, he announced his decision with a statement that matched the arrogance he demonstrated all along.

The result became the biggest media blunder to take place since Howard Dean’s infamous scream cost him his candidacy for President of the United States.

While he will almost certainly get his beloved championship, it will come at many costs, including his celebrity status and his legacy as a basketball player.

Once considered the darling of the NBA this prized athlete, who had the potential for limitless success on AND off the court, now finds himself viewed as a pariah. The public has soured so much towards LeBron James that he even chose not to attend the ESPY awards earlier this week – which turned out to be his first wise decision in a while. At the awards ceremony, a chorus of “BOOs” followed nearly every mention of his name. The subject of his “Decision” was the focal point of much parody throughout the evening, also.

If that was his reception at a sports-related event in Los Angeles, just imagine the perception in Cleveland.

As far as his basketball legacy is concerned he can forget about ever being considered the “Greatest Player of All Time.” How can he catch up with Michael Jordan’s legacy when he will now always be trailing Dwayne Wade’s?

Think about it: If LeBron James goes on to surpass Jordan by winning seven championships, that means that Wade will have won eight.

LeBron James will never be considered “the man” in basketball again. He is now going to be forever remembered as being on “the team.” His singular accomplishments will always be overshadowed by the fact that he required the assistance of other All-Stars to get the job done.

I hope the championship is worth it, because it cost LeBron his home, his reputation, and his legacy.

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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… A Quick Fall from Grace

July 9, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Sports Geek.

The circus is over! Yes!!! I believe I speak for millions when I say that I am glad the LeBron James saga is over. ESPN may not believe this, but there are other topics going on in the sports world (though I’m not sure they believe that because as I am typing this it’s more LeBron talk on three of the ESPN channels on my satellite system). I expected there to be some backlash from Cleveland fans. Bleacher Fan and Sports Geek had warned me of that. But I have to admit that LeBron James handled this entire situation poorly, and it’s amazing how far he appears to have fallen in the court of public opinion.

I posted on my Facebook page last night that I’m glad I was not on duty as a Cleveland police officer last night. It had to be really rough last night in the Cleveland-Akron area. The city had extra security set up around town and security was even heightened at LeBron’s house. LeBron’s #23 Jerseys were burned. The words “LeBron James” are being lumped together with profanity-laced tirades. Heck, “LeBron James” is now considered profanity. Have you seen owner Dan Gilbert’s open letter to fans? Have you heard his comments in which he throws LeBron under the bus? After reading this letter, and reading his comments, I’ve got to believe that as unpopular as James as in Cleveland today, Gilbert is that popular.

LeBron James was arguably the most popular NBA player P.D. – Pre-Decision. Now, he’s got many fan bases outside of Cleveland upset at him. This was the recruiting process he never went through in high school, and last night was his Signing Day. People used to drool when watching him play. Many were amazed at the trick shots he would often try in practice. I actually have a couple of them Tivoed on my satellite system for my little cousins to watch when they come visit me. Now, at least for the immediate future, he’s coming across as an egotistical jerk through much of the country.

My problem with this whole situation – and I really have no dog in this fight – is how James and his representatives manipulated this entire process. I have no problem whatsoever with him going to Miami. Lord knows the Heat are overwhelming favorite to win the NBA championship next year. But the handling of the whole situation was classless. I remember the beat down Tiger Woods took in some circles for the way he set up his first press conference. He set it up where only certain media members were allowed to be in the room. LeBron has definitely topped his Nike counterpart. The whole “The Decision” infomercial on ESPN last night was a joke. He put this whole ball in motion by going to ESPN with his proposal for “The Decision.” He tried to soften the blow to his image by having the announcement done at a Boys and Girls club. That didn’t work at all. Jim Gray, of all people, performed his initial interview (Editor’s Note: And was PAID by LeBron’s team independently of ESPN.). I knew I heard him as recently as three weeks ago at the U.S. Open for The Golf Channel. Yet, for some reason, he was in Greenwich, Connecticut last night.

At the end of the regular season you could have polled all NBA fans and asked them who their favorite NBA player is. I feel pretty certain that LeBron James would have been the overwhelming winner. If you polled those same fans this morning, I feel even more certain that LeBron James would not be the choice. He may yet win multiple NBA championships and achieve all the fortune and glory he wants. But he has stepped on a lot of toes in the process, and has forever scarred his image.

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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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