This is where the real LeBron needs to show up

Lebron Contrary to popular, knee-jerk opinion, no legacies have been defined. It takes a much longer body of work to create things like epitaphs, legacies or whatever else it is we sports fans like to drone on about. These are complicated things that take depth to speak about with any type of substance.

In other words, don't cry for LeBron James—not that anyone was or will. He's just 26-years old and largely viewed as the most talented basketball player on the planet. He's also teamed with Dwyane Wade, another one of the most talented ballplayers in the world, so one would assume his best days are in the future.

So if LeBron is the type to think about such things as legacies and his place in the pantheon of NBA greats, he has to know that it's how a player comes back that proves his mettle.

It’s the Buddhist proverb that goes: fall down seven times stand up eight. LeBron just has to stand up once.

That's the tricky part. After the Dallas Mavericks sent the Miami Heat and LeBron into a summer sure to be filled with second-guessing, Magic Johnson came on TV to talk about how he dedicated himself to the game after his Lakers lost the Celtics in seven games during the 1984 Finals. Even though Magic had won an NCAA national title and two NBA titles in less than five years, it wasn't until he lost that he says he, "got it." In losing Magic knew what it took to win.

From Jackie McMullen's, When the Game was Ours:

“It was the worst night of my life,” Magic said. “I told myself, ‘Don't ever forget how this feels.’”

Continue reading

LeBron will make you go, ‘Woooooooo’

Lebron Go ahead and admit it… you watched. Oh sure, you’ll say it was simply for the spectacle or the circus and that you really didn’t care one way or the other, but that’s bunk.

You watched and you know why you did.

Look, I’m into the show as much as the next guy. I like the insanity and hyperbole that rides along in a sidecar with media hype. The bigger, the better. In fact, if something is prefaced with “World” or “Super” in the title, sign me up.

Yes, more Super World Spectacular Circuses, please.

Now this doesn’t mean I think these are quality events. This is strictly about the hype and the over-the-top matter in which we often treat the mundane. I’m no sociologist or media critic, but the manner in which we produce and consume certain events has to explain something about our culture.

Yeah, deep statement, I know. But can you think of an earnestly produced “news” event that was filled with more hilarity than the LeBron James thing over the past few days? Frankly, it had it all. There was manufactured drama, fake emotion and overwrought victors and vanquished. Plus, there was Jim Gray, whose un-ironic seriousness for unimportant events is more amazing than anything conjured on “Dynasty” or the crew from the mockumentaries, “Best in Show” or “This is Spinal Tap.”

Choosing Gray over a character created by Christopher Guest or Harry Shearer for his hour-long ESPN drama, “decision,” was a masterstroke.

So too was the rant of an open letter posted by scorned Cleveland owner, Dan Gilbert, whose other claim to fame is that he is the owner of the company that makes the oversized posters called, “Fathead.” The company’s spokesman was alleged serial sexual harasser, Ben Roethlisberger. In addition to being the owner of the Cavaliers, a team that paid LeBron more than $62 million during the past seven years, Gilbert also owns the companies that created TurboTax and 1-800-Contacts.

In other words, Gilbert knows all doing big things cheaply and quickly. However, it is disappointing that he chose to address his pain over LeBron’s spurning of Cleveland with a letter posted on the Internet as opposed to a soliloquy with Mean Gene Okerlund at his side.

But yes, I watched the LeBron infomercial. That is to say I dialed it up on the Internet and viewed it while taking the Amtrak train home from 30th Street Station, with one ear eavesdropping on the conversations of my fellow travelers gripping their mobile devices and announcing the play-by-play as it occurred. Call it a live blog/tweet come to life all while using public transport.

That’s so much community and carbon offsetting in one cramped, tin can it makes me want to pile into a rubber raft and attack oil tankers… or at least find a recycling can for my water bottle. Amtrak, a government agency, does not have recycling aboard their trains. Yes, that’s the true shame of the LeBron-athon.

But that’s about as deep as it got for most folks in regard to the LeBron circus. People allowed themselves to get sucked in to take hard line stances on a particular side. The anger and indignation directed at inanimate objects like ESPN, Cleveland, Miami and LeBron James was not only so thick and rich that it could drizzled over waffles, but also was amazingly comical.

What we were able to deduce from the entire extravaganza is that the virtue sports fans most value from their athletes is loyalty…

Excuse me while I drop to one knee in order to catch my breath from laughing myself silly.

Another funny moment that came out of LeBron’s TV show happened the other day while Wilmington News Journal­ artiste, Martin Frank, and I were talking about it, when Phils’ skipper Charlie Manuel overheard us. For those who don’t know, Big Chuck was a pretty good basketball player in his day and had several scholarship offers to play collegiately, including one from Penn. Charlie is also a professed fan of the game and once admitted he “kept up” with the career of fellow Virginian and NBA star, Ralph Sampson.

Anyway, Charlie heard us talking and turned around with a question, “What do you guys think of it?”

Not feeling up to getting way too deep into it, we settled on Martin’s summary that “it was weird.” Which, to put it mildly, it was. The whole thing was weird. But Charlie spent a lot of years in Cleveland coaching and managing the Indians and might have more insight into the psyche of its citizenship than either of us. Still, when asked for his thoughts, Charlie just kind of shrugged. When it was pointed out that LeBron had “taken less money to go to Miami,” the ol’ manager had the best analysis of anyone in any type of media could have dreamed.

“Woooooooo,” Charlie said in mock, sarcastic awe.

If there is any way to describe the minute difference between an athlete drawing a $20 million salary or a lesser, $15 million one, Charlie did it with one syllable.

“Woooooooo.”

Exactly. Woooooooo, indeed.

Heavy is the crown

Lebron Blame Twitter. Or better yet, blame those bleep-stirrers that like to say outrageous things just for the sake of saying them. Heck, blame ESPN or whatever other breathless corporate monolith placed in charge of propaganda or sports discourse.

Actually, blame society. Yeah, you know who you are…

In an age of knee-jerk punditry and instant history, we’re supposed to swallow the worst in an athlete even before the corpse of a season grows cold. In this case, because the Boston Celtics are a better team than the Cleveland Cavaliers and knocked them out of the playoffs in six games of the Eastern Conference Semifinals last night, that whole “LeBron James is a loser who is leaving Cleveland” stuff is flying around like dandelion spores in a wind tunnel.

Oh yes, based on Cleveland’s early ouster, LeBron’s entire basketball legacy—and maybe even his worth as a human being—has been defined by a bunch of nonsense. Sure, the fact is LeBron James has not won an NBA title. However, to label him as a fraud, loser or worse, not only lacks perspective or responsibility, but it’s also plain stupid.

Again, you know who you are.

Nevertheless, here we are. This is an age in sports where the only thing that matters (after the endorsements and salary digits, of course) is the number of championships one has. Sure, there is plenty of weight to that premise and it’s fair to rate Bill Russell higher than Wilt Chamberlain because of the number of championships won. But that’s as far as it goes.

See, winning championships in sports is not a singular activity. There’s a whole bunch that goes into it and that doesn’t even include the uncontrollable forces. Luck and timing is huge. In fact, there are teams that won championships by accident. For instance, look at the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals, the 2003 Florida Marlins or the 1994/1995 Houston Rockets. Don’t forget about the 1978 Washington Bullets, either.

So don’t go labeling LeBron a fraud or loser just because his teams haven’t been good enough. The same thing goes for Ernie Banks, Ted Williams, Dan Marino, John Stockton, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Ty Cobb, Barry Sanders, Elgin Baylor or Dick Butkus.

Sometimes it’s not all about one guy. Other times, believe it or not, it takes a team to win a championship. So LeBron hasn’t won a title yet… big deal. The fact is he has just completed his seventh season in the NBA and is just 25 years old. He has two MVP Awards, two All-Star Game MVPs, a scoring title, two Olympic medals and one Finals appearance.

What did you have at age 25?  Debt? An inflated sense of entitlement and worth? A clue?

Answers: Yes, yes, no.

Throughout his life James has often been compared to Michael Jordan. Hell, they both even wore/wear No. 23 on the court. So what was Michael Jordan doing at age 25? By that point he was five years into his NBA career with one MVP Award and one trip past the second round of the playoffs. Take away the endorsement deals, the scoring titles and the Olympic medal and there wasn’t much to Jordan’s career at the same age as James.

And yet no one called Jordan a fraud or a loser. Far from it. People saw that Jordan was coached by Doug Collins on a team in which tired, old Dave Corzine, Orlando Woolridge and Brad Sellers got tons of minutes and realized changes had to happen. When Horace Grant, Scottie Pippen and Bill Cartwright finally emerged, it all started to come together.

So why isn’t it the same with LeBron? Mike Brown is his coach, a guy whose main job seems to be telling his players what time the next game starts. Somehow the Cavs made it to the Finals in 2007 with a team where James was complimented with the likes of Larry Hughes, Anderson Varejao, Drew Gooden and (gasp!) Eric Snow. The top man off the bench was Donyell Marshall.

Yep… anyone want to reexamine James’ body of work now?

Obviously something has to give for James and whether that happens for him in Cleveland, New York, Chicago or Los Angeles is the great unknown. But make no mistake about it… James isn’t going to win a title until he’s surrounded by the right players. No one expected Barkley to win it all with Hersey Hawkins or Armon Gillam, did they? Why is so much expected from James?

Iverson quietly makes his exit

Iverson The 76ers cruised to a big, 19-point defeat in Atlanta on Wednesday night, which in the scheme of things is probably for the best. The Sixers are the very embodiment of a team that is damned if they do and damned if they don’t. The team could very well catch fire over the final 23 games and sneak into the last playoff spot.

Think about that for a second — a No. 8 seed means at least two extra home dates with LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal in town. That’s two sellouts for folks to come watch another visiting club instead of the hometown team.

That’s the point though, isn’t it? The Sixers aren’t good enough to get those extra two games against LeBron and Shaq, and they aren’t bad enough to make a difference in the lottery. If that doesn’t explain this team, nothing else does.

But now they don’t even have a hook or an angle. Oh sure, basketball junkies might want to tune in to check out how Lou Williams, Jrue Holliday and Thad Young fare the rest of the way, but your common, everyday sports fan who is simply interested in the wins, losses and not the nuance of it is likely gone.

Not that they were hanging around too much this season to begin with.

See, Allen Iverson is gone. Oh sure, we’ve strolled down this path before, but really, Iverson is done. We mean it this time. Not that we didn’t mean it before, like when he was traded to Denver, sent to Detroit, allegedly causing scenes in riverboat casinos and then signing on for Memphis for just three games. Hell, by this point we’ve probably written the story about Allen Iverson’s last stand in the NBA three times already. Truth be told, the guy was probably done when he bailed out on the Pistons late last season.

This time though it really is over because no other NBA team is sillier than the Sixers. Sure, the cynical types might look at the December signing of Iverson as a way to sell a few more tickets, which really didn’t work out quite like everyone had hoped. After all, that line about not being able to go home again wouldn’t be a saying if it wasn’t true.

Still, nothing has changed. One minute Iverson was here, the next he slipped away mysteriously. This time there was no trade, indefinite suspension or any of the old standbys. Instead, Iverson allegedly left the team because his four-year old daughter is sick with an undisclosed illness. Actually, not only hasn’t anyone spoken about the girl’s illness, but even those usually in the know say the information is particularly cryptic.

That makes it easier to understand this end for Iverson. When the health of a child or family matters is the concern, everything else seems pretty unimportant. Let’s just hope for the sake of little Messiah Iverson that the doctors can figure this out.

Forget about the fact that Iverson went away for five games, missed the All-Star Game, came back for a couple of games before disappearing again only to turn up at a benefit in Charlotte. The truth is Iverson’s departure not only was typical of him and the exact opposite of his entrance at every stop of his career, it is also indicative of how Sixers’ almost always go out.

Think about it for a second… aside from Julius Erving (who had been offered up in a bunch of alleged trades during his waning years, including one for the No. 3 pick in the 1984 draft… Chicago smartly decided to keep the pick), which Sixers player went away on good terms?

Let’s go through the list… Wilt was traded. Moses and Barkley were traded, too. Andrew Toney had the injuries and the battles with management, while Mo Cheeks was traded away but wasn’t told until he found Michael Barkann waiting on his doorstep. When a player and the Sixers are really done with each other, usually that’s it. After all, aside from World B. Free there aren’t any old-timers hanging around the games. Sure, fences get mended and everyone gets back on good terms, but when it’s over it’s over.

There’s no going back.

Sure, we’ll see Iverson again. The Sixers will probably put his No. 3 in the rafters next to Wilt, Mo Cheeks, Barkley and Doc, and Iverson is undoubtedly a Hall of Famer. We’ll surely see him at the induction ceremony.

But what we won’t see is how Iverson deals with life away from basketball and the spotlight and the adjustment that sometimes is so difficult. We also won’t know about how he handles the family matters that have besieged him, though we can only hope he comes out ahead.

No, there’s no way to practice for where he is headed now.