I was driving through New York last night on my way back to Shelter Island from the AT+T National sort-of-hosted by Tiger Woods golf tournament and, as always, I was spinning around the radio dial.
The Mets and Yankees are both in excellent pennant races right now—the Yankees to no one’s surprise; the Mets to most people’s (myself included) surprise. The Mets have pitched a lot better than anyone thought they would and have actually produced some good-looking young players who have filled in well for Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes and Luis Castillo. Beltran has been out all season, Reyes and Castillo for lengthy stretches. And yet there are the Mets, hanging in there with the Braves and Phillies.
And so, as I made my way up The New Jersey Turnpike—the traffic wasn’t nearly as bad as I had expected—I looked forward to hearing talk about the Mets and Yankees.
Not so much.
Both sportstalk radio stations were All LeBron All The Time. In fact, during Michael Kay’s, “New York Baseball Hour,” the discussion was about LeBron. The names of other free agents came up but mostly within the context of who might fit best with LeBron and who LeBron might want to play with for the next five years.
The Apocalypse is seriously upon us in sports. Beginning yesterday team executives, coaches and owners flew TO Cleveland to be interviewed by King James. Basically they all came hats—and of course checkbooks—in hand. I’m pretty sure that whenever LeBron does make a decision puffs of white smoke will come out of the roof of the IMG building. What’s interesting is that they’re all going to pay James the same money; the maximum allowed by the NBA, so the decision comes down to where he believes he can accomplish what he wants to accomplish next in his life.
That’s really what this comes down to. The biggest stage is New York—not Brooklyn with the Nets—but Madison Square Garden with the Knicks. The best road to a championship is either Miami or Chicago. The right thing to do is to stay in Cleveland and finish what he started in his home state where he has iconic status rarely conferred on any athlete or any human being.
The latter clearly isn’t going to happen. Very few athletes are about doing the right thing—except in terms of what is right for THEM. LeBron and his “people,” clearly feel he’s outgrown Cleveland; that it is time for him to take the next step on the road to conquering the world and that means moving on—even without a championship ring. Remember, LeBron only played three bad games in seven years by his count, so what the heck does he owe Cleveland? When he became the invisible man during the series against Boston in game five he said he had let HIMSELF down. Forget about anyone else.
So Cleveland fans, welcome to the Byron Scott Era. Check E-Bay to see if there’s any old film of the Browns 1964 championship available because that’s as close as you are going to get to a title anytime soon. You deserve better—a LOT better—but LeBron isn’t concerned about that.
Of course everyone has a different theory about where he is going and why. Each of the four serious candidates (The Clippers, are you kidding?) has a different reason to believe it has a chance. To put it in one sentence: The Bulls have good young players; the Heat has Dwyane Wade; the Knicks have New York and The Nets have a Russian owner who is richer than most of the NBA owners combined and clearly has some serious Chutzpah.
We’ve all heard all the various reports citing sources—my guess is the one constant in all this is LeBron’s walk-around guy World Wide Wes being a constant leak in all directions—who KNOW he’s going to New York; know he’s going to New Jersey; know he’s going to Chicago or know he’s going to Miami. Maybe David Stern will pass a ‘LeBron Rule,’ and let him play 20 games apiece for four different teams and then pick and choose where and when he wants to participate in playoff games. Maybe he can go to the Lakers for the playoffs and let Kobe take the big shots down the stretch.
I haven’t a clue where he’s going. I talk to World Wide Wes about as much as I talked to Tiger Woods’ people. Here’s what I believe though: I think LeBron knows where he’s going and I think he may have known where he was going at the exact moment that he turned the ball over for the ninth time in game six against Boston. He probably knew even before then. (By the same token I never thought for one second that Phil Jackson wasn’t coming back to coach the Lakers. I know he’s had health problems but all that talk about MAYBE going to Cleveland or Chicago or the Knicks or MAYBE retiring was a negotiating position. Jackson is a shrewd guy who works the media as well as it has ever been worked).
This whole LeBron Over Cleveland interview process is nothing more than an exercise in ego and a way for LeBron to remind people that Kobe may have all the rings (five) but he still controls the basketball world. Certainly the continuing panting over this whole thing is evidence of that.
Let me make a confession here: I have never completely bought into the LeBron hype. The first time I ever saw him was in a summer camp in New Jersey and, because I’m not a complete idiot, it was clear he was a special talent. That’s when he and his people—yes folks he had them in high school—were floating the notion that he might leave high school after his junior year and challenge the NBA draft rules. Clearly he—and they—knew how to play the hype game even then.
My sense was that LeBron was really, really good but life in the NBA against men as opposed to life in high school against boys would be a little different. I was wrong—the guy was a star from day one and has gotten better. That why now, when I hear people say, ‘well, he’s not a winner, he hasn’t got any rings,’ I don’t jump on that bandwagon—even though I’d kind of like to do so.
Michael Jordan won his first title in his seventh season. Kobe won his first when Shaq came to Los Angeles. Bill Russell is the only guy who came into a non-championship team as a rookie, won a title and kept on going from there. My guess is LeBron is going to win titles wherever he lands. It will happen faster in Miami or Chicago but it will probably happen in Manhattan or Brooklyn at some point in the future too if he goes there. Good players will want to play with him.
That said, it is tough to embrace the guy. He never cops to not playing well (three bad games in seven years, remember?); his ego is very tough to swallow especially since at this moment he does not yet have a ring and the people around him are, well, World Wide Wes.
So let’s hope he sticks to his word and announces his decision very soon (one that, as I said I think he’s already made). Then we can get back to baseball and ESPN can start updating us hourly on Brett Favre throwing passes to high school kids.
John recently appeared on The Jim Rome Show (www.jimrome.com) to discuss 'Moment of Glory.' Click here to download, or listen in the player below:
John's new book: "Moment of Glory--The Year Underdogs Ruled The Majors,"--is now available online and in bookstores nationwide. Visit your favorite retailer, or click here for online purchases