So Brett Favre and LeBron James are back in the news today. Sort of.
I mean let’s be honest, Favre deciding to play football this season ranks up there with the sun rising in the east and ESPN trying to claim that tomorrow being Thursday is an exclusive story when it comes to being newsworthy.
The funny thing is I never really pictured this guy as the world’s biggest diva until the past few years. He was always the rugged quarterback who took every hit, got up and kept playing. Now he’s still rugged and takes hit, he just likes to have people fawn over him and plead with him not to retire each offseason. He craves attention the way I crave John’s Pizza. (New York City, the best there is. Okay, now I’ve made myself hungry).
This time three teammates actually had to fly to Mississippi to go to Favre’s farm on bended knee and beg him to come back. Are you kidding me? Look, I don’t blame the Vikings. Favre was a major reason—Adrian Peterson might have been a factor too although that’s often overlooked—they were about two plays from reaching the Super Bowl last year. The other quarterbacks they have on the roster might get them to the playoffs because Peterson’s still there and the rest of the team is very solid, but they aren’t going anywhere in the postseason without a quality quarterback—which Favre probably still is even at 41.
But the diva act really rankles. As with Tiger Woods, Favre clearly isn’t getting very good advice. He’s gone from being one of the most respected figures in football to a punch line (for reasons, obviously, entirely different than Woods). The whole Hamlet thing wore thin a couple of years ago and yet he’s continued it with no sign of any real self-awareness about it. Yes, he did do that commercial where he pokes fun at himself for indecision, I give him credit for that. But, not surprisingly, what did that involve: getting attention and making money. Clearly, that’s what Favre is all about.
Of course as long as he performs few people are going to care. That’s how divas get to be divas. They’re so good at what they do that they’re allowed their foibles because the price paid for putting up with them is worth it. Certainly all the garbage Favre put the Vikings through last summer proved worth it once he got on the field. Clearly they are counting on the same thing happening this fall.
Favre better be aware of one thing though: If he doesn’t perform, whether because of an injury or age finally catching up with him, he’s going to get jumped on. Years ago Bob Knight said this to me: “I know as long as I win, people around here will say I’m eccentric. If I ever stop winning, they’ll say I’m an embarrassment.”
Knight stopped making Final Fours at Indiana in 1992. By 1999, he was vulnerable enough that Myles Brand could get away with firing him. If he’d been to a Final Four in, say, 1998, Brand wouldn’t have dared.
So Favre better crank up the arm and win a bunch of games or he might find himself booed off the stage.
The same is going to be true of James. If by some chance the Miami Heat aren’t dominant, if he gags in the playoffs the way he did the last two years in Cleveland, he will be a laughing stock around the country—except of course on ESPN where Stuart Scott will no doubt still pay homage to The King at every turn—and he won’t be The God of South Beach.
Whether he wins or not, it was certainly amusing to read one quote from the interviewed release by, I think, Gentleman’s Quarterly yesterday. In it, James shoots back at Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who ripped him after he left for Miami. Look, James is entitled to shoot back, Gilbert got after him in a way I have never seen an owner go after a player. While I sympathized with Gilbert and everyone in Cleveland, James is certainly entitled to tell his side.
But when James says, “I don’t think he ever cared about LeBron,” how can you not crack up?
There it is folks, the prototype 21st century athlete, talking about himself in the third person and criticizing an owner for not CARING about him? If you want to say, “I didn’t think Gilbert’s comments were fair to ME because of ------“ (you fill in the blank) that’s fine. But owners don’t care about athletes, they pay them to win. I’m always amused when I hear players and owners talk about how close they are to one another. They should talk to Knight because he’ll straighten them out. As long as the player performs the owner will ‘care,’ about them. As soon as he stops, the owner will talk about how much he cares about him while he’s cutting him or trading him. And if another owner wants to show a player how much he ‘cares,’ about him by giving him a better deal, the player will be gone the next day. He may or may not stage an infomercial to announce it. (One question: Has anyone figured out why James put on his act in Greenwich yet? Did he feel safe in a community that has lots of people in his tax bracket? Haven’t figured it out yet).
I wonder how much the Wilpon family ‘cared,’ about Francisco Rodriguez before he tore up his thumb punching out his girlfriend’s father last week? Right now they care so much they’re trying not to have to pay him ever again. They aren’t wrong to be as angry as they clearly are but I don’t think K-Rod should tell someone, “I don’t think the Wilpons ever cared about K-Rod.”
Actually maybe he should—because he’d be right.