There’s an old ‘Peanuts,’ strip in which Peppermint Patty is being asked by her teacher why she doesn’t have her homework. She talks at length about TV shows she had to watch; something that caught her attention on the radio and a comic strip—or something like it—that she spent time reading. Finally she stands up, finger in the air and says: “I blame the media!”
Peppermint Patty meet Eric Spoelstra.
Look, I don’t come here this morning to bury Spoelstra but I certainly don’t come here to praise him either. I think the argument can be made he has the toughest coaching or managing job in professional sports right now. Not only is he going to be judged a failure as the coach of The Miami Heat if the team doesn’t win the NBA title, he has to share a locker room with LeBron James.
I’m not adding the names Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. If Spoelstra was just coaching the two of them he’d be living the good life in South Beach. Bosh is a very good player who never should have been in the same sentence or hype-fest with James and Wade. He’s a perfect third option on a very good team—which is what The Heat happen to be. Wade—unlike James—has proven he can lead a team to a championship and has also proven during this season that his ego, unlike one of his teammates, isn’t slightly larger than Gaul—no, I wasn’t around when it was divided into three parts, but I did read about it.
The problem for Spoelstra is James—and the fact that he’s about 14-years-old and clearly in over his head right now. The minute James made, “The Decision,” to take his talents to South Beach, Spoelstra’s job became impossible. He’d be better off right now applying for the open jobs at Texas Tech or at Towson. If The Heat had broken the Bulls NBA record of 72 wins—as many so-called experts predicted last summer; go back and check the tapes—and had swept to the title, Spoelstra would have been the guy in the suit who was along for the ride. The minute the team started 9-8 he became the coach who couldn’t tell an X from an O.
The Heat is 43-20. If you listen to people talk about them you would think they were 20-43. They’re not winning close games against good teams. That may change but at the moment they are offensively dysfunctional in the end game because they haven’t got a point guard and because James HAS to have the ball even when the defense KNOWS he has to have the ball.
Okay, fine. So they’ve lost a bunch of games they could have won but the fact remains it won’t matter until and unless they lose in May or June. Then Spoelstra will get fired and James won’t take responsibility for anything. Maybe he’ll start talking about his next Decision and remind people he can opt out of South Beach in another two years. (Remember his speech about all he’s done for Cleveland?)
Where Spoelstra got into trouble the last couple days wasn’t so much with his comment about players crying in the locker room after Sunday’s loss to the Bulls but with his ridiculous blame-the-media crack on Monday even though one can’t help but wonder why in the world anyone would be crying—or even glassy-eyed--after a loss in March. Maybe LeBron told Mike Bibby this was all his fault and he burst into tears, but I doubt it.
Spoelstra was trying to make the point that the close losses aren’t fueled by a lack of desire—which is fine, although lacking desire at this point in an NBA season is pretty commonplace. Have you watched a Washington Wizards road game anytime recently? So, he used a phrase he shouldn’t have used because, “guys crying in there,” gets your attention. It isn’t as if the Heat’s season ended on Sunday. There were kids playing college basketball on Sunday who saw their CAREERS end. That’s when you cry and no one begrudges you your tears. Pros crying after a regular season loss makes you want to put out a call for Tom Hanks.
Of course everything the Heat does is news. So, when Spoelstra blurted out that there was crying in his locker room, people wondered who was crying and why. Yes, it sounds like a soap opera because it is: “Days of LeBron’s Life.” He would insist that be the title as would the four-letter folks in Bristol who promote EVERY Heat game as, “LeBron James and The Miami Heat…” Maybe that was in the contract for ‘The Decision,’ (don’t you love the part where the ESPN dork says he’d do it again? That’s a little bit like the people who gave Magic Johnson a talk show saying THEY’D do it again). Wade, the guy with, you know, the actual championship ring, is just supporting cast when LeBron is in the room.
What Spoelstra should have done on Monday was laugh and say, ‘hey fellas, I was trying to make a point yesterday about how hard I think my guys are playing. I probably meant to say, ‘a lot of guys in there FEEL like crying.’ We took the loss hard but not THAT hard.’”
Instead he went Peppermint Patty and blamed the media. “A classic case of media sensationalism,” he called it. No Eric, ‘The Decision,’ was a classic case of media sensationalism and so is sticking Charlie Sheen on every single TV show that exists and promoting his appearances as if President Obama was about to announce a peace treaty had been signed in Afghanistan.
Reporting what you said in a press conference and finding it amusing, bemusing and kind of funny that you said your players were crying after losing in the 63d game of an 82-game regular season is hardly sensationalism.
Of course now those that apologize for anyone and everyone in sports are scrambling to say, ‘yeah, see, it’s those bad guys in the media.’ This morning on the way to the pool, I heard Dick Vitale doing his weekly bit with the morning pitchmen. (I couldn’t help but notice that they threw him overboard after six minutes. Was that because they HAD to get in a commercial or a sponsor-mention or was Dicky V. just out of breath?). Anyway, my position on Vitale has been made clear in the past: Love him, heart of gold. There’s nothing phony about his passion.
That said, Dicky V. somehow turned Spoelstra saying his players cried into a rant about how HE cried when he recently went to visit kids in a cancer ward at a hospital. “What’s wrong with crying! What’s wrong with a little emotion! Sometimes the media is just vicious—vicious!”
Okay Dick, calm yourself. Crying when you spend time with kids who have cancer isn’t just understandable, it’s to be expected. Honestly, I’ve done it myself and I don’t just cry, I get physically ill. Even writing it now conjures up visions that give me the shakes. You simply can’t—CAN NOT—compare that to basketball players crying after losing a game—even the justifiable tears of a career-ending loss. So please, let’s not ever go there or anywhere close to there again.
Meantime, “LeBron James and The Miami Heat,” have another game tonight. And then another and another and another. In about seven weeks they’ll play game that means something. Until then, Eric Spoelstra can cry all he wants about media sensationalism. My advice would be to get over it.