Jul 092010

My first reaction yesterday when Lebron James finally chose to leave Cleveland was sadistic happiness. Yes, I’m a Pittsburgher through and through and we.hate.Cleveland. On reflection though, I can’t really say that my joy will remain unbridled.

Lebron James spurned his hometown in quite possibly the most egregiously narcissistic fashion ever concocted. A nationally televised one-hour ESPN show during which he chose, with no hint of remorse or regret, to leave the Cavs. It’s one thing to leave. It’s quite another to make a show, to make a spectacle out of it. To rub it in the faces (and sports souls) of those who came to love how you represented their team. And more broadly, their region.

We’re so used to people acting in their self-interests these days that we’ve forgotten to consider the manner in which they should pursue said interests. Should. We’ve removed that word – “should” – from our public discourse. Well, Lebron James’ right to leave isn’t at issue. He gave the Cavs among the best seven years in the franchise’s history.

But he should not have left them in that way. He should not have strung them along for so long. He should have considered the impact of his decision on his (now former) fans and their reaction and their grief and their heart-break. It’s ok that he left and while he didn’t trash talk the city or anything like that, he could have, should have let them down more tactfully, more gently, more humanely. It’s called civility. And it doesn’t start with a damn ESPN special.

As much as I have proven over the years that I hate Cleveland, I won’t be rooting for Lebron James in Miami. He might even cause me to root for the Cavs if they played the Heat in a playoff series. And that is reason enough for me to begin to dislike Lebron James. He’s done the impossible for this Pittsburger – he’s made a Cleveland sports team look sympathetic?! (I think I just threw up in my mouf).

May 252010

In the analysis of whether Lebron James should or shouldn’t leave Cleveland, those who say he should stay make the point that he has a good chance of winning a title there. I may disagree but my point is that their position is mostly analytical and contains relatively little trace of emotion, in contrast to other similar cases.

Once upon a time, Cleveland lost Manny Ramirez. George Steinbrenner actually hails from Cleveland as well. Right Red 88, The Fumble, The Drive, Jordan over Ehlo, blowing the World Series and so on. It’s safe to say that Cleveland is the most tortured sports city in the country. And now they may lose Lebron.

Joe Posnanski made an excellent point in his article a couple days ago that almost no one outside of Cleveland is saying Lebron James should stay because he belongs in Cleveland, in the same way that Joe Mauer seems to belong in Minnesota or Derek Jeter in NY or Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh.

Lebron seems bigger than his hometown and so goes the line of thought that he should leave. Whether to pursue worldwide Jordan-esque dominance on or off the court. With some exceptions, most stars are bigger than their cities. Especially those not in large markets. Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City, KG when he was in Minnesota as well as Ken Griffey Jr in Seattle and Brett Favre in Green Bay.

However, there is/was at some point sentiment for those big dawgs to stay, to make some reciprocal attachment (however anachronistic it may seem) to the city that embraced them. Not so in Cleveland. Lebron James needs to get out screams everyone, including the President.

I can quite fairly be accused of disliking (to put it mildly) Cleveland. They hate us and we hate them. And the world keeps on spinnin’.

Still, I wonder why Cleveland seems to be such an unsympathetic city. Truth be told, outside of the sporting context, it’s not that dis-similar from Pittsburgh or Kansas City… an old town, trying to make good in a service sector economy. It has its faults, its hopes and its fair share of tragedies. However, even Detroit seems to have more defenders than Cleveland.

Apr 272010

Can anyone ever again be like Mike? A few nights ago, I was watching an NBA playoff game (yes, Pittsburghers sometimes watch pro basketball) when they cut away to a shot of Michael Jordan. And I got the sudden urge to watch one of the Be Like Mike ads. So I checked out the original on youtube.

“Sometimes I dream / that he is me / you’ve got to see that’s how I dream to be / I dream I move / I dream I groove / like Mike / if I could be like Mike.”

And in the wake of the Ben Roethlisberger and Tiger Woods scandals, it gets me to thinking whether any athlete will ever again be as beloved as Michael Jordan. Oh I get that Cavs and Jazz and Knicks fans will hate him forever and a day but for the casual fan who remembers him, I don’t think anyone will ever approach Michael Jordan. It’s been too many years and too many comebacks since he was the true force of the NBA, of sports in general, but just watch the commercial again.

It’s possible, even probable, that someone someday will approach his greatness on the court (Kobe Bean Bryant, Kevin Durant?). Someone someday may make more money off the court (Lebron James?). But can you ever imagine another athlete inspiring a “Be Like Mike”-style commercial? That pure, almost child-like sense of awe and adulation. It’s a brilliant spot, really.

Kobe & Lebron get a lot of publicity and have lots of commercials out these days. They’re funny. They’re witty. They really make me hope that Lebron leaves Cleveland. I imagine Kevin Durant will get his own set soon. None of those spots will be the same as the “Be Like Mike” ad. Even before his scandals, I don’t think that Tiger Woods was as big and as awe-inspiring as Michael Jordan.

We all know now that Jordan wasn’t the nicest of gentlemen. He berated his coaches and teammates. He gambled almost compulsively. He drove people nuts. Put simply, he was an ass. But he still inspired that commercial and all that goes with it.

Sorry but I don’t want to be like Lebron James or Kevin Durant. I still want to be like Mike. (And I was an Olajuwon fan).

Jul 232009

By now, almost everyone has seen the much-ballyhooed videotape of LeBron James getting dunked on by a prep star Jordan Crawford of Xavier. It’s a pretty weak posterization.

What is obviously even weaker is James’ and Nike’s reaction to the dunk. Trying to get it wiped because of some bullshizzle about videotaping rights? hah.

I like Lebron James, despite his Ohioan heritage. He’s a great player. But it’s evident that he has some growing up to do. He doesn’t have to abandon his love of his homeland (though that’s also advisable) but given the success of others before him such as George Steinbrenner and Bill Bellichick, he should probably abandon the state in order to seek his true fortunes.