Thursday, July 15, 2010

After Two Weeks, I'm Ready To Address "The Decision"...

The most anticipated show this summer won't be the season premiere of Ochocinco: The Perfect Catch or the season finale of The Bachelorette. It won't even be the season finale of Entourage. This summer's biggest prime time hit was "The Decision", starring Lebron James, Jim Gray and a backdrop of kids from the Boys and Girls Club of America. The one-hour special raked in more viewers than the MLB All-Star game.

I spent days anticipating this one-hour special. I dissected Lebron's ensuing decision with coworkers, anxiously followed Chris Broussard's ESPN updates, and sifted through articles daily, breaking down the reason Lebron would go here or there. Everyday I felt Lebron was going somewhere else. When I wrote this article, it was Cleveland. Days later, it was Chicago. Then, for one sweet, splendid day, I thought the Knicks had him. We got Amar'e. The Bulls didn't have Boozer. I didn't think he wanted to share the spotlight with Wade. And there was no sense in going to Cleveland with little hope to win a championship. Oh, and for the sake of respecting Nets fans, I had a feeling he wasn't going there either. That day was a Tuesday.

Then Wednesday happened.

In a last ditch effort to sway James, or so I thought, Wade and Bosh declared they would be signing with Miami and Carlos Boozer agreed to sign with the Bulls. When Wade and Bosh signed with Miami I convinced myself the Knicks were still the favorite. Lebron didn't want to share the spotlight, right? What basketball prodigy would? Certainly not Jordan. The Bulls had a solid core with Rose, Noah and Deng. But there was greater upside with New York in the long run. James could be the hero of the biggest city in America.

When Boozer signed with the Bulls later that night, all my hopes washed away. I had completely taken him out of the picture. If it wasn't Cleveland, the Bulls were the hot ticket.

But as I brushed my teeth that night, mulling over the next day's decision, it sort of hit me. Lebron was going to sign with the Heat. In a weird way, it just kind of made sense to me. Suddenly, the nationwide tour of interviews felt more like an attempt to throw us off the scent of the mystery we spent much of the summer trying to solve - Where Lebron would go? I finished brushing my teeth, walked into the next room, and told my two friends. Mike D'Antoni got the same feeling the night before. Maybe all Knicks' fans did.

As I analyze the decision, it's hard to fathom why Lebron would cop out like this. I guess he didn't even want the game to be a contest anymore. He was getting that title, even if he had to back-stab a city that stood behind him for 25 years to do so. Even if he had to ask for help to do so.

Thursday, July 8, 2010:

I woke up at 6am, living the life, ready to get my 8:30-5:30pm grind on. I went through my normal morning ritual - take the bed sheets off the futon I'm crashing on, put away the extra mattress, turn the futon into a couch, make a bowl of cereal, turn on ESPN - when right before my eyes I see: Breaking News: Sources say Lebron James is expected to sign with the Heat. I didn't curse (my roommate did). Instead, I sat there feeling much like I had the last ten years as a Knicks fan - not surprised, disappointed, pissed and heartbroken all at the same time.

When "The Decision" rolled around I kept an ounce of false hope for the Knicks, but I knew an ultimately grim decision was only a moment away. Which turned out to be 26 minutes. The 9pm special that advertised a decision within the first ten minutes, didn't even feature Lebron until 20 minutes in. It was the most drawn out hour of television I have ever seen. No one sums it up better than Steve Carell and Paul Rudd right here:

"I'm gonna take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat" sealed the deal. They were the words I never wanted to the hear, but the words I couldn't help but feel were coming all along. For one day there was hope Lebron would be a Knick, but the next 5 years will show otherwise.

So here are my feelings on the decision.

1) You can't fault Lebron for choosing to leave Cleveland - He gave it all he had...kinda, sorta. Could he have eventually won in that city? Yes. Would it have been more gratifying? Yes. Could it have taken a long time or possibly never happened? Yes. The businessman in James saw an opportunity. No one ever imagined two superstars and an ideal #2 could all sign on the same team in the same free agency period. The formula: Right Click on your roster. Scroll up to Delete. Click the Mouse. The Heat had four players when they signed Lebron. And they had to trade Michael Beasley away for a draft pick when they added Lebron the next day. They still had four players. And ya know what? It just might work. James saw the opportunity to win not 1, not 2, not 3, not 4, not 5, not 6, not 7 titles, as he put it, and he took it. Will they win 7? Maybe. Is there a whole lot of pressure on them to do so? Yes. Could Lebron's decision bring titles and a lot of money towards him and his good friends? Most likely. Okay, I get it Lebron. But...
2) You can fault Lebron for the way he chose to leave Cleveland. A one-hour special titled, "The Decision". How are you gonna do that and not pick Cleveland? How are you gonna stab an entire city of people that adore you in the back on national television? How? That's just too cruel.
3) Lebron's decision can go one of two ways: 1) Swimmingly, and as expected or 2) Painfully and in-reputably. Okay I made up that last word, but I was looking for a word that says this decision could severely damage his reputation and legacy as a basketball player. Looking at the first direction, there's a very good chance Lebron will look back on the next five years and say, "Hey, that was a lot of fun. These four rings look awfully nice on my hand. Extension? I think so". But there's also the looming possibility that Lebron's decision could backfire on him. I don't expect Dan Gilbert's ambitious prediction that the Cavs will bring home a title before the Heat to come to fruition (that's the absolute backfire), but I can see next June's headlines now: "Bulls show James why he should've picked Chicago", "Undersized Cavs no match for Howard and Magic", "Celtics still have Lebron's number", "Lebron brings more firepower, but still no match for Kobe" "Gilbert talked the talk, and now he's (in all CAPS) WALKING THE WALK!". Just kidding about that last one, but you can catch my drift. The Heat are not infallible. Until recently, they still had four players. And very little money to work with (Imagine if the salary cap wasn't $2 million higher than anticipated?)

That's how I feel about "The Decision". Others, like Dan LeBatard, feel this way:

(Fast Forward to 1:01)

Dan LeBatard may be a crazy man, but his obnoxious, somewhat vulgar comments are both hilarious and true in this video. His sports knowledge and etiquette aren't anything to write home about, but as he's shown on PTI and in this video, he's very good at yelling random thoughts.

Allow me to make a few comments on this rejoice-ment.
1) "Run the point night! One lucky fan gets to run the point...every night for the Heat!" The Heat might actually have to consider this. They have four players and they're barely under the cap. How comical/entertaining would it be if the Heat actually did this? If there's any team that could get away with trying that, it would be this team. Lebron treated every warm-up session as a joke; a stage to please and delight crowds; a chance to be a true showman. Why not carry that over to the actual game itself? Then maybe in the playoffs, when they're still potentially the 1-seed, they can sign a veteran PG or something. Maybe the Heat could take a page out of Jackie Moon's book and perform halftime shows as well. What do they need to do in the locker room anyway? Coach X (does anyone even know who the coach of the Heat is? Anybody? He's making a run at Phil Jackson's title record with Miami Thrice and nobody knows. Come on people!). Well anyway, Coach X probably wouldn't have much to say other than: "Okay guys, let's try to work the ball to Lebron, Dwyane & maybe Chris a little bit more. And, uh, run the point for a night fan guy, why don't you just stand in the corner." A halftime show would really do more for the overall game experience. Lebron does care more about putting on a show than winning. We already established that, right? Why else would he quit on Cleveland in the playoffs, then organize a one hour special to announce something that takes 10 seconds, even though it was an astronomical insult and back-stab to the people that adore him?
2) "He's the best player in the world. But he might not be the best player on this team!" I think this team actually does more for Bosh and Wade than it does Lebron. First of all, Bosh was the star of Toronto. Not much to say for that. He wasn't good enough to be a team's #1 guy. Now he thinks he's the greatest thing since sliced bread, and he's ready to ride Wade and James to a couple titles. Did anyone enjoy this free agency more than Bosh? I thought it was impossible for anyone to enjoy this free agency more than Lebron, but Bosh proved me wrong. Then there's Wade. This is his team. He's already won a title. He's got nothing to prove. He dominated the Olympics off the bench. If I were building a team around someone, I might pick him over Lebron. I know, I'm crazy. But think about it. He does everything. He's unselfish, clutch, plays harder than anyone in the league, he's smart, and he can shoot, pass, drive and defend. I hope Lebron is ready to share the spotlight. Cause Wade has a pretty big spotlight.
3) "New York, welcome to another decade of irrelevance." F---.
4) "Cleveland's owner is a crazy person!" That speaks for itself.
5) "Our [Miami's] half-full sports bar exploded in joy! / Did you see the way it erupted?! Seven people wearing Heat jerseys!" Welcome to the basketball city of America Lebron! Oh no wait. You didn't pick New York, Boston, LA or Chicago. Seven Heat jerseys! Seven! In a half-full sports bar! You picked the city that cares the least! At least the Gulf coast isn't flooded more and more each day with oil!
6) "Chris Bosh, you're the third best player on this team!" Don't forget that Chris! The more you think and act like you're a superstar, the more I start to hate you. To quote Bill Simmons: "He's never played in a Sweet 16, a Game 7 or even round 2 of the NBA playoffs".

Is LeBatard right, though? Do we have a dynasty in the making? The answer: maybe. It all depends. Can these three guys win with nine minimum salary guys? No. The Big 3 in Boston needed Rondo, Perkins, Poe, Posey and House. Jordan, Pippen and Rodman needed Kukoc, Kerr, Harper and Paxson. Every championship team needs key role players that step up when it matters. If Fisher didn't save Bryant this year, the Celtics take home that title. If "Big Shot" Bob Horry didn't hit his fair share of big shots, the Lakers and Spurs don't win those titles. The Heat need quality veterans to take a pay cut in order for them to win the title. And it looks like they might do just that. Udonis Haslem stuck around, and remained loyal to the organization. Mike Miller recently signed. Derek Fisher thought about doing the same. And why wouldn't they? If they don't, they may have to wait five years to win a title, because others took the cut and made the Heat unbeatable. Where is the fun in losing for five years? With Miller, the Heat filled a shooting void. James and Wade are streaky, but the truth is, their outside game is hardly anything to brag about. They need a Kerr, Horry, Hornacek, Elliot, Posey-type figure to knock down open shots. Lebron didn't have that in Cleveland. In the playoffs, Williams and West disappeared. They knocked down open looks in the regular season, but didn't have the guts to knock them down in the playoffs. We'll see if Mike Miller does. Now the Heat need a big man. Bosh is no match for Howard. He's a power forward. They need a center. I thought Shaq was a horrible fit for Cleveland coming in, and he was. But he might work nicely in Miami. Just a thought. Only time will tell if the Heat can get the necessary components to accompany the Big Three en route to a title.

My only hope is that the Knicks continue to build the team that can challenge the Heat. Amar'e was a step in the right direction. I love the acquisition of Felton. I only hope Carmelo can turn down the lucrative deal Denver offers him to stay, and that he'll return to his place of birth as a Knick next season. A sign-and-trade for Chris Paul would be immaculate as well, now that New York has someone to offer in Felton. Rumor has it, Paul said he wanted to assemble his own team with Melo and Amar'e in New York. The thoughts of a renewed Eastern Conference rivalry between the Heat and the Knicks give me the chills. It would be like my childhood as a Knicks fan all over again. Can you imagine Conference Final battles between the Heat and Knicks and the Lakers and Thunder each year? That's exciting basketball. I want that feeling.

But once again, as a Knicks fan, I'm only left with hope.

Maybe next year will be the year.

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