“People who love only once in their lives are. . . shallow people. What they call their loyalty, and their fidelity, I call either the lethargy of custom or their lack of imagination.”~ Oscar Wilde
I have an admission to make: I didn’t watch any of ESPN’s coverage of “The LeBron Decision.” I don’t remember what I was doing, but it probably involved something on the order of importance of putting clean newspaper in a bird cage or trying to identify navel lint or trimming my pet’s toenails. You know—big, important, relevant stuff.
That disclaimer aside, I find myself puzzled by the coverage LeBron’s decision has gotten after he made it. Luminaries from across the entertainment and sports spectrum, including the august Bryant Gumble, have jumped on the LeBron-is-a-schmuck bandwagon. (If you’re hoping to get a seat, I say move fast. Bob Ryan might save you one, if you ask nicely.) Charles Barkley has chimed in, as has Michael Jordan (MJ). Apparently LeBron embarrassed himself as he pandered to the excessive coverage. (Actually, maybe he did.) Gumble, speaking as part of the closing commentary of his HBO sports news magazine, accused LeBron, among other things, of being shallow and overly pre-occupied with winning. MJ, ostensibly commenting on the fact that LeBron has “teamed up” with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh versus staying in Cleveland, supposedly said, “I would never have called Magic [Johnson] or Larry [Bird].” Really?
There is much one could say about this episode, and much of that would likely be littered with questions about the maturity of the Cavs’ owner. (Wait, did a grown man, an NBA-franchise-owning man, actually publicly attack another man because said man took a new job? Why yes. Yes he did.) Here’s what I’m wondering. If Dan Gilbert acts like that over something as customary and run-of-the-mill in the NBA as a player going to another team, if he displays that type of juvenile petulance in a case like this, how the heck did he make enough money to own an NBA team? (I know. That’s unfair.)
It’s probably also indicative of why I’m so broke…
Anyway, back to the “older” NBA guys talking trash about LBJ. What I really found kind of out-of-context, bordering on, well, insane, is the quote attributed to MJ. (That ESPN ran it in the ticker, amid Tour de France and golf updates, should be no surprise.) So, MJ wouldn’t have called Larry or Magic, huh? I reckon not. You know why? (Aside from the fact that MJ’s career brilliance didn’t really overlap the career peaks of Larry and Magic, that is.) Larry was busy playing, and winning, with two or three other eventual NBA Hall of Famers. Magic was all tied up with two or three HoFers of his own. MJ played his entire NBA title run in Chicago with another HOFer who was also in the prime of his career. He didn’t need to call anybody! LeBron? As best I can tell, he was stuck trying to win every game by himself with (at best, this year) a worn-out Shaq, while simultaneously being saddled with role players who would have very likely been riding the bench behind the 7th man on Jordan’s Bulls teams, Magic’s Lakers, and Larry’s Celtics. Don’t think so? Initially, I wasn’t sure either.
Members of the NBA Hall of Fame are in red, bold-face.
Jordan’s Bulls During Title Run(s)
|Armstrong, B. J.||Armstrong, B. J.||Armstrong, B. J.||Brown, Randy||Brown, Randy||Brown, Randy|
|Cartwright, Bill||Cartwright, Bill||Cartwright, Bill||Buechler, Jud||Buechler, Jud||Buechler, Jud|
|Grant, Horace||Grant, Horace||Grant, Horace||Edwards, James||Caffey, Jason||Burrell, Scott|
|Hodges, Craig||Hansen, Bob||Jordan, Michael||Harper, Ron||Dele, Bison||Harper, Ron|
|Hopson, Dennis||Hodges, Craig||King, Stacey||Jordan, Michael||Harper, Ron||Jordan, Michael|
|Jordan, Michael||Jordan, Michael||McCray, Rodney||Kerr, Steve||Jordan, Michael||Kerr, Steve|
|King, Stacey||King, Stacey||Paxson, John||Kukoc, Toni||Kerr, Steve||Kukoc, Toni|
|Levingston, Cliff||Levingston, Cliff||Perdue, Will||Longley, Luc||Kukoc, Toni||Longley, Luc|
|Paxson, John||Paxson, John||Pippen, Scottie||Pippen, Scottie||Longley, Luc||Pippen, Scottie|
|Perdue, Will||Perdue, Will||Tucker, Trent||Rodman, Dennis||Parish, Robert||Rodman, Dennis|
|Pippen, Scottie||Pippen, Scottie||Walker, Darrell||Salley, John||Pippen, Scottie||Simpkins, Dickey|
|Williams, Scott||Williams, Scott||Williams, Scott||Wennington, Bill||Rodman, Dennis||Wennington, Bill|
One might note that this was a team with not as many HoFers as championship teams discussed below. One should also note, however, that it was also a team laden with absolute studs. People such as Horace Grant and B.J. Armstrong could be recognized as a cut above anyone LeBron found on his team in Cleveland for the entire 7 years he was there. For instance, B.J. Armstrong shot 60% from three-point range during one of the title runs. Steve Kerr? Deadly and dependable, as was John Paxon. Toni Kukoc? If he plays in Cleveland, he’s got a Nike poster right next to one for LeBron. Dennis Rodman averaged double-figure rebounds for pretty much the entire title run, while also maintaining a permanent membership on the NBA All-Defensive Team. (Care to guess who Cleveland’s defensive stopper was? LeBron. You cannot make this stuff up!)
As an aside, MJ is considered the best of not only his generation, but maybe all time. And yet, he had another HoFer to back him up.
Magic’s Lakers During Title Run(s)
|Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem||Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem||Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem||Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem||Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem|
|Byrnes, Marty||Brewer, Jim||Cooper, Michael||Branch, Adrian||Campbell, Tony|
|Chones, Jim||Cooper, Michael||Johnson, Magic||Cooper, Michael||Cooper, Michael|
|Cooper, Michael||Johnson, Clay||Kupchak, Mitch||Green, A.C.||Green, A.C.|
|Haywood, Spencer||Johnson, Magic||Lester, Ronnie||Johnson, Magic||Johnson, Magic|
|Holland, Brad||Jordan, Eddie||McAdoo, Bob||Matthews, Wes||Matthews, Wes|
|Johnson, Magic||Landsberger, Mark||McGee, Mike||Rambis, Kurt||Rambis, Kurt|
|Landsberger, Mark||McAdoo, Bob||Nevitt, Chuck||Scott, Byron||Scott, Byron|
|Lee, Butch||McGee, Mike||Rambis, Kurt||Smrek, Mike||Smrek, Mike|
|Nixon, Norm||Nixon, Norm||Scott, Byron||Thompson, Billy||Thompson, Mycal|
|Wilkes, Jamaal||Rambis, Kurt||Spriggs, Larry||Thompson, Mycal||Wagner, Milt|
|Wilkes, Jamaal||Worthy, James||Worthy, James||Worthy, James|
Whoa. “Showtime” is an apt description. Little more need be said about the quality of Magic’s teams, well, except this: Michael Cooper and Jamaal Wilkes are just on the cusp of being HoFers. (To get an idea of just of how close, randomly peruse the Internet. Pack a lunch.) Kareem averaged 30 points-per-game and 12 rebounds-per-game during the 79-80 title run, when he was supposedly nearing the end. During the 81-82 playoffs, three players—Nixon, Kareem, and Wilkes—averaged more points than Magic. Byron Scott averaged over 20 points-per-game during the latter Lakers title runs.
To whom could LBJ look to for that kind of support on the Cavaliers, ever? Maybe that’s unfair. Which Cavs would start ahead of Nixon, Wilkes, Cooper, Scott, Green, or even Rambis or Thompson? Don’t scratch your head. Nobody. (OK, maybe a few guys would start ahead of Rambis. I got carried away!) Next…
Bird’s Celtics During Title Run(s)
|Archibald, Tiny||Ainge, Danny||Ainge, Danny|
|Bird, Larry||Bird, Larry||Bird, Larry|
|Carr, M.L.||Buckner, Quinn||Carlisle, Rick|
|Duerod, Terry||Carr, M.L.||Johnson, Dennis|
|Fernsten, Eric||Clark, Carlos||Kite, Greg|
|Ford, Chris||Henderson, Gerald||McHale, Kevin|
|Henderson, Gerald||Johnson, Dennis||Parish, Robert|
|Maxwell, Cedric||Kite, Greg||Sichting, Jerry|
|McHale, Kevin||Maxwell, Cedric||Thirdkill, David|
|Parish, Robert||McHale, Kevin||Vincent, Sam|
|Robey, Rick||Parish, Robert||Walton, Bill|
|Wedman, Scott||Wedman, Scott|
Here we have, as was the case with the Bulls and the Lakers, teams with several hall-of-fame-worthy players, mixed with excellent role players. We even have an NBA rarity, a player who was a Finals MVP while most likely not ever becoming a HoFer: Cedric Maxwell. One final word about the Celtics run. (Maybe more than one word…) A quick glance at the title years vis-à-vis the Lakers chart should provide a conclusion. The Celtics won a couple of their titles when the Lakers didn’t win. Stated differently, the Celtics could have 5 titles and the Lakers 3, except for the fact that the Lakers beat the Celtics. These teams needed to have studs top-to-bottom. They were competing against each other.
I see a pattern forming and frankly, it concerns me. The closer I look, the more I wonder why LeBron stayed in Cleveland for as long as he did. That they don’t erect a statue, saying, “He gave all he had, for almost nothing” right next to that Nike poster is beyond me.
Let’s look at the Cavs during their title attempt…
Given that none of these players is old enough for HoF induction yet, I have bold-faced the people I think might be worthy. (Yes, I admit that is open for debate.)
LeBron’s Cavaliers During Title Attempt (and the Team that Beat Them)
|2006-2007 Cavaliers||2006-2007 Spurs|
|Gibson, Daniel||Barry, Brent|
|Gooden, Drew||Bonner, Matt|
|Hughes, Larry||Bowen, Bruce|
|Ilgauskas, Zydrunas||Duncan, Tim|
|Jones, Damon||Finley, Michael|
|Marshall, Donyell||Ginobili, Manu|
|Newble, Ira||Horry, Robert|
|Pavlovic, Sasha||Oberto, Fabricio|
|Pollard, Scot||Parker, Tony|
|Snow, Eric||Udrih, Beno|
|Varejao, Anderson||Vaughn, Jacque|
OK, so maybe the HoF argument is a little tougher in this case, but not by much. It seems pretty much guaranteed that LeBron is headed for the Hall. Duncan and Ginobili also seem like locks, as does Parker. (And what about Robert “Big-Shot-Bob” Hoory or Michael Findley? Second-tier HoF discussion fodder?) Even if we assume, just for argument’s sake, that only James and Duncan are HoFers, it seems pretty clear that Parker and Ginobili were way better than anyone on the Cavs roster. Given that both of them averaged more points-per-game than anyone other than LeBron on Cleveland’s squad during this title series, that’s a pedestrian conclusion. By the way, the Spurs swept the Cavs. Shocking, right? (I now find myself wondering how the Cavs got to the Finals. Is it just me?)
Here endeth the rant…almost.
LeBron doesn’t need my help or my justification. (Like Dan Gilbert, he too is a grown, rich, man.) In fact, he doesn’t need anyone’s permission, or approval, to seek new employment. That his loyalty is being questioned is what ticked me off. To be clear, I am neither a Cleveland fan nor a Miami fan. (As a sports fan, I too wish players stayed in one city their whole career, although such a desire is, I admit, irrational, and runs counter to praxeology. But it’s not my decision to make anyway.) I’ve no dog in this fight. In even fuller disclosure, I am already on record as someone who wonders how loyalty can enter into an intelligent sports discussion. (Wait. Oxymoron alert!) It probably reflects that I watch too much sports TV generally, and way too much ESPN particularly, but the excessive coverage, followed by the juvenile, vapid, finger-wagging, spittle-inflected attacks on LeBron James’s character just got to be too much. Consider this essay my first words in addition to that passing fancy, and (thankfully?) my last.
(By the way, I obtained all this roster information from: http://www.basketball-reference.com/. What a resource for the sports junkie with time to kill! Yeah, I know…)