LeBron’s LeBacle, and other depressing sports moments

Posted: July 11, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Like every other sports fan, I have a lot of reactions to the LeBron James signing and its aftermath. Basically, there are four major stories here: the signing itself, the one-hour special to announce the signing, the reaction of Cleveland fans and the reaction of Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert. Let’s get to it.

The signing
I have no problem with LeBron choosing the Heat. Yeah, it would’ve been nice to see him stay in Cleveland, try to end his hometown’s championship drought and continue to be Cleveland fans’ savior, but let’s face it — sports are a business. I stopped being naïve enough to think otherwise when I was eight.

And in the business of sports, there are two things that trump all else — championships and money. By picking the Heat, LeBron made it clear that winning titles is his No. 1 priority, which shouldn’t come as a surprise because he’s been saying that since Day 1. Sure, he’s had chances to win in Cleveland and would probably continue to have chances in the future, but there’s no denying that teaming up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh gives him a better chance.

And to anyone calling LeBron greedy, remember that he actually sacrificed a lot of money by going to Miami. He gave up about $20 million just by signing with anyone other than the Cavs, and then sacrificed another $15 million (as did both Wade and Bosh) to help the contracts fit into the Heat’s salary. In fact, three other free agents have signed bigger contracts this summer. Joe Johnson, Dirk Nowitzki and Amare Stoudemire will all make more money per season than LeBron. You shouldn’t need me to tell you that LeBron is worth more than any of those three.

All that said, I hope LeBron realizes that by choosing Miami he will never be in the Greatest Player of All-Time discussion. The Heat are Wade’s team, and that’s not going to change. You can’t be the greatest ever if you’re not even the centerpiece of your team. Russell, Bird, Jordan and Kobe all won titles as THE man. They had championship teams built around them. They didn’t have to join a team that already had two of the league’s best players to win. LeBron did. And even this debate is assuming they actually do win.

The one-hour special
This has rightly been dubbed LeBacle. When I first heard the report that ESPN was going to air this, I had five thoughts: 1) Why does Chris Broussard need to use anonymous sources to report something involving the network for which he works? 2) There’s no way ESPN could be dumb enough to air this. 3) There’s no way LeBron could be egocentric enough to agree to this. 4) There’s no way anyone besides a fan of a team pursuing LeBron could care enough to watch this. 5) LeBron is definitely staying in Cleveland.

Well, I still don’t know the answer to No. 1 and I was wrong about the other four. I don’t feel like talking about Nos. 2, 3 and 4 because I still think the whole thing was absurd, but No. 5 is obviously worth discussing.

I thought this was a sure sign LeBron was returning to the Cavs because I thought there was no way he was going to break the collective spirit of Cleveland sports fans on national television. I mean, that would be the absolute worst way to break the news to them, and LeBron’s way too classy to do that, right?

I guess not. For someone who claims that Northeast Ohio will always be his home, LeBron sure did a good job of making sure he’ll never be welcome back. As I already said, I have no problem with him leaving Cleveland, but I have a huge problem with him announcing it during this special and making the misery that much worse for Clevelanders.

I also have a huge problem with the fact that he waited until just about the end of the free-agency period to announce it. Now, instead of being able to use the money they were planning to spend on LeBron to sign another top-flight free agent or two, the Cavs can’t do anything because all the elite free agents are off the market.

It’s clear that LeBron wasn’t going to return to Cleveland unless he could get Bosh to come with him. He should’ve known well before July 1 that wasn’t going to happen, meaning he should’ve told the Cavs well before July 1 he wasn’t returning. As we found out after LeBacle, it wasn’t until moments before his televised announcement that someone in his camp gave the Cavs a heads-up.

I reiterate: LeBron could not have possibly made this any worse for the Cavs and their fans. I think the following entry in Bill Simmons’ all-LeBron mailbag sums up what LeBron did perfectly:

City: Hibbing, Minn.
Name: JD
Imagine you’re an average dude in high school. Somehow, you begin dating the hottest girl in school. It goes good not great, but hey, she’s beautiful and you aren’t really going to complain. Senior year, she breaks up with you and begins dating the new quarterback that just transferred into the school. Except she did this on stage at the homecoming coronation, embarrassing you in front of the whole school. This is what LeBron did to the city of Cleveland.

Cleveland fans’ reaction
It amazes me that LeBron would even have the audacity to say he brought a lot to Cleveland and then ask for Cleveland fans’ understanding after ripping their heart out on national television.

I have no problem with Cleveland fans being pissed, and I’ll have no problem with them booing LeBron as loud as possible every time the Heat visit the Cavs. He said that “true fans will understand.” Wrong. I’m sure there are some Cleveland fans who will cheer him when he returns, but the majority won’t. And a lot of that majority will be true fans.

Cleveland isn’t like other cities. It’s been hit particularly hard by the recession. It’s also without question the city hit hardest by sports agony. No Cleveland team has won a title in 46 years — the longest drought of any city with at least three pro teams. Fans have had to endure John Elway leading The Drive, Earnest Byner losing The Fumble, Michael Jordan hitting The Shot, Jose Mesa blowing Game 7 of the 1997 World Series and the Indians blowing a 3-1 lead to the Red Sox in the 2007 ALCS.

Now they’ll also have to endure their homegrown star, their savior, driving a stake into their heart during a primetime special and showing no remorse while doing it. The only comparison I’ve seen for this is Roger Clemens leaving the Sox for the Blue Jays and not even acknowledging Boston fans on his way out. This is worse, though. Clemens and the Sox were already on bad terms when he left. Everyone knew he was leaving. And he didn’t announce it on national TV.

No matter how LeBron handled leaving Cleveland, some fans were going to boo him. But had he handled it better than he did, it would’ve been much easier on them and I think they would’ve eventually forgiven him. They still might; keep in mind that Sox fans gave Clemens a standing ovation when he left the Fenway mound for the last time as a Yankee. But like I said, this is worse than what Clemens did. There was no easy way for him to do this, but there was definitely a wrong way. And this was it.

Dan Gilbert’s reaction
I absolutely love the fact that Cavs owner Dan Gilbert sent out a furious and scathing anti-LeBron rant after LeBacle. Many people have called it childish and immature, and part of me agrees with that line of thinking, but if I were a Cleveland fan, I’d love it. If this situation had happened in Boston and one of our owners had done this, I’d love it.

You know why I love John Henry, Tom Werner, Larry Lucchino, Robert Kraft, Wyc Grousbeck and Steve Pagliuca as owners? Because they’re all fans of their teams, just like I am. You can tell they all want to win. You see them on TV at pretty much every game, clapping every time their team succeeds and banging their fist every time it fails. They’re always giving interviews discussing how they’re going to make the team better, and then they do it. As a fan, you just get the feeling that they care about winning just as much you do, if not more.

You know why I hate Jeremy Jacobs as an owner? Because he isn’t a fan. Never once have I gotten the impression that he actually cares about winning a Stanley Cup. My dad’s been following the B’s for Jacobs’ entire 35-year tenure as owner and he’s never gotten that impression either. He cares about making money. As far as I can tell, that’s it. The B’s might win a Cup with Jacobs as owner, but it will be in spite of him, not because of him. The Sox’, Pats’ and Celtics’ titles in the last decade have all been because of their owners.

Gilbert’s tirade shows me that he’s a fan, that he cares. I like that, and from everything I’ve read, so do Cleveland fans, so does new GM Chris Grant and so does new coach Byron Scott.

Gilbert promised that the Cavs would win a title before LeBron. I think I speak for every non-Heat fan when I say I’d love to see him be right.

Today’s list: My 10 most depressing sports moments
In honor of the excruciating pain Cleveland fans must be going through, I decided to rank the 10 most depressing moments of my sports fandom. By the way, four of these have come this year, so you can probably guess how I feel about this year in sports. SAVE ME, RED SOX!

10) Ghana again
Might as well start with the most recent. I didn’t expect the US to get past the second round when the 2010 World Cup started, but when they ended up getting a path of Ghana and either Uruguay or South Korea, I thought a semifinals trip wasn’t just possible, but even probable. That was until they ran out of gas in extra time and had Ghana end their tourney for the second straight Cup.

9) 2008 ALCS
The Sox completed epic ALCS comebacks in 2004 and 2007. It looked like they were going to do it again in 2008 when they forced a Game 7 against the Rays after falling behind 3-1 in the series. I guess it just wasn’t meant to happen a third time. This was even more depressing because my dad and I wasted about $400 to go to Games 3 and 4, both of which were over by the fourth inning.

8) 2010 NBA Finals
Losing to the Lakers in seven games would’ve been a lot more depressing if 1) the Celts weren’t a very distant fourth-favorite team for me, 2) the Celts hadn’t won the title two years earlier, and 3) I wasn’t still reeling from No. 1 on this list.

7) Sidney Crosby’s golden goal
I heard about Zach Parise’s tying goal in the final seconds of regulation after interviewing BU’s Kevin Shattenkirk, a future NHLer, after a game up in Vermont. Then I watched overtime on my laptop in Gutterson Fieldhouse’s crappy press box. I remember thinking how awesome of a story I’d have to tell if the US won. Mr. Crosby apparently didn’t share my sentiments.

6) B’s blow 3-1 lead in 2004
This is the series that cemented the Canadiens as my most hated team in all of sports (yes, even ahead of the Yankees). The B’s were the No. 2 seed and they had a 3-1 lead coming back to Boston for Game 5. But then the Habs dove and flopped their way to three straight wins. Seriously, the number of embellishments by Montreal in this series made me embarrassed to be a hockey fan. Who could forget Alex Kovalev faking an injury in double overtime and costing his team the game? Or Mike Ribeiro thriving on the ice like a balcony sniper had just gunned him down?

5) Pats blow 18-point lead in 2007
It was the largest blown lead in conference championship game history and it was against Peyton Manning and the hated Colts. Need I say more?

4) Scott Bleeping Walker
Walker was already public enemy No. 1 after he got away with sucker-punching Aaron Ward and breaking his orbital bone at the end of Game 5 in the 2009 conference semis. Then he scored the overtime winner in Game 7 to end the B’s season. I watched Game 7 at my mom’s friend’s house in Seattle. I tried not to be completely miserable for the rest of my visit, but I don’t think I succeeded.

3) 18-1
This pain was eased a little by the fact that the Pats had already won three titles in the decade, but it was still incredibly depressing to see their perfect season end in the Super Bowl on one of the luckiest catches in football history. I guarantee 99 times out of 100, David Tyree doesn’t hang onto that ball.

2) Aaron Bleeping Boone
As the ball left Boone’s bat, I got up off the couch, didn’t say anything, walked to my room and sat on the edge of my bed for at least two hours in complete darkness before I finally laid down and fell asleep. I didn’t wear any Red Sox gear until spring training started (for anyone who doesn’t know me, Sox gear makes up approximately 38 percent of my wardrobe). That depressed.

1) B’s blow two 3-0 leads
I didn’t think anything would ever top (bottom?) Boone, but then the B’s, the only team I love more than the Sox, blew a 3-0 series lead and a 3-0 Game 7 lead to the Flyers in this year’s conference semis. No joke, this is the first time I’ve discussed it in the two months since it happened. Whenever someone brought it up, I simply informed them we weren’t talking about it. I’d talk about the draft or what the B’s needed to do in the offseason, but I wasn’t talking about this. Simply put, it was the biggest collapse in the history of sports. Other teams have blown 3-0 series leads, but none of them also blew a 3-0 Game 7 lead.

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