Bryan Joiner

Why then I

Tag: dwyane wade

A few more LeBron thoughts

Rather than Twitter my thoughts one by one, here are the remainder of them:

The holdover from the Jordan era, which pretty much wafts at every level of the NBA experience, is that a single, singular player leads a team to a championship, and that amongst a group of elite players, only so many of them have “what it takes” to get there. You can choose to believe this narrative if you’d like, but it’s a flimsy one, because once someone’s won it, it crumbles. Kobe couldn’t win by himself, and then he did. Look elsewhere in sports, and you can see it folding on itself (as you’ll see the next time Kobe loses in the playoffs): Phil Mickelson couldn’t win the big one, then he did, then he choked again, then he won again. Peyton Manning couldn’t win, then he could, then he choked.

I think what people are angry about with LeBron is that we’re not going to get to see if he has that, I don’t know, “it” that may or may not even exist in the first place. That’s a presumption in and of itself, but let’s just say it’s true: If the Heat win the title with relatively equal contributions from Wade and Bron, does that tarnish LeBron’s legacy? The answer, today, seems to be yes. LeBron seems to either not care or to have taken people at face value when they said he needed to win a championship to be a complete player, or something, when they really meant he needed to lead a team to a championship. Having played for a  Team USA—on which he wasn’t the top draw, Kobe was—that was roundly lauded, you can see how he’d come to this conclusion. Why would people praise his ability to play with superstar then, and tear it down now? (He might be asking himself.)

Another thing about Team USA: So many stories about how watching Kobe brought LeBron’s work habits to another level. Maybe this is something where LeBron thinks he can get better just by being around Wade. Kobe himself has admitted that he’s basically stolen every move in his arsenal, an aggregation service along the lines of, jeez, fivethirtyeight.com. Maybe LeBron needs to see things up close to duplicate and surpass them, and got a whiff of it at the Olympics. I don’t know. I’m just saying.

He’s certainly read the tea leaves wrong about what was expected of him, as evidenced by the audible vacuum that hit the Greenwich, CT Boys & Girls Club last night, when he awkwardly spoke the words “South Beach” as his destination. (Seriously?) He honestly thought we just wanted him to win one, when we actually wanted so much more. What did we want? Something we hadn’t seen before, something transcendent. This was something we hadn’t seen before, but it wasn’t transcendent. Our new fear is that it won’t be transcendent even if he wins it all. That’s a disappointment, sure, but LeBron probably won’t feel like it’s a disappointment when he’s holding the trophy. In 20 years, maybe he’ll wonder “What if?” But it doesn’t matter if he knew he had that mythological extra oomph in 20 years; he’s searching for it now, frantically looking for it on the beach like a lost key. The thing is, we told him the key was there, even if it might not exist, and even if he thinks it’s the bottom of that trophy we’ll tell him nope. you don’t have it. Unlike many people, I have no problem feeling a little bit sorry for the guy and also rooting heartily against him, and that’s just what I plan to do (and root for Cleveland to absolutely pound him, somehow). The idea of this team winning the title sickens me to the point that I would root for Kobe against them. I wanted transcendence as much as anybody, and I find the idea of Wade and LeBron playing together categorically unfair. But you know what? It’s totally fucking fair. I’m being deprived of a negative, something that I only imagined existing: LeBron flying through the air, delivering the team on which he was Top Dog to a title, averaging 35 PPG in the Finals with 10 and 10. Now even if that happens we’ll think it’s silly. What a joke.

If everyone always did the safest or most popular thing, the world would be a shitty place*

LeBron James is 25 years old. Twenty five-year-olds can make stupid decisions, and even they can be aware that these decisions may, in fact, be stupid. LeBron seemed to know something was up with his pawing desire to go to Miami. For all the talk of his being a “committee of one,” it seems like there was really a committee of five or six, and at the top was not LeBron, but Gloria James. It was both heartbreaking and totally reassuring that LeBron said his decision finally came down to his mom’s approval. It was heartbreaking because you know there was a last line of defense to talk him out of it, but it was reassuring because it reinforced true loyalty in a scenario where loyalty was being imposed upon LeBron—not at all unconvincingly—left and right. Even Gloria James had to know that her son’s best chance to win a title was with Chicago, and that his chance to write the best story was in Cleveland. But her son effectively asked her if she would be okay with him forgoing both those scenarios to play with his friends in Miami, because it would make him the happiest, and she said yes. Maybe playing in Cleveland so long expanded his vision of what needed to do that he thought playing in Miami would strap blinders on him in a way playing in Chicago wouldn’t have done; maybe he does crave the spotlight, but needs some time off. I don’t know. All I know is that Gloria James trusted in her son’s ability to work these things out for himself. What can I say to that?

Did LeBron “betray” Cleveland? Well, if he “quit” on the team in four of games of the NBA playoffs, as Dan Gilbert suggested in his acidic open letter on Cavs.com, then yes. But let’s not forget than his ending up in Cleveland was the result of a roll of the ping-pong balls anyway. It made a great story because it seemed like it was preordained, but nothing is preordained—that’s hacky sportswriter bullshit that’s no different, spiritually, from the filler for hundreds of stories on James that were written last week. At the same time, he did come to Cleveland, and he is from Akron, and it was a great story while it lasted. And now this.

I think it’s worth remembering that an unhappy Allen Iverson was nearly traded to the Los Angeles Clippers the year before the 76ers made the finals; an unhappy Kobe was nearly traded to the Bulls the year before the Lakers made the Finals; and an unhappy Paul Pierce was almost shipped out of Boston the year before the Celtics won their 17th title. The reports on Kobe, specifically, came so fast and furious it seemed like the next time you refereshed he’d be out of L.A. None of these things happened, but the groundwork was there. If they had been free agents, there’s no question they would have bolted.  Cavs fans could say that they didn’t exactly provide the pressure-cooker environment of Philadelphia or Boston, or the dysfunctional one of L.A.; I’m not sure I would believe them. Check out the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s cover this morning. You might not be able to read it, but the arrow pointing to his hand says “7 years in Cleveland. No rings”:

I thought it wasn’t about rings in Cleveland? I thought it was about his hometown. I thought it wasn’t 7 years, but 25. And I thought it was about the promise of bringing a title that lingered despite the Cavs’ “failures” to win it all in the last few seasons. I mean, if you’re going to be so blatant about admitting you were using James as a tool toward your own deliverance, you’re pretty far into the muck.

I can’t really blame the Plain Dealer for playing populist, however; it’s just a shame that there were never really any real adults in this situation. LeBron didn’t act like one; Dan Gilbert didn’t act like one; ESPN’s commentators were almost, to a person, eating shit in the sandbox. LeBron is the most hated man in basketball today, but if you’ve got the energy to get mad at LeBron you should already be 10 times angrier at the NBA for its very often brutally inconsistent, self-aggrandizing, borderline unwatchable product. LeBron James isn’t the system, he’s a product of it, and now he’s going to play with Dwyane Wade in Miami. That’s totally ridiculous and throws everything David Stern has done for the one superstar, one team ethos right back in his face. If it doesn’t get thrown back in LeBron’s face when D-Leaguers are missing wide-open layups on the break, why will we criticize him? He obviously doesn’t care. We do. What I’d most like to see is compelling, fair basketball. If I can’t have that, this will have to do.

•••

* Yes, this is a tweet from last night.

Chris Bosh, -$28 Million Man; David Stern, Superstar

I guess Chris Bosh doesn’t need that $27 million summer house in Southampton. The now-former Raptors’ centerish dude has taken $28 million fewer dollars than he would have made playing (presumably) with LeBron James in Cleveland to play (presumably) with Dwyane Wade in Miami. And thus the free market system has told you something about the relative value of two American cities to one Christopher Wesson Bosh, of Dallas, Texas.

Of course, this wasn’t a perfect example of market forces working their magic. The Raptors could pay Bosh the most, and any other team looking to sign him could pay him $28 million less. The Raptors and Cavs had agreed for Bosh to sign the higher contract and then work out a trade. He didn’t, so they didn’t, and now he’s going to Miami.

All of this makes you wonder how much money would be flying around if there was no salary cap. The NBA system is designed to give superstars incentives to stay on their longtime teams, presumably because David Stern has found that it makes the league more marketable. He’s taken the Michael Jordan effect and spread it leaguewide: Have one recognizable great player on each team, and people will tune in even if they don’t know anyone else on the roster. Best of all, make the league such an enticing draw for advertisers that the best players—the ones whose pay is actually being capped by the limits on maximum contracts—don’t actively bark about their pay being limited, and instead work toward endorsement deals. The league’s increasingly squeaky-clean image—promoted by NBA Cares commercials and enforced by Stern & Co.’s zero-tolerance approach to physical nonsense, on or off the court—helps make these endorsements a reality. It’s the After Artest era, one in which Ron-Ron himself almost single-handedly wins Game 7 of the NBA finals and thanks his therapist on national television.

It’s almost impossible believe that with all the money that’s floating around now that the owners are threatening to lock out the players after next season, and it’s even worse when you know they’d be throwing out even more if they could. You don’t think LeBron would hold out for a contract bigger than Alex Rodriguez’s $300 million deal? LeBron has scheduled a prime-time hour on ESPN to announce his decision. Childhood vanity or innate vanity, it’s still vanity, and by the manner in which teams are falling all over LeBron to procure his services, there’s no reason to think someone wouldn’t nudged an offer at least into spitting distance of A-Rod’s deal. And yet the owners are going to tell you they’re losing money, which they may in fact be doing. There are rumors that they’ve spent so much this offseason because they know they won’t have to pay up, as they are expected to ask for an across-the-board salary cut, owing mostly to dwindling attendance. Knowing David Stern, they’re likely to get it. Mr. Stern doesn’t lose, even if the owners are making an embarrassingly poor case for themselves right now.

Their counterpoint could be that these are simply the costs of doing business, but they’re not. “Doing business” and building a championship team are not, unfortunately for sports fans, the same thing. Profitability has an easily identifiable blueprint: pay as little as possible for players, win as many games as possible and, whatever you do, make the playoffs. Exactly how far you make it in the playoffs doesn’t matter all that much to the bottom line. At some point you are going to run up against someone else’s vanity project, and to plan to beat that team (not the same as actually beating them), takes money out of your pocket at the height of your moneymaking powers. People don’t want to hear it, but if you follow that blueprint, you’ll make money.

Yet rich people continue to buy sports teams and pile money into them, and you don’t become rich enough to become an owner without being a shrewd moneysmith. At some point, owning a sports team could be classified as little more than a vanity project, which would explain owners’ inability to keep their public statements in line with the actions of their teams. They claim to not want to lose money, but most of them are already losing money when compared to how much they could be making if they were, for lack of a better term, “all business.” So what they’re really complaining about is a movement down a sliding scale on which they’ve willingly jumped. I’m not that sympathetic.

At the same time, the NBA’s system does, at least in theory, strike a nice balance between the rabidly free-market system of Major League Baseball and the proscribed, socialistic payout system of the NFL. Baseball embraced the “watch the money” ethos early on, content to sell as many Yankees hats as it can and crush the dreams of every Kansas City kid; the NFL has far too many players to pay to allow any one team or group to monopolize the talent pool. In the NBA, you can do it if you’re lucky, good and plan well. LeBron, Wade, and Bosh won’t be teaming up in Miami, but they could have. The resulting arrangement should leave title-contending teams in Miami, Cleveland, Chicago, Orlando and Boston… and that’s just in the East. Three of those teams are led by No. 1 overall draft picks, which shows how much you need the ball to bounce your way, but that’s no less capricious than, say, relying on Tom Brady to turn into a Hall of Famer. Sometimes it’s about money, sometimes it’s about skill, and sometimes it’s about luck.

So when looking at Chris Bosh’s decision to leave $28 million on the table and go to Cleveland, I wouldn’t sweat about the money. He’s not a good or bad person for doing what he did, he’s just a guy in search of something at the nexus of comfort, vanity, and fulfillment. Or to put it another way: “There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness is the true method.” That’s Moby-Dick; I’m still on that. LeBron’s the white whale, sure, but the only thing that comes up more in Moby-Dick than Moby Dick himself is God, created the system that led to the noble pursuit in which Ishmael was engaged and over which virtually everyone onboard obsessed.

I think Melville would have liked David Stern.

•••

Apropos of nothing, I was going to post a clip from last night’s Louie, featuring Ricky Gervais, that is in no way, shape or form safe for work. However, the still shot for the YouTube video is of Louis C.K.’s butt, so I’ll just post the link. If you want to watch it, go here. Do this.

Looking into the void

I rode to Massachusetts this weekend in a car without a working radio that was three-quarters full of basketball fans, so we passed the time on the way up by thinking out every conceivable scenario for the NBA’s free agent class. We did the same thing on the way back, using the most up-to-date information (Dirk! Pierce! Joe Johnson! Amar’e!). Here’s what we believe:

1) The Knicks actually did something right. After two years of “planning,” the Knicks looked like a rudderless ship as recently as Thursday, but at a poker table where everyone was afraid to make the first move, the Knicks pushed a sizable portion of their chips to the center of the table. Amar’e Stoudemire is a good player on a slow, predictable decline, but Chris the Knicks Fan insists Amar’e is one of the smartest players he’s ever seen. This means the end of David Lee in New York, which messes up your fantasy keeper league team but not much else. (Slight UPDATE: The uninsured part deserves some scrutiny. Okay, a lot. But still.)

2) Going to Chicago is the brave move… for Dwyane Wade. Even my mom knows Wu-Tang is for the children, and it appears Dwyane Wade is too. The convention line of thought at the moment is that D-Wade is likely to go to Chicago because he’s locked in a custody battle with his ex-wife and his children are there. You’d have to be the coldest-hearted Heat fan to hate him for leaving because of his kids, and it’s a good reason to leave, but there’s a potentially better one. LeBron’s decision is magnified because he’s quasi-understood to be “chasing history,” whatever that means: More than Michael, more than Kobe, or bringing a title to Cleveland. Wade, a young champion, seems immune from all this and, family drama aside, perfectly willing to stay in Miami and play on 50-win teams. That’s why I think the bold move for him is to go to Chicago, and wedge himself into the Kobe/LeBron discussion. Could he beat them both if he went to the Bulls? I absolutely think so.

3) LeBron isn’t an afterthought, but no one’s going to wait for him if they find something better. I think the whole “LeBron signs and the dominoes fall” narrative is coming to its end, as a prime result of the two factors discussed above. The Knicks took a “F***-it” approach to wait-and-see, and if Wade thinks he can win a title in Chicago, why would he wait for the word from LeBron?

4) Joe Johnson is or is not overpaid. We hashed out this discussion and ended up agreeing to disagree. Person A said that Johnson is the rare truly effective, occasionally game-changing guard; Person B said that he’d be willing to grant all that, but that the maximum contract rule makes it absurd that he’ll be making as much or more than players who are better than him (like Wade and James). I’m person B.

5. Paul Pierce. In light of Pierce’s greatness/goodness over the last three years, it’s worth revisiting the Celtics team that made it within two victories of the NBA Finals with Pierce and Antoine Walker as 1 and 1A’s. That’s what we told ourselves, at least. Now think about how Antoine Walker played basketball. So yes, he’s getting old and doesn’t bring it every day, but Paul Pierce has been good at basketball for a very long time. For whatever reason, I’m just sayin’.

Tuesday, July 6th. Back in the saddle again.

Dwyane Wade and LeBron James

It’s good to be Dwyane Wade.

Ten years ago, in the Major League Baseball offseason to end all offseasons, there was a bumper crop of free agents which included three huge names—Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and Mike Mussina—and a bunch of smaller ones who followed them like fish follow whales, gobbling up the extra money of the boom days. If the 1998 home run chase “saved” baseball, the 2000 free agent grab was the MLB Network precursor to baseball as a reality show.

That winter, my colleagues at the college newspaper and I refreshed ESPN.com’s free agent tracker once every, oh, three minutes—and only that long because it took about two and a half minutes to load. Every player on the market was listed, and the logos of the interested teams would be applied or removed next to their names based on the news of the day. Rodriguez’s page was the most volatile, reflecting his position as the most singularly heralded free agent of all time: a player with the skills of no other, in the prime of his career, offering his services to the highest bidder. Ramirez’s free agency period was not without its fanfare, but it was a fraction of that of Rodriguez, who, with agent Scott Boras, milked A-Rod’s numbers for everything they were worth, most famously creating a 73-page booklet (link at bottom of page) stating his earning potential based on his already legendary position in the history of the game. The opening page blares: “Alex Rodriguez is the best shortstop in Major League Baseball history at age 24.”

This year’s NBA free agent class has a remarkably similar constitution. For Mike Mussina we have Chris Bosh, the reliably very, very good-but-not-great star whose star gets brighter by association with the others; for Ramirez, already a Hall of Fame-caliber player, we have the legend-in-the-making Dwyane Wade; and for Rodriguez we have LeBron James, the once-in-a-generation supernova of a player, peddling his wares at the peak of their power.

To the degree the Rodriguez and James situations are different, there are two practical considerations that would suggest James has a better chance of choosing to stay in Cleveland than A-Rod had of staying in Seattle; one, he is from the area, and two, the Cavaliers can offer him more money than any other team. That we don’t know, on the eve of the official free agency period, if James is staying or going indicates that this isn’t simply a financial decision. I don’t know what’s in the man’s heart, and I won’t guess, but I’ve tended to agree with the excellent writing of Cleveland Frowns on the subject. Frowns says that all things being equal, it’s in LeBron’s best interests to stay—while acknowledging that none of us know if all things are equal in LeBron’s world. Only LeBron knows that.

All we know is that LeBron courts attention the same way Rodriguez did, which is to say, insatiably… and we know that Wade hasn’t. I’m sure he’s courted suitors in some way, but his exposure is considerably less than LeBron’s, and he has merely been, at worst, the league’s third best player over the last five years. He’s won a title, and nearly won a college title on a team full of players whose greatest skill was standing around and watching him, mouth agape, like everyone else.

I’m not saying Dwyane Wade is showing us how to be the best free agent; to each his own. I’m saying that, compared to LeBron, Wade has handled his business like just that: business. It might be different if he was deciding to leave the Chicago Bulls, his hometown team, rather than join it. but we only have the situation we have. The whole world is watching LeBron’s every move, looking for clues. I’m watching D-Wade.