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Winners and Losers

July 9, 2010

Still, Americans want real winners, winners who make millions, winners who are famous and always in the headlines, and Americans want athletes who earn championships for their fantasy-starved fans.


Who were the winners and losers following the LeBron James-what-city-is-he-going-to reality-tour-celebrity-sweepstakes on ESPN?

Winner No. 1: Tom Izzo, who finished his is-he-or-isn’t-he-coaching-in-Cleveland tour a few weeks ago, choosing his old MSU coaching job and staying in his home state, rather than gambling on the lucrative potential of coaching the Cleveland Cavaliers and possibly, its superstar, “King James” of Cleveland. Tom got to keep his glorious reputation while he probably sighed in relief that he didn’t become a sucker for owner Dan Gilbert’s generous offer to snatch him from East Lansing. 

Winner No. 2: The Miami Heat’s ticket office which sold every possible season ticket the same night that LeBron decided to follow fellow high-priced-basketball superstars, Dwayne Wade (who kept his reputation as he stayed with the same team he’s been on for the last seven years and for which he won one NBA Championship), and pretty-good-NBA-forward-and-superstar-want-to-be, Chris Bosh, who already chose millions of dollars to play for Miami.

Winner No. 3: ESPN, which got to raise its advertising prices while simultaneously displaying the same crazy bravado that propels them to show two full days of NFL draft choices, thrilling its legions of fantasy-starved football fans who pray that one of their favorite team’s draft choices might become the next Barry Sanders.

Winner No. 4: Barry Sanders himself, who keeps looking better and better, choosing once upon a time to quit football quietly before he beat world records or got trophies or got seriously injured. He never made himself out to be a king of football but rather quietly did his job and moved into everyday life, still living in the same city he thrived in. I have more respect for Barry than LeBron and Tiger combined.

Still, Americans want real winners, winners who make millions, winners who are famous and always in the headlines, and Americans want athletes who earn championships for their fantasy-starved fans.

So Loser No. 1 is the poor old Cleveland fan who lost the superstar Superman, the same hero who was supposed to bring Cleveland its first championship in decades but failed miserably only a few months ago, choking after a 2-1 lead over the aging Boston Celtics. Loser No. 2 is Cleveland Cavalier owner and Detroiter Dan Gilbert, who wrote in a scathing letter to Cleveland fans, LeBron “quit…not just in Game 5, but in Games 2, 4, and 6. Watch the tape.” Ouch.

            According to Gilbert, the “self-declared former king” had gotten a free pass which ended with a “narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his ‘decision’ unlike anything ever ‘witnessed’ in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment.” He wrote directly to the fans, “You simply don’t deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal.”

            If Gilbert had “stolen” Tom Izzo from East Lansing, would he have felt that MSU fans were justified to call Izzo “cowardly” and Gilbert, who has never lived in Cleveland, a thief? Hadn’t Gilbert bought the Cleveland Cavaliers because he couldn’t buy the Pistons even though his company was their largest advertiser? He thought buying the Cavs was a great investment because Cleveland had the best basketball player in the world and Gilbert probably assumed that the man who grew up in Akron would always call Cleveland his hometown.

            Other losers: New York and Chicago, both teams thinking they had a shot to elevate their basketball teams to former glory. How about Mitch Albom, Detroit sports columnist, who was so disgusted with the whole LeBron shenanigans that “he wanted to throw up?” (“LeBron James’ circus ends; Miami’s now begins,” Mitch Albom, Detroit Free Press, July 8, 2010). Of course, although driven to stomach illness, he was right that the whole media circus was ludicrous. “The number of supposedly respectable people tripping over themselves to hand him $100 million should make all of them and many of us ashamed….In a country where people are out of work or out in the streets, LeBron’s basketball home was never important. But spilling money on his head is downright insulting.”

            The endgame for LeBron and Gilbert and anyone else in sports is to “win it all.” That goal drove Detroit Piston President Joe Dumars to draft Darko Milicic after winning the 2nd Draft Pick seven years ago on June 26th, 2003, right after Cleveland chose LeBron. Dumars could have chosen Dwayne Wade or Chris Bosh but Darko was taller with “more upside.” Winning it all drove Dumars to make his second worst choice ever when he traded his point guard, great-basketball-player-and-good-guy Chauncey Billups, who had already led the Pistons to a championship, for Alan Iverson, considered even a truer Hall-of-Fame-type superstar, hoping that Alan would be so driven to finally win a championship that he would lead the Pistons to glory again. What a fiasco that was.

            Will the signing of LeBron, I wonder, lead Miami to the same terrible state that the Pistons have dropped into since banishing Chauncey to his hometown in Denver? Like Cleveland, the Detroit Pistons were close to winning it all every year. Dumars gambled on Iverson and now, LeBron gambled on Wade and Bosh in Miami.

            Is this how American divides up winners and losers? The winners are those who win championships or those who earn fortunes while keeping their reputations relatively unscathed, i.e. Gates, Buffet, Oprah, Seinfeld, Lady Gaga (whoops…once she flipped her middle finger to New York baseball fans, even Seinfeld flipped out in disgust.)

            LeBron just wanted to be really respected the old-fashioned American way, by being bought for millions and showing that yes, with the right superstars beside him, even he could eventually win an NBA Championship. “For me,” LeBron said to ESPN, “it’s not about sharing, it’s about everybody having their own spotlight and then doing what’s best for the team.” Get the spotlight, don’t share, and then do what’s best for the team. Good luck, LeBron. Everyone will be gunning for you, Cleveland hates you, and if you don’t win a championship, it’s your fault. Have a nice life.

            But who can blame him? That’s what we want for our superstars, to make billions and win at any cost. Screw the little guy. Isn’t self-determination just living for yourself?

            We’ve got it backwards. We little guys and girls who work hard, don’t make a big fuss, help our families, and help our communities…we are the champions, my friends. If we don’t buy an NBA ticket or don’t watch an NBA game or don’t buy anything from an NBA sponsor or and don’t pay any more attention to these over-priced, rip-off phony athlete-entertainers, we can then maybe find real contentment.

            And that’s the essence of being a winner, once and for all.

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