Monday, July 12, 2010

My thoughts on "The Decision"

Unless you have been in a cave for the last few weeks or simply don't read the news, chances are you have certainly heard about all the drama surrounding LeBron James and his eventual decision July 9 to sign with the Miami Heat after 7 years with the Cleveland Cavaliers.  Not only was this dragged out about as long as it possibly could with new rumors seemingly every day or more, but it culminated with a ONE HOUR ESPN special that James himself named "The Decision" and announced he was "taking his talents to South Beach" in addition to an entire program about himself.  There was quite a negative reaction as you may have guessed from Cleveland fans, even though a lot of us had been expecting that he'd leave anyway.

As a Cavs fan of course I'm disappointed to see a player of this magnitude leave.  As a Cleveland sports fan I've seen it all before: Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, and more.  It seems if a Cleveland player in any sport does well, off they go.  I have a hard time believing LeBron would've ever played for the Cavs if he hadn't been drafted.   But even then, most people (myself included) aren't so upset he's leaving but HOW he decided to leave: dragging everyone through a drama-filled dog and pony show that was all about him.  On top of that, now there's just tons of misinformation out there about WHY he left.

"The Cavs has 7 years and didn't do anything."  Yes, the Cavs had 7 years, but to say they didn't do "anything" is incredibly misleading and inaccurate.  The first 2-3 years don't really count because we have to remember the Cavs were only able to draft James because they were bad enough to be in the lottery.  It's pretty difficult to go from a 17-65 team one year to a championship team the next.  In James' first season, the Cavs improved quite a bit, but still didn't even make the playoffs.  The Cavs didn't even make the playoffs until James' third season.  Changing a team involves not only good management, but also players on market who want to come to the team or are available from other teams via trade.  On top of that, the current owner didn't arrive until 2005, so there was a total change in management and direction at that point.  Finally, just take a look at how well the Cavs have done the last few years, the last 2 seasons in particular.  Both seasons they finished with the best regular-season record in the NBA and were the HEAVY favorites to win the title, only to lose in the playoffs.  How convenient we have hindsight to say the team "wasn't that good" when in reality most people (not just Cavs fans) were stunned how easily the Cavs were beaten by the Magic in 2009 and the Celtics in 2010.  The fact the Cavs didn't win the NBA title in '09 or '10 was not the fault of management for assembling the team.  The only group to blame with the overall number one seed falls early is the team itself.

"LeBron doesn't owe fans anything."  This is the biggest fallacy of all.  Basketball (and all pro sports) is ENTERTAINMENT.  They exist ONLY because of fan support, so athletes and entertainers DO owe fans A LOT; they owe fans their very existence.  Fans are willing to spend money on game tickets, merchandise, TV packages, and more.  If fans didn't spend the money, a team wouldn't pay someone MILLIONS of dollars to play basketball the same way a film company wouldn't pay an actor millions to star in a film if it wasn't going to draw fans.  All businesses have to appreciate their customers or they will lose them, but especially non-essential business like entertainment.  I don't think anyone expects LeBron to give us free tickets or anything; most people just wanted a simple "hey thanks for all the support.  It means a lot and I will miss you all.  This isn't because of you..."  kind of thing.  And not just Cavs fans either, but those fans who have cheered him on from grade school through high school in Akron.  Don't forget, fans regularly filled the 5,500-seat Rhodes Arena in Akron while James was in high school and his team played there.  In fact, his school, tiny St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, regularly outdrew the NCAA Division I University of Akron Zips in their own building while LeBron played there.

The more I see of professional sports like this, the more I question the point of it all.  Don't get me wrong, I LOVE watching sports and "getting into the game."  Even then, I can only go so far and have little sympathy for professional athletes making statements regarding "what's best for my family" when the two choices they have both involve making millions of dollars a year.  As long as we accept, as a culture, that it's OK to live in absolute excess, we will always have poverty; the "haves" and the "have nots".  By no means am I arguing for socialism or communism, no, what I'm arguing for is a voluntary change in our mindset as opposed to a legislated change (i.e. "redistribution of wealth").  As long as there are people willing to spend big bucks on entertainment, entertainers will continue to be paid outrageous salaries.  Not just athletes, but all entertainers.  And remember, I LOVE being an entertainer; I love performing and would love to entertain for a living.  But can I honestly say I think an entertainer plays the same important role in our society as, say, a teacher?  Not at all.  If the NBA went bankrupt tomorrow and shut down, yes, a lot of people would be out of work from food vendors to executives.  But would the world stop turning because we didn't have pro basketball?  Hardly.  Now, say the schools go bankrupt and shut down.  How would that affect our world?  I'd say quite a bit.  Substitute any of our "essential" services (healthcare, law enforcement, military, etc.) into "schools" and you can see my point.  In the end, pro sports and entertainment are great outlets for people, but we don't NEED them in their expensive "professional" states to entertain ourselves.

In the end, I'm still a Cavs fan as I learned long ago not to get attached to certain players because you end up getting burned more times than not.  I could totally relate to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert's open letter to the fans criticizing LeBron James.  Not sure I would've said the same things or in the same way, but heck, he paid the guy millions of dollars and pretty much did everything he could to build the franchise around him, so I'd be pissed too!  Yes, LeBron has the right and ability to take his "talents" wherever he wants, but as fans we also have the right and ability to express our opinions on the matter.  All I can say is go Cavs and I hope James has the same "success" he had in the playoffs with the Cavaliers!


Becky said...

That's pretty much exactly how I feel too. Thanks for putting it into words for me so I don't have to. :)

Natasha and Jesse said...

Very well said! I found your blog through and hope you don't mind me commenting. I'm originally from Ohio and my parents went to Kent State too.

Jon said...

Thanks! I love seeing comments and am happy to see that my profile is being seen. Hurray! Also happy to meet some more Kent and Ohio connections :).