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Friday, June 22, 2012

Why Lebron James isn't or will ever be a true Champion

So Lebron James finally won his first NBA Championship last night, as the Miami Heat easily dispatched of the Oklahoma City Thunder 121-106 in game five to win the best of seven series 4-1.

As the confetti and trophy presenation to James, Dwyane Wade, and their Miami cohorts began, it got me to thinking: Is Lebron James one of the best players to ever play the game of basketball?

If you look at what he has accomplished to date, all the accolades would indicate that he is, in fact, among the best to ever lace them up. Multiple regular season MVP.  MVP of the all-star game. And, as we all saw last night, he can now add another title to his resume: NBA Champion.

But does Lebron really deserve to be called a champion?

No, and it's not even close.

Do champions run away when the going gets tough? No. Lebron felt that it was ultimately too hard to win a championship in Cleveland, and decided the alternative, moving to Miami to team with the Heat's Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, was what he needed to get over the hump. Never mind that in the history of the NBA, only one other person has ever won a championship leaving the team that drafted him in his prime: Shaquille O'Neal.

O'Neal, unlike James, did not make a spectacle when he moved from Orlando to Los Angeles. He also did not claim he would win multiple titles upon arriving in LA even before he had his first ring. He went out and played ball, and would go on to win three titles with Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant with the Lakers. It was never about him, just about the team.

That was the big thing that angered me last night and prompted me to write this post today. It seemed that last night was less about the Miami Heat winning, and more about Lebron James getting his first title. Even ABC decided to get in on the act, paying homage to the struggle that Lebron had to finally become an NBA Champion.

But was it really that much of a struggle? Lebron had been pampered throughout high school, playing on the best AAU teams during the summer. He would go on to put his school, Akron St.-Vincent-St. Mary, on the basketball map with his stellar play.

Then it was on to the NBA. Within a few years of joining the Cavaliers, he had them in the playoffs.  A couple years after that, he even had them in the NBA finals against the San Antonio Spurs. Despite getting swept by the Spurs in that series, 4-0, it was assumed the experience he gained would allow him to take the next step and bring Cleveland its first ever NBA title.

However, three years later Lebron and the Cavs still were without rings. The time had come for James to make what would be the hardest decision of his career to that point. How would he handle it? With the humility of a champion? Hardly, unless you consider an hour long special dedicated to a decision that could have been issued via a 30 second press release humble. But at least there was the glimmer of hope that the greatest athlete state of Ohio had ever seen would tough it out to bring his hometown a championship.

Yet there's the rub. James decided, in fact, it wasn't going to be easy to win a title in Cleveland, and thus bolted for Miami to team up with his buddy Dwyane.  Of course, there are many who felt that David Robinson would never win a championship with the Spurs. Robinson's loyalty would be rewarded, as he would finally get his first ring in 2003.

And everyone thinks that all this hatred for Lebron revolves around his decision to leave his 'hometown.' Certainly that has something to do with it. I mean, at the very least he could have thanked the city of Cleveland for its support after he left town, but did he do so? No, to this day he has hardly acknowledged the role Cleveland and the Cavs played in his development as a player.

Then there is the infamous pep rally held in Miami that would lead the rest of the nation (save for south beach) to pile on the list of the king's haters.

But the real reason Lebron isn't, or will never be, a champion? He took the easy way out. He could have stayed in Cleveland, and tried to make it work with the team that drafted him. Even if he had never won a title at least he would have gone down as one of the all time greats. Yet he left his former team, one that bent over backwards trying to make him happy, for one that had amassed a collection of superstars built to win a championship. So the question then wasn't if he would win a title but when. Sure he has worked on his game, but maybe not as much as if he stayed on the Cavs.  He has also made his teammates around him better players as well. But it is much easier to do when you team up with two other all-star players.

So Heat fans(including those who joined the bandwagon in 2010) you can rejoice that Lebron has finally won his first title.  Because he is definitely one of the great players. But a champion? Not necessarily.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Memorial Tournament: Tiger Woods is Human, Just Like the Rest Of Us

As the Memorial Tournament, held in Dublin, Ohio, not far from where I currently live, came to a close yesterday, the big story revolved around the PGA's most popular (and, according to whom you talk to, its most polarizing) player, one Tiger Woods. Not only did Woods' fifth victory at Murifield Country Club set a tournament record, but, he also tied the immortal Jack Nicklaus with his 73rd victory in professional golf, and, at the age of 36, in 10 fewer years than the 'Golden Bear' did.

Yet despite such a dramatic comeback, there are still people that have trouble separating Tiger Woods the golfer from Tiger Woods the man. While many people are aware of the spectacular birdie saving chip shot Woods made on the 16th hole on Sunday, that ultimately help propel him to victory, few may be aware of the drama that awaited him on the 17th, where he would miss an attempt for a second consecutive birdie. I could be mistaken, but it has come to my knowledge that while the majority of the gallery was silent after this miss, one person took particular joy in this failure. So much so that it rose to the level of heckling, where this person was almost escorted off the premises.

I bring this instance up for two reasons: the first is to illustrate the proper decorum for attending a golf tournament. Many of you have seen the movie 'Happy Gilmore' starring Adam Sandler(if you haven't I suggest you do so now), where Sandler's title character gets heckled repeatedly. Well, that only works in the movie. No matter how much you dislike a golfer, it is an unwritten rule that as a fan you should not yell 'you suck, jackass!' or anything similar to a professional golfer at a live event. It is also not cool to climb the TV tower to get a better view, no matter how much you want to be on TV or how much you have had to drink. Such things might be tolerated at other sporting events such as a basketball, baseball, or football game, but in golf, the so called 'gentelman's game' they are forbidden, part of the unwritten code of etiquette.

The next is to rehash a topic that will be brought up whenever talking about Tiger Woods from now to the end of time, that is his personal life. It is understandable that people should be angry at Tiger for the way he behaved in his personal life. However, we have to remember that he is human, and he has apologized for his trangressions to his fans and his family. If you no longer want to be a fan, then so be it. But what purpose does continuous heckling of this man serve? If I surveyed my readers I am sure I would find that no one is perfect themselves. Matter of fact, I will admit I am far from perfect, that I have made my share of mistakes and asked for forgiveness when I needed to do so.

Athletes are human, like the rest of us, and they are prone to mistakes. Many people would be shocked to know that the man the call 'Larry Legend', the one and only Larry Bird, fathered a daughter out of wedlock and had ignored her existence for a number of years. Bird was one of my favorite athletes growing up as a child, and even though this revelation is saddening, he remains among my favorite basketball players. Michael Jordan, called the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) by many, divorced his wife several years ago. Even guys like Joe Dimaggio and Babe Ruth had their dark sides, as both were known as womanizers for starters.

The question then becomes, are professional athletes role models? My answer to that question is yes AND no. Yes, as figures in the public spotlight, they should carry themselves with a certain amount of professionalism and class. What they do on and off the field, course, diamond, rink, etc can have an impact on the lives of fans of all ages. On the other hand, athletes are human, like the rest of us, and, as such, they are not perfect. Shouldn't it be up to parents to ultimately instill a sense of right and wrong in their children? Can we not root for an athlete while not necessarily condoning the choices that he or she may have made in their personal lives?

Bottom line is if you don't like Tiger Woods, then don't root for him. But heckling him is not only in poor taste, it also goes against the unwritten rules of golf.  And as fans, we can root for whomever we like, but we also have to abide by the rules each sport has set forth for spectactors.