Thursday, July 29, 2010

Don’t Hate

I am going to begin this blog entry with a disclaimer. Yes, I am a fan of the Miami Heat. Yes, I was born and raised in Miami. Yes, although I currently reside in Tampa, my sports allegiance – with the exception of the Rays in the American League – resides in South Florida. I am an unapologetic Miami homer.

Now, with all that having been said, is there any more asinine and ridiculous column than the one written by Phil Taylor at SI.com about the Miami Heat? (see his full column here).

Mr. Taylor goes on to write, with what I can only hope is tongue-in-cheek disdain, about the new collaboration in South Florida sports: Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh joining forces in Miami. He talks about loving gifted players who chase greatness, and thus this leads him to hate the Heat? Really? LeBron James making the choice to be a villain, making the choice to take less money, and making the choice to step out of his back-to-back, two-time MVP spotlight in pursuit of multiple championships is a bad thing?

See, this is a perfect example of the complete hypocrisy that exists in the world of sports journalism today. To be clear, I am not a journalist nor do I claim to be one. Still, I’ve been a sports fan and a student of sports media long enough to be able to speak about this matter with a certain, weekend-warrior level of confidence.

We implore our celebrity athletes to be open and honest. We chastise them as greedy when they leave championship caliber organizations in pursuit of more money (see former 49’er Ricky Watters, former Cowboy Larry Brown and former Buccaneer Dexter Jackson). We hold them to higher moral standards than we do ourselves. Yet, when LeBron James makes the gut-wrenching decision of admitting he cannot, by himself, achieve the level of greatness he seeks, when he reveals a level of humility and vulnerability that is rarely, if ever, seen in an athlete of his stature, our first response is to vilify him. Admittedly, the delivery of the message was awful. ‘The Decision’, as aired by ESPN, was a nightmare, and the reception in Miami, a party which was indeed wretched and grossly premature, was embarrassing. However, the court-jester messenger should not take away from the message; that being what LeBron did in leaving Cleveland for less money, less spotlight and a ton of hatred is unprecedented in modern day sports.

Speaking of money, Mr. Taylor goes on his column to minimize the financial sacrifice the Miami Three have made in order to play together. “I hate that we have become so accustomed to the overwhelming greed of superstar athletes that when the Heat's threesome accepts roughly $110 million each when they could have had closer to $120 million, some people want to fit them for angels' wings,” he writes. Let’s analyze that for a moment. Mr. Taylor is suggesting – scoffing really – that $10 million dollars is nothing for these already wealthy, superstar athletes. When you look at the $10 million as a percentage of the total contract (9%), things aren’t quite so clear. I have no idea of how much Mr. Taylor earns yearly as a writer for SI, but I wonder if he would flippantly shrug and say “No big deal” if Sports Illustrated asked him to take a pay cut of 9%. That would be the equivalent of going from a $100k salary to that of $91k. I am hard pressed to find anyone I know in my circle of friends who would voluntarily take that type of pay decrease in pursuit of a passion or dream. It’s rare.

Mr. Taylor goes on to dismiss the idea that players coming together, collaborating as friends and sacrificing collectively in pursuit of greatness, as something to be celebrated. “If the NBA turns into a top-heavy league, I'll hate the Heat even more for starting the process.” What? Why doesn’t he instead direct that hate to Danny Ainge, the general manager of the Boston Celtics who made key moves to obtain Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, establish the modern day NBA model of the ‘Big Three’, and subsequently win an NBA championship? Do you think Pat Riley would have been inclined to aggressively dump salary and clear cap space in Miami had it not been for the precedent set by the Celtics?

Furthermore, Mr. Taylor indirectly bashes D-Wade, LeBron and Bosh for wanting to play together. My counter argument is this. With the exception of Peter King, why does anyone still read Sports Illustrated? Steve Rushin is gone. Rick Reilly is gone. Sports Illustrated as a media entity has slipped. Does Mr. Taylor mean to suggest that if Rick Reilly were to call him up and offer him the opportunity to write columns for the pages of ESPN the Magazine, in collaboration with Reilly and Steve Rushin, he would turn down the offer and cite the argument of pursuing greatness on his own? Seriously, any national sports writer who has less Twitter followers than I do (and I’m a nobody) is not going to achieve greatness on his own.

Finally, we get to the point where Phil Taylor starts to make some sense. He describes Miami as a city full of front-runner loving, bandwagon jumping, hype-engulfing fans. Mr. Taylor, tell me something I don’t know. Have you BEEN to Miami? That city redefines vanity. The only thing shallower than water in a puddle is the general approach to sports fandom in South Florida. Much in the same way men on South Beach pay a gross amount of attention to women with cinnamon tans and implants, all the while ignoring women who tend to not be surgically enhanced, Miami fans will love a team when it’s winning and not give that same team the time of day when it’s losing. That’s Miami. If you don’t have the bling, the glitz and the glamour, don’t bother. LeBron, DWade and Chrish Bosh ARE the bling, the glitz and the glamour. Of course all Heat fans are going to be infatuated with that. It’s what we do best.

Mr. Taylor, I know I was rough on you with my blog. For that I apologize. Still, hate the Miami Heat all you want because I am going to love, love, love reading what you have to say next summer when the ‘Three My-Egos’ (as you put it) are celebrating their first NBA title.

3 comments:

Richard said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dale said...

I guess it's all a matter of perspective. I was born and raised in Cleveland and although I now live in Tampa, I have gone to watch him play in nearby Orlando nearly every year that LeBron has played. So you know where I'm coming from.
We agree that "The Decision" was ill-conceived, and a slap at all Cavs fans. Even the owner didn't know LeBron's decision until the show started. Talk about lack of appreciation.
As for leaving $10 million on the table, when you factor in that Florida doesn't have State or Local taxes, like Ohio does, it's an even smaller number. Don't forget, LeBron makes more money off the court, in endorsements, so really, he didin't give up much at all.
LeBron has said he wants to go down as one of the all-time greats of basketball. Playing as one of the 3 amigos, isn't going to help. If Miami wins it all next year, it will be the Wade/James/Bosh-led crown, not the James led crown. Right now, it's Wade's team. Even if LeBron three-peats as league MVP next year, it will be Wade/James sharing the spotlight, assuming Wade is the same Wade he has been.
I really do fear that the new top-heavy formula that Riley has worked, is bad for the league. Yes, Boston started it, but Miami perfected it. If we see more teams follow, especially the big market teams, all the rest of the league suffers even more. Few teams make a profit even today. It will only get worse.
Sure, LeBron has every right to pick what team he wants to play on, but after all that he's said, and done for Cav's fans, I'm sure few were surprised that Cav's fans were burning his jersey or taking down any sign of him. They even had a huge collection of LeBron clothing, to be donated to some 3rd world country. It's tough being a small/medium market sports city. Those types of cities find it really hard to hold onto superstars. For that reason, I'm glad he didn't go to NY, NJ or Chicago.
I don't wish him any injury or harm, but you can sure I'll be rooting for ANY team that's playing Miami. I understand the hate.

danaCreative said...

Thanks for the comment, Dale. Please note this blog is not directed to Cavs fans at all, but rather to the points laid out by Phil Taylor in his piece. Cavs fans have every right to feel betrayed and disappointed, and you're absolutely right how LeBron mishandled his notification to Dan Gilbert.

I do want to rebute your comment about top heavy teams. The Lakers have won two NBA championships with a big three (Kobe, Gasol and Areza/Artest). The Bulls did it with a big three (Jordan, Pippen and Rodman). This is not a new concept, and so long as it's all under the salary cap, it's all fair. The reason other teams can't build their own big three is because they can't manage to the cap (see Atlanta).