Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Archive for the category “LeBron James”

An Inside Look at Free Agency – Allegedly

When I first read Adrian Wojnarowski’s take on LeBron’s free agency journey from Cleveland to Miami, I, like most Cavs fans, said, “yep, that’s the LeBron I know.” A me-first, spoiled, athlete who treats others poorly and who turned his back on Cleveland.

But when I went back and read it a second time, I started to wonder. Am I agreeing with Wojnarowski because his story is accurate, or do I believe it because, as a jilted fan, I want to believe it? I’m not sure, but what I do know is, it would be a lot easier to buy into this tale if Wojnarowski actually quoted someone.

That’s right, in almost 4,100 words on how LeBron landed in Miami, we get exactly two quotes – one from a “league official” and a “top NBA front office executive.” Neither are quoted by name, of course.

The article lays out some pretty harsh criticisms of James:

  • claiming Team USA did not want him on the 2008 Olympic team
  • that James forced Dan Gilbert to fire coach Mike Brown and that Brown did not respect James
  • that James wouldn’t allow photos or videos at the birthday party of Chris Paul’s son because James was attending
  • that William Wesley was driving a wedge between James and Maverick Carter

And on and on.

Now all of this may be true, or at least mostly true. But without a single person willing to go on the record for the article, how can we know? How do we know that someone with an ax to grind didn’t feed Wojnarowski an “inside look” that is more speculation and half-truths than reality?

Or that Wojnarowski wanted to believe this so he allowed himself to be led down the path? He wasn’t exactly balanced in his coverage of LeBron during the free agency period:

Sadly, as we all learned during the past few months, proper sourcing and going on the record just isn’t all that important in today’s media. On any given day, ESPN will have 3-4 stories on it mainpage without any attribution.

And that leaves it to us, the fans and readers, to try and sort through the mess to find out what’s the truth and what’s propaganda.

How will we remember the LeBron Era?

With each passing day, the anguish over LeBron James’ decision to go to Miami slowly fades away. But how will the LeBron Era be remembered by Cleveland fans? And how will it compare to other post-1964 eras of Cleveland sports?

Before LeBron, the Cavs were just … there. After firing Lenny Wilkens and prior to drafting James, the team went through a succession of boring, dull coaches – Randy Wittman and Keith Smart anyone? – and even worse players (Trajan Langdon, Ricky Davis, etc.), playing in a downtown arena they didn’t need in front of mostly family and friends.

With LeBron, the Cavs were back on the NBA map with sellouts and national TV games. The team won two division titles, made it past the first round five consecutive years, was the top seed in the East two years in a row, went to two Eastern Conference finals and one NBA final, and had the best five-year record in franchise history.

Along the way their games became events; one of the best feelings was looking at the upcoming schedule on a Sunday morning and, seeing back-to-back games on Tuesday/Wednesday and another game on Friday, knowing the week was set. Watching this team – especially the past two years – has been so much fun.

I know some will argue that the Daugherty/Price/Nance Cavs of the late-’80s/early ’90s were better, but they never accomplished what LeBron’s Cavs did, not by a long shot. No division titles, one conference final, first-round playoff losses.

Not all of that was their fault, as injuries and Michael Jordan conspired against the team. It still hurts, almost 20 years later, to think about what might have been with that team.

Probably the closest to LeBron’s Cavs were the Indians of the mid- to late-90s. They captured the town’s fancy with an excitement level and star power equal to the Cavs and had just as much on-field success. Six division titles in seven years, three American League Championship Series and two World Series appearances.

Of course, they also lost to the Florida Marlins and were the only team to lose to Atlanta in a World Series, but they still hold a spot in many fans’ hearts.

The one team that the LeBron Era may never surpass in popularity is the late-’80s Browns. With four division titles in a five-year span and three losses in the AFC Championship Game, those teams still hold a firm grasp on Cleveland fans, many of whom probably still remember the lyrics to Bernie Bernie (“Bernie, Bernie. Oh, yeah! How you can throw! Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah”)

As hard as it may be for some to believe, eventually we will be able to separate LeBron’s “decision” from the seven years he was on the court for the Cavs. And we will look back and remember when the Q was rocking and, for a short time, anything seemed possible in Cleveland.

Even a championship.

Odds & Ends

The more we think, read and talk about LeBron James’ decision to leave Cleveland for Miami, the more we wonder if we’re trying to make this into something bigger than it is.

Maybe this really is as simple as a 25-year-old basketball player wanting to play with his friends and hang out on the beach. He wouldn’t be the first to leave Cleveland in his mid-20s to take a job elsewhere, heck I did it after college. Of course, I didn’t have the option of staying here for more money.

There are two points that have come out over the past few days that shed a lot of light on his decision:

  • LeBron views Akron and Cleveland as two separate entities. W think he did enjoy playing 45 minutes north of where he grew up, but to him Akron is home; Cleveland was just where he went to work. We think he would have felt the same if the Cavs were located in Columbus, Cincinnati or Toledo; we all wanted to link Northeast Ohio into one large entity, while it’s apparent that LeBron never did.
  • LeBron is a follower; he’s never been, or wanted to be, a leader. Terry Pluto pointed out in his Sunday PD column that LeBron followed Dru Joyce III to St. V, not the other way around. Pluto reiterated that point today on Sirius’ Mad Dog Radio, pointing out that Dwyane Wade is the NBA equivalent of Joyce, he’s the leader and LeBron the follower. It appears that leading the Cavs as the main guy was just not in his nature.

For some other really good perspectives, visit Cleveland Frowns as well as the guys at Waiting For Next Year. They’ve put together some solid takes on the entire situation.

And if you’re really, really still upset, you can always buy one of these.

***

As for what’s next for the Cavs, the team has an opportunity to rebuild the team in a different way if they so choose. Rather than taking on players that they think they need short-term – i.e., Shaq, Antawn Jamison – they can go after players they want and build a team that can achieve long-term success.

Hopefully they see this as the prudent course of action. As much fun as Dan Gilbert’s letter was, the team can’t operate out of emotion; they’re not fans. And if that means they have to take a step or two back, then so be it.

The Cavs have assets with expiring contracts, draft picks and the $14.5 million trade exemption they received as part of the sign-and-trade with Miami. The important thing to remember is they don’t have to make any moves this week, or this season for that matter. They have a year to use the exception and the season doesn’t start for more than three months. There’s no need to rush.

One name tossed around has been Minnesota’s Al Jefferson, who is still recovering from a severe knee injury and is owed $42 million over the next three seasons. He’s only 25, though, which would help the team in its quest to get younger.

But remember, just because Jefferson may be the best player available, doesn’t mean he’s the best player. It may make more sense for the Cavs to acquire two $7 million players who can combine to match or exceed Jefferson’s numbers, rather than take on another team’s bad contract.

The important thing for the team to remember is they don’t have to rush into anything.

***

Finally, congratulations to Spain for capturing its first World Cup title, just as we predicted.

OK, picking Spain wasn’t exactly going out on a limb, and while we did get the opponent wrong, we were only four minutes away from getting the prediction right about La Furia Roja winning on penalty kicks.

Despite the claims of some that “no one cares” about soccer in America, TV ratings were up 41 percent in the U.S. over the 2006 World Cup.

And not only did Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas take home the World Cup, he got the girl as well.

Well played.

Everything will be all right

Rise up this mornin’,
Smiled with the risin’ sun,

Three little birds

Pitch by my doorstep

Singin’ sweet songs

Of melodies pure and true,

Sayin’, (“This is my message to you-ou-ou:”)

Singin’: “Don’t worry ’bout a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right.” – Bob Marley

I’m as disappointed and hurt as any Cleveland fan about LeBron James leaving for Miami. I don’t understand why these things seem to happen only in Cleveland. I just want to be a normal fan; I want to watch an important game involving a Cleveland team and not always be worrying about something horrible happening.

But I can’t, because I’m a Cleveland fan. For whatever reason, that’s the way it has always been, at least in my lifetime. When Mike Davis intercepted Brian Sipe in the end zone, I learned what it meant to be a Cleveland fan. That lesson has remained with me for 30 years. This is the path I have chosen.

Even though it can be painful and frustrating at times, luckily I can view Cleveland sports from the perspective of adulthood. I have a career, a beautiful wife and a wonderful daughter. I watch sports because I enjoy them tremendously and because I know, someday, when a Cleveland team finally brings a championship home, it will be exciting, unbelievable and something I will never forget.

And because I’m an adult, when one of our teams lose, I don’t need to stomp my feet, shake my fists or throw things like a hoople head. I know I may be down for a few hours after a loss, but the sun will come up the next day. The millionaires won’t ruin my day just because they happened to play poorly.

This doesn’t make me, or anyone, “less” of a fan, the same way that disagreeing with the President doesn’t make someone “less” of an American. There are so many real problems in this world that whether the local team wins or loses is insignificant in the grand scheme.

Being a Cleveland fan is what I am, but it’s not who I am. I have my opinions about what the GMs, coaches and players should do; but they are no more or less valid than anyone else’s. That’s the great thing about sports – there’s room for everyone and for everyone’s perspective.

If you are Dan Gilbert, Randy Lerner or Larry Dolan, then sports is a business. Same for the players. For the rest of us, it’s entertainment.

At the end of the day, win or lose, we’re all Cleveland fans and we all want the same thing – to cheer for a championship team. And that day will come.

Until then, “every little thing gonna be all right.” I promise.

Picking up the pieces

It’s the day after the baggy-pants farce that was LeBron James’ televised announcement that he’s leaving Cleveland for Miami. And Cleveland fans are left once gain to pick up the pieces of our broken hearts and move on.

Reaction has been swift and predictable, starting with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert and his much publicized letter to Cavs fans.

As Cavs fans, we have to applaud Gilbert’s passion, although his message was a bit lost in a sea of all caps and the bizarre use of Comic Sans as his font of choice. But we’ll give him a pass on that because Gilbert probably lost more than anyone with James leaving. There’s no telling how much the franchise’s value – and Gilbert’s bottom line – will suffer without LBJ. Some projections put it at $200 million. So yeah, he’s upset.

So what’s next for the Cavs? The team could be as much as $9 million under the salary cap depending on how the proceed from here. That number will increase over the next two years as Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon, Delonte West, Sebastian Telfair and Antawn Jamison come off the books.

They don’t have to spend all that money right away of course, and that’s a good thing. While watching the debacle last night, one of the scariest things was the crawl across the screen listing the best remaining free agents and seeing Shaq listed as No. 2.

This is not a time for the team to react out of emotion. Remember, they only had James in the first place because they lucked out in the draft lottery. They now have the opportunity to act strategically in rebuilding this team.

This doesn’t have to happen overnight and – hopefully – it doesn’t have to involve intentionally blowing up the team in the hopes of signing the next big free agent.

It may not be pretty, it certainly will be hard, but it can be done with patience and clear thinking.

Of course, Miami is thrilled by all this. Good for them. They intentionally gutted their team, slashed payroll and made no attempt to win for the past two years in the hopes that today would come.

The only positive in this is that, despite what seemed like seven years of speculation and “guarantees,” James didn’t go to New York. And, predictably, New York thinks they have a right to feel wronged by this:

You’ll excuse us if we don’t take a moment to share in the “pain” of Knicks fans.

Finally the national media, who spent the last seven years telling us how James had to leave Cleveland, are now writing about how bad it is that he left:

Well, you get the point.

So the LeBron Era is officially over. The last seven years have been exciting and Cavs games were certainly must see, even if the team didn’t win a championship. No matter how we feel, we can’t deny that.

Cleveland fans have been through worse. We’ll get through this, eventually.

Don’t forget, Browns training camp starts in just three weeks.

It Always Ends Badly

Everything in Cleveland sports ends badly, otherwise it wouldn’t be Cleveland. – Coughlin’s Law

LeBron James took the easy way out: he’s going to Miami to play with the Heat. The LeBron Era is over. We all saw it happen live on national TV.

This time it was supposed to be different. This time the free agent wasn’t supposed to leave.

This time Brian Sipe threw the ball into Lake Erie, Ernest Byner held onto the ball, John Elway went three-and-out, Michael Jordan missed the shot, Jose Mesa got the save.

It wasn’t supposed to end this way. This time it wasn’t supposed to be about money. It wasn’t about a team unable or unwilling to pay top dollar.

You’re supposed to be rewarded for trying to build a winning franchise, for putting money, facilities and passion into a team; not for intentionally destroying your franchise for a pipe dream of signing a free agent.

This wasn’t supposed to be a press conference in a parking lot in Baltimore.

But, of course, it was. T.I.C.

So now we pick up the pieces and move on. And we will, because we’re Cleveland fans; it’s what we do. We will show the country that Cleveland sports fan can be beaten, but we can never be broken.

We’ve lived through far worse and survived. We will get through this.

And when the championship finally comes – and we have to believe it will, because without hope what are we left with – men will say, “This was their finest hour.”

I Still Have Hope

The influential Chinese writer Lin Yutang once said “hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence.”

If there is anything we have as Cleveland fans it is hope. We have that in spades. I still have hope that LeBron James will resign with the Cavs. There’s no way he’s leaving, not this way.

Together, we can create the road. If we all still have hope.

I believe Sports Illustrated’s Ian Thomsen is right: LeBron will decide to stay home.

Don’t lose hope.

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

The waiting is the hardest part,
Every day you see one more card,
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart,
The waiting is the hardest part – Tom Petty

The waiting for a decision by LeBron James will reportedly come to an end Thursday at 9 p.m. when he announces that he is resigning with the Cavs – I mean where he plays next season.

While no one other than LeBron knows what he will do, the speculation continues, with ESPN leading the way by saying LeBron is going to Miami. Who told them that? Well, unnamed “sources” of course.

“Sources” have also told ESPN’s Chris Broussard that Chris Bosh is heading to Miami, a day after Broussard reported that Bosh could be headed to Cleveland. I think the whole free agency season has taken not only what was left of Broussard’s credibility – remember, he said James, Bosh and Dwyane Wade met in Miami last month and that turned out to be a complete fabrication – but has also caused him to lose his sanity.

Just this morning, he said on SportsCenter that it’s probable that LeBron could sign another 3-year contract in Cleveland, but then argued that point with himself by saying the new collective bargaining agreement will mean that LeBron’s next contract will be for 5 or 6 years.

Glad he cleared that up.

It does make things simpler when you can just essentially quote yourself as a source for a story.

So what will LeBron do?

I’ve always believed he will stay in Cleveland. The reasons the national media have always presented to convince him to leave – money, a better chance to win, a bigger stage, the NBA deserves him in a bigger market, LeBron needs to play in a bigger market – have never held water. The reasons for him to stay have always trumped the reasons to leave.

I think LeBron wants to win a championship and do it as the top dog on the team. Going to another team and winning a title doesn’t appeal to him. He’s the two-time league MVP, he shouldn’t be the one going to someone else’s team. That may have been the only way Kevin Garnett could win a title, but he’s not LeBron. Think about if Kobe Bryant had left LA because he couldn’t win a title without Shaq; his legacy would certainly be different.

James also has to know that no other fan base will support him the way we do here in Cleveland. Sports are an integral part of NE Ohio and to be the local guy who ended the region’s championship drought is huge. Sure, fans of whatever team he signs with will cheer him, but it won’t ever be the same.

I don’t know if he believes this or not; I don’t have any inside “sources” although I did ask at the barbershop and the bagel store this morning and they would neither confirm nor deny these reports. But they are as valid as anything the mainstream media has put out there.

I do know that this seems to have been going on forever. The Cavs won the draft lottery on May 22, 2003, and the first story saying LeBron would leave Cleveland as a free agent appeared on May 23. Not really, but it sure feels like it.

So what will happen tomorrow night? Will LeBron come out sporting a Knicks jersey, only to peel it off to reveal a Heat jersey, Nets jersey, Bulls jersey before finally revealing his No. 6 in the familiar wine and gold?

Will he have a board like the draft lottery and reveal team logos one by one, eliminating teams until the last one?

The waiting is almost over. We’ll soon find out.

Chris Bosh to the Cavs? OK!

Chris Bosh in Cleveland? If we are to believe Chris Broussard at ESPN, the Raptors are open to a sign-and-trade with Cleveland for Bosh’s services.

If this is actually true – and ESPN’s J.A. Adande is saying right now on ESPN News that Bosh isn’t going to Cleveland because “no one (meaning the mainstream media) has been talking about Cleveland for the past year” so of course it’s not possible – it’s a good day to be a Cavs fan.

Bosh would be a solid second option to LeBron, and a front court rotation of James, Bosh, Antwan Jamison, Leon Powe and Anderson Varejao/JJ Hickson – one of them would be going to Toronto in any potential deal – would be solid. Throw in the possibility of Z coming back as a solid big man off the bench and things are definitely looking up.

The holdup is that Bosh supposedly only wants to play with LeBron in Chicago, Miami or New Jersey. But LeBron is working his magic on Bosh – a job that very well may have started during the Olympics in China – selling him on how great it would be play in an actual NBA city where the fans care about you, you get to win 60+ games a year and go deep in the playoffs on an annual basis.

There are three other major reasons Bosh should accept a move to Cleveland:

  • He will make $30 million more by agreeing to a sign-and-trade, rather than leaving Toronto as a straight free agent.
  • The endorsement possibilities of playing with LeBron are potentially huge. Bosh is an outgoing, funny guy. You don’t think LeBron could hook him up with some of his business contacts to maximize his profits? Even in “small market” Cleveland?
  • He would get to play with LeBron, the two-time MVP who has made every teammate he’s ever played with better.

And we’d get 82 games of Bosh’s girlfriend at court side.

Frankly, if Bosh doesn’t see the potential value of playing in Cleveland with LeBron, I don’t know if I really would want him here. This appears to be a perfect opportunity to not only get paid, but also go to an organization where winning is the top priority.

As Terry Pluto put it in the PD: Chris Bosh, your future is Cleveland.

You’ll love it here. I promise.

Would LeBron really benefit from NY?

Much has been made about the myth that LeBron James could make more money if he signed to play with the Knicks – even though that has been debunked.

With free agency season officially underway, the Knicks are reportedly still clinging to the 1950s-mindset that endorsements only come your way if you are in the Big Apple. It’s understandable on their part, it’s not as if the Knicks can sell LeBron on their on-court success over the past decade.

And we’re not the only one who believes this. David Falk, who knows a thing or two about marketing as he is Michael Jordan’s agent, told New York’s WFAN radio:

“As big as New York is, this is not ’96 anymore. Twitter, Facebook and all of the social media I think you can be on Neptune and be a brand if your name was LeBron James. … New York offers New York. I think it is a really nice place but I don’t think the marketing advantages like you had ten or fifteen years ago area as relevant as today.”

The Knicks reportedly made off-the-court riches a major part of their pitch to LeBron on Thursday, trying to convince LeBron that a player can earn more, on and off the court, if they play in a top market like New York. According to ESPN:

Forbes reports the Knicks hired the consultants at Interbrand — “the world’s largest branding consultancy” — to answer the question in a presentation the team made to James in Ohio on Thursday.

Interbrand says they analyzed more than 200 variables (titles won, all-star appearances, MVPs won) compared to more than 20 historical players (Jordan, Charles Barkley, Wilt Chamberlain) and ran the model 50,000 times to see how much money James was likely to make living in different NBA cities.

Here’s the first problem: James isn’t like any other player. Jordan, Barkley, etc., weren’t playing in their hometowns. And in the case of other historical players like Chamberlain or Oscar Robertson, yes, they probably could have made more money playing in NY because they played in the 1960s, the world was a much different and larger place then.

Speaking of branding errors, James made one years ago when he alienated fans by saying that he wanted to be a billionaire. That desire was at the root of the Interbrand case that New York City is the best choice for future earnings.

I’m not sure who these “fans” are that were alienated by James, but I’m pretty sure most of them aren’t Cavs fans.

Interbrand says James is:

  • 46.6% likely to earn a billion dollars in New York. The strong Knicks’ team brand, combined with a shortage of past titles, makes it ripe for James to be seen as heroic to a huge market with national and international media exposure.
  • 1.3% likely to earn a billion in Cleveland. His “hometown hero” status helps Cleveland leapfrog Chicago, as does the Cavalier’s lack of past success — win a title there and they’ll love you forever.
  • 1.0% likely to earn a billion in Chicago. The challenge there comes from the “high threshold for creating that legacy” thanks to Jordan’s six titles and a fanbase that is not easily wowed.
  • 0.0% likely to earn a billion in Miami. Interbrand finds that in Miami “low can avidity, size of fan base, media reach do not able brand stretch.”

How did Interbrand come up with those numbers? Nobody knows. But Interbrand clearly knows who was paying the bills for this “study.”

There’s not much in the presentation about what precisely went into this analysis, and you can’t help but wonder what they may have left out.

So, the Knicks hire a firm to determine if playing for the Knicks would make LeBron more money and the result is overwhelmingly in New York’s favor. Well, you can’t argue that the Knicks didn’t get their money’s worth out of the study.

While it’s highly doubtful that James would benefit more by playing in New York, there’s little doubt who would benefit: the Knicks. According to The New York Times:

If James signed with either (the Knicks or the Nets), it would allow the MSG Network or the YES Network to boost advertising rates and eventually increase subscriber fees. A vigorous, competitive Knicks franchise could elevate the stock price of its parent company, Madison Square Garden, which also owns MSG. Recent trading in Garden shares has not firmly reflected investors’ optimism or pessimism about the prospect of signing James. On Wednesday, the stock price closed at $19.67 a share.

In a distant era nearly as faded as when men wore fedoras to arenas, Knicks games made a meaningful contribution to the MSG Network. Fans with little to cheer at the Garden can only turn to MSG’s 30-minute video bios of old Knick greats and its vault of old game broadcasts. Holy Nate Bowman — Willis Reed just turned 68.

Last season, the second in the Clear the Cap Space Era, the Knicks’ TV rating cratered at a mere .91, or 68,193 TV homes — a loss of two-thirds of the audience in a dozen years.

Compare that to the Cavs, who averaged 8.59, the highest local rating in the NBA and the second-highest among all NBA, NHL or MLB teams in 2009-10.

The Knicks own presentation highlights the biggest problem in their quest for LeBron: the study calls a championship “the single most important driver of brand value.” For James’ image and off-court income, nothing matters more than winning a title.

The Knicks haven’t won a title in 37 years, haven’t been a contender in more than a decade and have spent the past two years gutting their team just so they can offer James a contract.

Compare that to the Cavs, who have done everything they can to build a winner ever since LeBron arrived in town.

It’s clear the Knicks would benefit if LeBron were to sign with them. But there’s no evidence, however, that LeBron would benefit from signing with the Knicks.

Well played, New York, well played.

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