A couple of weeks ago, the state of Florida became home to the biggest free agent signing in the history of pro sports. LeBron James. LeBron James promises no less than seven NBA titles for the Sunshine State. Can it be accomplished? Probably not. Still, it’s refreshing to see ambition poured forth onto such an outsized canvas.
LeBron. Dwyane Wade. Chris Bosh. None of them signed for maximum salary. Just a couple of weeks ago, during the NBA finals, discussion centered on whether Kobe might be the greatest of all time, or whether those old men with the Celtics might be able to pull off a title, now things have changed. Now the Heat is the prohibitive favorite for a title. And Boston and LA? Old news.
Pretty much the entire sports media criticized LeBron’s “Decision” special – a one-hour infomercial promoting James’ signing. Oh, they all put on their “I’m A Journalist!” shirts and took their best shots at it – saying it was too exploitative, that it was beneath ESPN’s renowned journalistic standards, and all the rest. But all of their august ruminations pale when compared to how well the special did as a TV program – a 7.3 for the whole hour, with a top QH of 9.6. Folks, these are boffo numbers – validating the enterprise itself.
Speaking of boffo numbers, the one prop bet that interests me the most here is this: “How many titles will the Heat win in the next six seasons?” Right now the over/under on that? 2.5. Would I take that bet? Absolutely, if a part of me didn’t buy into the Mayan calendar rendering a bet designed to pay off in 2016 effectively useless.
There are those out there, of course, who will continue deriding James. They’ll dog him out for deserting Cleveland, as if the city had a right to his entire career even though its climate sucks and the overbearing owner of the Cavs – Dan Gilbert – couldn’t be bothered to give LeBron the complementary pieces he needed to actually make a title run.
Never mind the player’s desires – they don’t matter! Never mind that he actually wanted to play with his friends, under the tutelage of one of the best basketball minds ever in Heat GM Pat Riley, in one of the most dynamic and interesting cities in the Western Hemisphere. No! Better to return to Cleveland, with its pollution and desolation and 20% unemployment rate. Because the fans deserved a hero. Yeah right.
Let me be more explicit about this. LeBron James did not owe the fans or ownership of the Cleveland Cavaliers one single thing. He performed according to the terms of his contract, giving Cleveland his physical prime, and not getting much help in the process. Realistically, we all know that as LeBron gets closer to, then gets past, the age of 30, he’s going to fall off. Injuries will mount. His desire for the game will lessen. Et cetera. Maybe now, with Bosh and D-Wade beside him, the inevitable existential crises that a pro athlete of James’ caliber encounters won’t be such a big deal. Who knows?
All that is known now – for certain – is that everything having to do with the Miami Heat is must-see TV. If, as some have suggested, D-Wade’s “free agency” tour of the league was just a ruse in which he collected information on other teams, well, props to him for that. If, as some have suggested, the players were wrong to “collude” and agree on a free agency destination worthy of their talents and their celebrity, well, to hell with that. Because – real talk here – the players are cogs in the game, nothing more. They’re to be pimped and marketed and, when the hype machine is done, discarded with no more formality than the bottles in the curbside recycling bin.
LeBron got over, and good for him. Because, as dozens of pros can tell you, if you don’t take necessary steps and safeguard your position, you can find yourself at a real disadvantage down the road. James took less money to play with his friends, and took advantage of Florida’s lack of state income tax in the process. Props to him.
A.G. Gancarski is a freelance journalist based in Florida.