Friday, July 16, 2010

LeBron leftovers: Part One

Nearly 60 years ago, Bobby Thomson of the New York (baseball) Giants hit a home run in a playoff game. It was known as the Shot Heard 'Round the World. The historic home run, which propelled the Giants into the World Series against the New York Yankees in 1951, became one of the most famous homers in baseball history. Even today, it is one of the game's most defining moments.

The man who delivered that ill-fated pitch was Ralph Branca of the Brooklyn Dodgers, a journeyman whose name immediately became mud in Brooklyn. Branca and Thomson were linked in baseball history. Thomson a hero to Giants fans; Branca a villain to Dodgers fans.

Branca never complained about the notoriety. But he wondered why he was chosen to deliver that pitch? Why not Carl Erskine, who was warming up in the bullpen with him at the time? He found out soon enough.

"This priest, Father Pat Rowley, who was (his wife) Ann's cousin, made it easier," Branca related later. "When I got in the car more than an hour after the game, Ann was with him. I said to him, `Why me? I love baseball. Why would it have to be me?' He told me, `God chose you because he knew your faith would be strong enough to bear this cross.' I think I've done a good job. I've taken the high road."

So what does this have to do with LeBron James and his thoroughly distasteful exit from the Cleveland sports scene? It proves that Cleveland is, indeed, a tough town, a strong town, a town that can withstand all kinds of setbacks and still bounce back.

Labeled one of the most tortured cities on the sports landscape -- you know the litany . . . The Drive, The Shot, Red Right 88, The Fumble and now The Decision a.k.a. The Betrayal -- God would not have chosen Cleveland for all this heartbreak if he didn't think the city could handle it.

Out of tragedy, out of misery, out of suffering comes an undeniable strength. Somewhere down the road lies a reward so large and so luscious, the joy that comes with it will be almost indescribable. More so than even when Boston ended 86 years of baseball futility several years ago. At least that city had the Celtics, Bruins and Patriots.

When the initial shock of LeBron's departure subsides and takes up permanent residence in our memory banks with the likes of Art Modell, Jim Thome and Albert Belle, we will move on and be tougher because of it. After all, we are Cleveland sports fans and we can handle it.


When Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert typed out his angry e-mail to the fans after LeBron left, little did he realize he also was jeopardizing the ability of his club to sign players in the future.

If nothing else, the NBA is a players-driven league. We saw a perfect example of that when the James-Wade-Bosh group manipulated the system to hook up in Miami. What they did was maybe a little below board in the execution, but perfectly legal.

And because it is a players-driven league, they saw what Gilbert said about LeBron. And don't think for a minute they wouldn't think twice before playing for an owner who, in a fit of pique, called one of his players a coward, a narcissist and a quitter.
That kind of talk does not sit well with the players.

So it would not be surprising if Gilbert strikes out often in the free-agent market as he tries to piece together a contending team. Money talks just so loud. Damaging remarks made in anger talk even louder. The only way Gilbert will be able to stock his roster is via the trade route and the draft.


If David Stern and his minions do not step in and prevent a repeat of the James-Wade-Bosh fiasco, it will happen again and threaten the credibility of the NBA. The commissioner must take steps to make certain the competitive balance of his league does not spiral out of control.

When Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets starts talking about him and Denver's Carmelo Anthony hooking up with Amar'e Stoudemire in New York with the Knicks in a couple of years, red flags need to fly. This cannot be allowed to happen a second time.

By sanctioning the Miami debacle, Stern has permitted a dangerous precedent to be set. Until he and his ownership group step in and put an end to such shenanigans with preventative legislation, he will have to deal with eroding fan bases. It will happen in Cleveland soon enough. Maybe as early as the 2010-11 season.

The idea is to strengthen the league from top to bottom. And allowing what just happened in Miami does not speak well toward that goal. Time to get tough and slam that door.


I would not want to be Erik Spoelstra this fall when the new Miami Heat gathers at training camp. So many new faces. So many superstars. So much aggravation.

Spoelstra, the second-youngest NBA coach at 39, will have the monumental task of making certain he can keep Wade, Bosh and LeBron happy. At the same time.

Dealing with a superstar ego is difficult enough for a coach with only one on his team. But three? And although they all say they are more than willing to subjugate those egos for the good of the team, I don't buy it. And that's where Spoelstra's greatest test lies.

Winning games, of course, is the primary goal. Far more important on a team such as the new Heat is assuaging and massaging those huge egos. That's a delicate enough job for a veteran coach, let alone one who is a relative neophyte at his job.

Hazarding a guess: Erik Spoelstra will not be the Heat coach by midseason. Pat Riley, Spoelstra's hovering shadow with the Heat, will take over either just before the All-Star Game or shortly after it.

Take it to the bank? No. I'll leave such statements to Gilbert.

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