Thursday, June 16, 2011

LeBron's loose lips

Now that the LeBron James dust has settled (or has it?), time to weigh in on just what he was trying to say after yet another failed attempt to put a championship ring on one of his fingers.

It seems LeBron’s tongue was way ahead of his brain shortly after the Dallas Mavericks postponed his trip to the National Basketball Association throne room a few days ago.

Reacting to the notion that Cavaliers fans were experiencing an enormous rush of schadenfreude following the elimination of his Miami Heat, he reacted childishly when asked if it bothered him that so many around NBA Nation were overjoyed to see him fail.

“Absolutely not,” he said, “because at the end of the day, all the people that was (sic) rooting for me to fail, they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life they had before they woke up today.

“They have the same personal problems they had today. I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things I want to do with me and my family and be happy with that.”

Wait. There’s more.

“(Fans) can get a few days or a few months or whatever the case may be on being happy about not only myself, but the Miami Heat not accomplishing that goal. But they have to get back to the real world at some point.”

That, folks, is called rationalization. LeBron was wounded and felt the need to retaliate. And the only way he could do that was to belittle the people, many of whom had his back when he wore a Cavaliers uniform.

His visceral feelings overcame his sense of good judgment and he cut loose. He was hurt and he wanted to hurt back. It no doubt felt good to him at the time. Until someone in his posse pointed out how silly and stupid it sounded.

The following day, he tried to explain what he meant. And failed.

“I think it’s interpreted different than what I was trying to get out there,” he said. “Basically, I was saying at the end of the day, this season is over and regarding hatred, not only myself and everyone has to move on with their lives as well. They have to move on with their lives and their day-to-day, good or bad, as I do, too, at the end of the day. I’ve got to move on with my life.”

Then he further explained.

“So it wasn’t saying I’m superior or better than anyone else, any man or woman on this planet. I’m not. I would never, ever look at myself better than any of you guys sitting here or anybody that watches our game or anybody that would look at me as a professional basketball player. I’m not superior to anyone. So it may have come off wrong, but that wasn’t my intent.”

Two thoughts. The feeling of superiority had nothing to do with the interpretation of his after-the-game remarks. Anyone is his right mind would not have even thought superiority was a factor.

And as for it coming off wrong, it came off wrong only in LeBron’s mind. It came off just the way he intended.

After taking season-long abuse from fans, he couldn’t help but strike back. He wanted no part of their schadenfreude. Who could blame him?

He would have been much better off to just smile, bite his lip, skirt the original question and do the right thing by congratulating the Mavericks.

As it is, LeBron will now be remembered for something other than “taking my talents to South Beach.”

Somehow, he’ll survive. And when he finally arrives in the NBA throne room, maybe he will have learned to be much more diplomatic with his remarks.

Humility is a wonderful trait. He needs a gigantic dose of it.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Going down

If the bloom isn’t off the Indians’ rose, it’s fading as rapidly as it appeared.

Just when they showed signs of being a real contender in the American League this season, the Indians unveil the big tease.

You know what the tease is. In this case, it’s winning 30 of the first 45 games of the season, attracting the attention in baseball and then performing a swan dive into the tank.

Some call it the big buildup for an even bigger letdown. It’s something Cleveland sports fans are used to.

It’s like the Cavaliers winning 137 games in two seasons, only to fail miserably in the playoffs. It’s like the Browns – the old Browns, that is – approaching the precipice of the Super Bowl a few times only to stumble. It’s like the Indians fighting to within one pitch of a World Series championship only to lose.

Granted, this tease isn’t as bad as those. It’s just the most recent.

Everything seemed to be going right for the Tribe in the first 45 games of the season. The starting pitching was sharp, the bullpen was lights out, the defense was solid and the clutch hitting was among the best in the league.

Then it was as though the Indians looked at the standings one day, saw they were sitting comfortably atop the Central Division, and said, “Is this for real? Is that really us up there?”

So in the next 18 games, they went out and started playing like the team most experts picked for the umpteenth time to finish in the basement this season.

It hasn’t been an all-of-a-sudden plunge. This little journey toward baseball has stretched over a span during which the Indians have won just four games. That includes a 1-8 record at what once was a friendly Progressive Field.

They’re still in first place, hanging on by the tiniest of fingernails. The Detroit Tigers have caught them with the Chicago White Sox coming more and more into focus in the rearview mirror.

The spiral has been pockmarked with bad pitching, worse hitting, especially in the clutch, and shoddy defense. At one point, they went nine straight games with at least one error. They were beating themselves.

In the last 18 games, the Indians’ offense has become an oxymoron. It has produced just 52 runs, 20 coming in two games. Take out those two games – one was a loss – and the Indians have scored 32 runs in 16 games.

The pitching has surrendered 113 runs in that span, an average of almost 6.3 a game. In other words, they have been outscored by roughly four runs a game on the average.

In their latest losing stretch – six straight and nine of the last 10 – they have scored a measly 21 runs, seven of those in one game, a loss. Shutting down the Indians these days isn’t a feat. It has become routine.

They have reverted to the old put-’em-on, leave-’em-on days. Base paths, these days, is where Cleveland Indians go to die.

To break down their clutch hitting is an exercise in futility. All you need to know is that when Indians clog the bases these days, their batting average plummets to heretofore-unknown depths.

As it has turned out, this club is just as bad as most experts believed back in April. It has a roster dotted with journeymen.

For example, why are Austin Kearns, Jack Hannahan, Orlando Cabrera and Chad Durbin sill on the roster? Outside of maybe Cabrera, who was hot early, what have they contributed? The answers: I have no idea and nothing. If General Manager Chris Antonetti answers otherwise, he’s fooling only himself.

After watching the Indians shoot out to a stunning 30-15 start, some skeptics said seeing was believing and a few hesitatingly became reluctant believers. But with a caveat.

Let’s see what they do when they hit tough times. Let’s see how they handle adversity. Good teams overcome small bumps. Bad teams never recover from them.

The last 18 games have provided the answers and seem to be a more accurate barometer on just where the Jekyll-Hyde Indians are headed.

It appears as though they have entered an elevator going down. Fast.

Friday, June 10, 2011

LeBron's cravings

This is why LeBron James quit Cleveland. This is why he now wears No. 6 and plays for the Miami Heat. This is why he plays the game.

He wants a championship. He craves a championship. He needs a championship.

He could not get it in Cleveland. He needed help. Didn’t get it.

For some reason, LeBron believes a championship validates his greatness. It’s the crowning glory to what has been a spectacular career.

Anything less than that, he thinks, invalidates that greatness. Which is hard to believe since he is the best all-around player in the National Basketball Association. And it’s not even close.

He’s a prodigy, a gifted athlete who comes along once in a generation. He’s that rare breed who has no problem living up to the advance hype because it comes naturally.

He’s the same player in Miami that he was with the Cavaliers for seven fun-filled and extremely enjoyable seasons. He still does things on the court that make fans blink in amazement and say, “Never seen that before.”

He’s not playing any differently now. He just has a significantly better supporting cast.

Too bad he had to spoil his Cleveland stint with that rather distasteful performance in Game 5 of the Boston playoff series last season. That, unfortunately, will be his legacy as a Cavalier.

And now, he stands on the precipice of achieving his dream. Granted, it’s a rather shaky precipice now that the Dallas Mavericks have captured a 3-2 lead in the National Basketball Association championship finals.

Cavaliers fans, many of whom will never forgive him for what he did – never mind the way he did it – as he abandoned Cleveland, revel in LeBron’s plight as the Heat must now win out.

Cavs fans love it. Who can blame them? As LeBron does his fourth-quarter fade, they say, almost in unison, “Seen that before.”

And the way he has played the final quarter in this series justifies the notions of his critics that the only aspect missing from his game is the fourth-quarter clutch performance in meaningful games.

It has been notably absent in this series, mostly because he has played a subordinate, almost reluctant, role in the final 12 minutes. It’s as though he is content with letting Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh grab the spotlight.

He seems to forget the Heat reached the finals mainly because of him. Remove Wade from that lineup and the Heat is still a formidable team. Remove Bosh . . . ditto.

Remove LeBron and the Heat becomes a less-than-formidable team. He, not Wade, is the club’s most valuable player. One would think Miami coach Erik Spoelstra would see that and adjust. Cavs fans hope he doesn’t.

If LeBron does not become the aggressor for the Heat in the next 96 minutes of championship play, he’ll watch as Mark Cuban hoists his first NBA championship trophy.

It’s the absence of that one vital ingredient that separates him from his dream. And he’ll have nobody to blame but himself if he fails.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

It's all about winning

Here we are less than two months away from the start of training camp around the National Football League and both sides in the labor dispute insist on behaving like school children.

It has become a fiscal tug of war with neither side giving in because they do not want to be labeled the loser. It took several years before the owners admitted they lost the last tug of war by agreeing to a terrible Collective Bargaining Agreement that heavily favored the players.

Now, and maybe it’s because they’re still smarting from that crushing loss, the owners’ aim is to exact some sort of monetary revenge on the players. Perhaps that’s why they’ve got their heels dug so deeply in the sand, they have lost all touch with reality.

They are so determined not to lose to the players this time, they throw all reason out the window. And it’s that stubbornness that has stunted anything resembling progress in the process.

The players aren’t blameless. In still maintaining hopes of repeating their last victory over the owners, they have also lost touch with reality.

Both sides say they care about the fans, the constituency that feeds both sides of the dispute. Fact is they couldn’t care less. All the owners care about is putting seats in the seats. Making certain the turnstiles hum. The players? All they care about is their paychecks.

Maybe that’s why that constituency is confused. They see about $9 billion up for grabs on the table and both sides acting like little kids trying to grab as much of it as they can.

The results in a couple of recent polls indicate as much.

A Fox Sports poll asked the question: Which side deserves the most blame for the NFL labor situation? Of the more than 100,000 responses, 51% blame the owner, 49% the players. Confusion.

A CBS Sports poll asked the same question, but included a third option – both sides. A clear-cut winner was the third option with 52% blaming both sides; 26% blaming the owners; and 22% nailing the players as the guilty party.

It has become clear both sides have hurt themselves. The sad part is they don’t realize it. They have lost all perspective.

The closer we get to training camp and the more obvious it becomes that there will be no training camp, the more frustrated the fans will become. And the anger will mount.

Meanwhile, the two sides toss barbs at each other in an effort to curry favor with the fans. That’s the disconnect neither side understands. All the fans want is football. Not this labor bullroar over billions of dollars.

Every now and then, a spark of optimism is offered. Commissioner Roger Goodell called recent talks a “positive sign” although nothing substantive came from them. Said both sides “want to reach a deal.” Well, no kidding.

A federal judge has strongly urged both parties to settle their problems pronto. But it’s going to take a lot more than a judge to get these two sides to agree to anything.

At the risk of being repetitious, this is all about winning.