Wednesday, June 03, 2009

LeBron's Handshake

For the most part, I don't care. I've avoided ESPN for the past few days, simply because I don't want to deal with the post-Game 6 shit just yet. I'm not completely out of the loop... I know that Varejao opted out, Big Ben has mulled retirement and in a surprise to no one, Z is picking up his $11 million option. But in order to keep my sanity, I've avoided most of the LeBron stories.

Will the loss force him out the door? He didn't speak to the media!? He didn't shake hand!?! Some of these stories are somewhat interesting, while others make me want to pull out my already thinning hair.

I think the most "interesting" (if not exactly newsworthy) story is the hand shaking brouhaha. Is it really a big deal? No. Was I disappointed and thought LeBron's actions reflected poorly on himself and the city? Ya. Did I think his explanation was lame? Also yes. Did I forget he's 24 years old? Nope.

Look, there's a couple ways to look at this. He's an article by Adrian "I wrote a 'LeBron's leaving' article after the first game of the year" Wojnarowski acting like a complete ass:

I’m a winner, King James proclaimed. So, there you go. That’s his reason for rushing out of the conference finals without so much as a nod to Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic. That’s his reason for marching to the bus and letting the Cleveland Cavaliers’ spare parts take care of his responsibilities in the interview room.

Funny, but James stayed on the court to make sure the Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks paid respect to him. As it turns out, there’s one thing allowed to happen at the end of a playoff series: Everyone bows down and kisses the King’s ring. Only, LeBron doesn’t have a ring. He’s never won a game in the NBA Finals.

So, yes, maybe they just have to kiss his feet.

“It’s not being a poor sport or anything like that,” James said.

No, nothing like that. Yes, James cares so much that it isn’t possible to be gracious and humbled.

You know me, he told the reporters in Cleveland on Sunday. I’m a competitor. “If somebody beats you up, you’re not going to congratulate them,” James said. “It doesn’t make sense for me to go over and shake somebody’s hand.”

Here’s the question: Who has the guts to tell him that he sounds like an immature, self-absorbed brat?

If you can wade through Adrian "LeBron is going to the Pistons!!!111!1!eleventy" Wojnarowski's smugness long enough, you'll eventually find that he actually makes a decent point. I mean, what Cavalier fan doesn't believe this:

The Cavaliers are terrified of James. When you’re around them, it’s sometimes embarrassing to watch the way they tip-toe and grovel with him. In their defense, that’s how James wants it. As a childhood prodigy, that’s all LeBron’s ever known. The Cavs are at his mercy until he becomes a free agent in July of 2010, and that isn’t going to change. There’s no chance that he signs an extension this summer, because that would be the end of the drama, the intrigue and LeBron James isn’t letting that go away.

Of course they're terrified of pissing off LBJ. James is basically the reason why there's a NBA team residing in downtown Cleveland. He's the reason Dan Gilbert bought the franchise. If he gets in a fight with Mike Brown, guess which one is walking out the door?

LeBron didn't call out his teammates, he didn't rip the coach or GM... he simply didn't shake the hands of the Magic players. Dick move? Yes. Does it make him a spoiled brat and a loser? Not so much.

Now, let's take the head of the Plain Dealer's Dennis Manoloff out of LeBron's behind and see what he has to say (in an article titled LeBron James did nothing wrong):
I have no problem with LeBron James' actions after the Cavaliers were eliminated by the Magic last Saturday night in Orlando, Fla.

Let me reword, so there is no gray area: I have absolutely no problem with James' actions.

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I keep hearing that true leaders must be heard from in good times and bad, and that the leader of the Cavaliers let down his teammates by leaving them to explain away the series flame out. More nonsense. His teammates should be forced to explain it, for all the support they gave him. If I'm one of them, having stunk up the joint periodically in the series, I'm thankful LBJ did not speak.

Not only should LBJ not be hammered for keeping his mouth shut, he should be applauded for it. He demonstrated restraint and took the high road, when it would have been very tempting in the heat of the moment to take a swipe at the organization or his own players for not being championship-caliber. Even if he had not been inclined to do so, he must have known somebody in the pack was going to bait him into saying something negative. He was not going to let it happen.

A sore loser would have leaned into the microphone and whined about the referees, Howard's elbows and Stan Van Gundy's politicking. A sore loser would have leaned into the microphone and insisted the Cavaliers were the better team but did not show it, that the Magic was fortunate to move on, not necessarily deserving.

My thoughts? Um, he did something wrong. He didn't kill anyone or run afoul with the law, but at the very least he showed poor sportsmanship. I'm sure the Skip Baylesses of the world are piling on, but let's not act like there's no fire behind this wisp of smoke.

Finally, Bill Simmons takes an angle that I didn't see coming:

When you caused a controversy by storming off the court after Game 6 and refusing to attend your press conference, you did something even better: You brought us back to the days when "rivals" didn't hug each other like Red and Andy after every game, when NBA stars actually took losing personally and treated their peers like enemies instead of friends. I loved it. That was an old-school move. And as reader Brian Naftaly points out, you accomplished something even better: You made your teammates cover you in the postgame press conference, marking the first time all series they did something or helped you in any way. That was genius. Hold your head up high, LeBron James. You could not have done more with the possible exception of coaching the team … and really, that might not have been a bad idea

Old school rivalries? Hmm... I can see that. I highly doubt that this is the last time that the Magic and Cavs will face each other in the playoffs. I never mind some bad blood between teams. Then again, Simmons is the guy who rips Isiah Thomas constantly for not shaking the Bulls' hands when they finally lost.

At the end of the day, this isn't a huge deal. Could he have handled himself better? Of course. But he's still only 24. This is really the first real "bump" on his path to superstardom. He's not throwing the mother of his children out of his house, he's not on any 'stop snitching' videos, he's not getting caught with drugs. I'm not really sure how much more you can extrapolate from this incident other than "LeBron was pissed and he should know better."

3 comments:

Erik said...

I agree it was the equivalent of LeBron storming up to his room and slamming the door.

For all the strides he's made in his six NBA seasons (really, how much more can a guy grow during his late teens and early 20s?) this series proved that LeBron is still maturing. He's not totally there yet.

The post-series pout is the most visible example, but I also wonder about the standing and dribbling for large chunks of the fourth quarter in the first five games. Mike Brown didn't help matters with his minimalist offensive coaching, but the fact that LeBron's teammates were left standing around is as much on LBJ as anyone.

LeBron doesn't yet seem to totally understand that a leader doesn't always lug his team around on his back, compensating for their shortcomings, making everything all better. A leader needs to demand more from his teammates. If Mo's shots aren't falling, then he dang well better be busting his hump on D and at least trying to penetrate and get to the line on offense. Get in Z's ear, Andy's ear. Maybe they're athletically overmatched by Howard, but they can at least not get caught napping while Howard sneaks back door and flushes an alley-oop (That happened WAY too much in this series, BTW).

It's great to be buddy-buddy with your 'mates. The Cavs had special chemistry this year, no doubt. But when the shit really hits the fan in the playoffs, sometimes you need to go MJ on your team when they're getting outhustled and out-executed, like the Cavs were for much of the series.

I still question if LeBron might still be a little too immature to know when and how to lay down the law with his team. Maybe it wouldn't have won this series, but it's still a missing ingredient from LBJ's vast arsenal, IMO.

Ben said...

Totally, I think we forget how young LeBron actually is.

Not every player is a stand around and shoot guy. Mo and West did well with the ball in their hands. When LeBron dominates the ball so much, they're less effective.

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