The Heat open up their series against the Dallas Mavericks at home, and they’re in a place many doubters did not expect them to be: the NBA Finals. People prayed, dreamed, wished, and hoped that the Heat would fail this season, and they took pride in ridiculing them at every downturn. But now Miami has reached the Finals and they are four victories away from proving their critics to be absolute fools. The unjustified and hypocritical hatred spewed to them by media professionals gets us to the point where most media members do not deserve to congratulate the Heat, and specifically LeBron, if they win the title. And it’s all because a silly notion regarding a few ounces of molded metal.
In our sports society, we judge athletes based on one thing: rings. We don’t measure NBA players based on point totals, All-Star seasons, or even MVP awards. Nope, the media has trained us to believe that NBA players are only worth their weight in 20 karat gold rings.
It doesn’t matter that Darko Milicic has a ring and that LeBron James does not. It doesn’t matter that Robert Horry has seven championships while Michael Jordan has six. Nope, nope, nope. All that matters is our star players must have rings in order to validate their careers. I’ve said for a long time that’s garbage, but I’ve been mostly alone in my beliefs.
Here’s why the “rings to validate a career” is pure idiocy.
Most NBA observers can agree that Hakeem Olajuwon is one of the greatest players of all time. Anyone watching basketball from his college days to 1993 could have told you that The Dream was supremely talented and one of the best players in the game. But consider this for a moment: Had Michael Jordan not walked away from the game for two years, Olajuwon’s Rockets may never have won a title. If Hakeem had never won a title, would he be considered as great as he is now? Definitely not. But was Hakeem’s game, talent, and skill any different from 1993-1995, or did Jordan’s absence allow Olajuwon a chance to win the (gasp!) elusive championship ring?
My point is that winning championships is based on several factors, many of which are circumstantial. How good are your teammates? How good (or stacked) are your opponents? These factors should be taken into account when we measure the greatness of a player. Rings shouldn’t be the end all discussion.
And that leads me to the predicament of LeBron James.
LeBron James listened to what the media (and his sponsors) told him and bought into what was instilled in him: he has to win a championship in order to become great. He led his Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in only his fourth year in the League but got swept by a vastly superior San Antonio Spurs team. The year after that, the Boston Celtics somehow managed to assemble a team of three potential Hall of Famers, instantly making them the best team in the NBA.
The Celtics were the wire-to-wire best team in 2008 and they earned their title. But the point was clear: it was necessary to have several great players on your team in order to compete for a championship.
LeBron James took his team to the Eastern Conference Finals the following year and lost to the Orlando Magic. Mo Williams completely let the Cavs down that series, and despite LeBron’s heroics — he shot 49% that series and scored over 40 points three of the six games — they lost in six. The Lakers won the title that year, their first full season since acquiring Pau Gasol (Memphis’ franchise player) in a trade the previous year. LeBron learned a valuable lesson about sportsmanship, but more importantly, the seed had already been planted that he needed more help which is what the Lakers brought Kobe (in Pau) and the Celtics brought Pierce (in Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett).
So what did the Cavaliers do to fight back at the Lakers and Celtics who were stacked with better rosters? They traded for Antawn Jamison mid-season, and Jamison was thoroughly dominated by Kevin Garnett in the 2010 playoffs. LeBron James had checked out by the end of the series knowing full well that he had not entered the series with Boston in a fair fight. Rajon Rondo was armed with Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Kendrick Perkins as his running mates. LeBron was surrounded by Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison, Shaq, and Anthony Parker. The only Cavaliers player who could have started for Boston was LeBron. His team was completely overmatched.
Knowing full well that he did not have the weapons in Cleveland to beat the best teams in the League, LeBron did the sensible thing and teamed up with two other excellent teammates. He sacrificed money, fame, and individual accolades to have a better shot at winning a title. Heck, you could argue that what he did was honorable and commendable.
But no, instead you had people criticizing him as much as possible. They argued he wasn’t a real man because he went to join another star’s team. They fail to realize that Cleveland is not a destination for free agents and that LeBron could not choose his starting point; it was decided for him in the draft. They argued that competitive players would have never joined their enemies but tried to beat them instead. Michael Jordan forgets that he wanted Dennis Rodman over Will Perdue because the Bulls needed more help on defense and on the boards. Is that any different? Charles Barkley forgets he demanded a trade to a contender and he ended up in Houston to try and steal a ring. What about Karl Malone and Gary Payton who went to the Lakers in search of a ring? What about Kareem who demanded a trade from Milwaukee? Or how about Kevin Garnett who approved a trade to Boston? What about Kobe Bryant quitting on the Lakers during the playoffs then demanding a trade if they didn’t get help? How come the media doesn’t bring up any of these examples?
How is Michael Jordan recruiting players to help his Bulls any different from LeBron James teaming up with other good players? The only difference is LeBron had to leave his team to make it happen, and his ego apparently isn’t too large for him to admit that.
I honestly believe LeBron should be commended for his decision. He followed what everyone demands of the greatest players — that they win championships — and he sacrificed in order to have the best chance of winning multiple titles.
What about loyalty to his city, you ask? If loyalty matters, then why did Cavs owner Dan Gilbert try his darnedest to pry Tom Izzo from his alma mater, Michigan State? Oh that’s right, because loyalty is a value placed below winning by the media, and it’s only used as a weapon when it’s convenient for argument’s sake.
Was the manner in which LeBron announced his decision classless and horrible? Definitely, but the decision was the right one.
Unfortunately, you had prominent media members absolutely skewering LeBron James for the actual decision.
“Something’s changed here, and LeBron James has gone a long way to devaluing winning and losing in the NBA. David Stern has long pushed the individual over team, marketed showy over substance, and LeBron James represents the manifestation of it all.” – Adrian Wojnarowski, July 7th.
“James goes to the Miami Heat, Cleveland goes into a basketball Hades and LeBron’s legacy becomes that of a callous carpetbagger. … The Championship of Me became the Championship of Flee, because LeBron James doesn’t believe he can be the centerpiece of a title team. He needed Dwyane Wade, a closer, far more than Wade needed him.” – Adrian Wojnarowski, July 9th
That came shortly before this absolute hit job by Wojnarowski which destroyed LeBron James’ character. He also accused LeBron’s free agency decision (something he couldn’t make until July) of overshadowing the draft (something for which the media was responsible, not LeBron). Why would Wojnarowski roll out such undeniable hatred for LeBron and his management team? Perhaps it’s because he was on the outside looking in, because he didn’t have access to inside information on LeBron — the most important player in the League. After all, only four days before LeBron chose Miami on national television, Wojnarowski wrote that LeBron was going to re-sign in Cleveland. From July 4th, four days before the decision:
“And maybe most of all now, you get the idea that James is an overgrown teenager getting a few laughs with his buddies, driving home to Akron from this cattle call in Cleveland to watch cartoons, play video games and kill some time until he gives the nod to post the big news that maybe the rest of us should’ve known all along: He’s home.”
Talk about a swing and a miss. If LeBron is keeping a mental list, Wojnarowski must occupy the top spot, or maybe he’s 1b) next to Charles Barkley.
Barkley criticized LeBron for going to the Heat, completely ignoring that he went to the Rockets in ’96 looking for a ring.
“I thought he should’ve stayed in Cleveland. Him joining Dwyane Wade’s team was very disappointing to me.” – Charles Barkley, August 12th
“The thing that’s interesting about LeBron, I don’t think Magic, Michael, and myself, we said we wouldn’t have did it. That’s not a criticism. We were asked a question. I don’t want to play with Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, or Michael, I want to beat them.” – Charles Barkley, October 1st
“Michael Jordan would have wanted to kick Dwyane Wade’s butt every spring, not play with him. This should be mentioned every day for the rest of LeBron’s career. It’s also the kryptonite for any “Some day we’ll remember LeBron James as the best basketball player ever” argument. We will not. Jordan and Russell were the greatest players of all time. Neither of them would have made the choice that LeBron did. That should tell you something.” – Bill Simmons, July 9th
“I think it’s a cop-out. Any super-competitive person would rather beat Dwyane Wade than play with him. Don’t you want to find the Ali to your Frazier and have that rival pull the greatness out of you? That’s why I’m holding out hope that LeBron signs with New York or Chicago (or stays in Cleveland), because he’d be saying, “Fine. Kobe, Dwight and Melo all have their teams. Wade and Bosh have their team. The Celtics are still there. Durant’s team is coming. I’m gonna go out and build MY team, and I’m kicking all their asses.” That’s what Jordan would have done. Hell, that’s what Kobe would have done.” – Bill Simmons, July 8th
Apparently the author of The Book of Basketball forgets that Kobe demanded help otherwise he was going to leave the Lakers. Also, these arguments are garbage anyway because Magic was lucky enough to have Kareem and Worthy as teammates early on while Bird had Parish and McHale. LeBron had Drew Gooden and Jeff McInnis.
The intentionally controversial Jason Whitlock who cloaks himself under the guise of “real talk”:
“The NBA isn’t AAU hoops. It takes more than two or three super friends to win an NBA title. Players interested in winning at the highest level shouldn’t moonlight as general managers in the offseason.
The Big Two conceived this poorly constructed team. The Big Two gave in to their egos and assumed any group of stiffs would be enough support for the Big Three to compete against the NBA’s best teams.” – Jason Whitlock, March 4th
You would think for someone who understood that Donovan McNabb was overmatched compared to the support Michael Vick had with the Eagles last season, that he’d understand why LeBron needed more help. But of course he has double standards and doesn’t consider basketball a team game.
Michael Rosenberg at SI also forgets that Kobe Bryant demanded help and that Tim Duncan was blessed to have David Robinson, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker as teammates. He wrote:
“But James does not have the heart of a champion. He does not have the competitive fire of Jordan, the bull-headed determination of Kobe Bryant, the quiet self-confidence of Tim Duncan, the willful defiance of Isiah or the winning-is-everything hunger of Magic Johnson. He is an extremely gifted player who wants the easy way out.” – Michael Rosenberg, July 8th
Rob Parker, Marinelli-hating contrarian, ESPN:
“James, 25, can’t ever truly be considered the greatest player, on par with Michael Jordan. … But it will be hard for many to not think that James simply took the easy way out. Instead of fighting and working to build his own legacy and win by leading the way, James took the path of least resistance.” – Rob Parker, July 9th
Mike Wise, Washington Post columnist, on LeBron:
“Oh, and he can’t be Magic now. Or Bird. Or Michael. Or Isiah Thomas, Tim Duncan or Bill Russell or any other NBA supernova who stuck around long enough to win championships for a town and its people.” – Mike Wise, July 9th
All these media members, many of whom are prominent and write on large platforms, ripped LeBron James to shreds for his decision to join Wade and Bosh on the Heat. In four wins, LeBron James will have his first ring. If he and the Heat can pull it off, they will have made a lot of people look foolish. And those fools do not deserve to praise LeBron or the Heat after putting him down so badly in July, failing to realize what logic went into the decision, and how it was the right and honorable choice.Google+