Kudos to Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert for showing some balls and standing up for his team, the fans, the game of basketball and the sports industry overall. Finally, someone in a position of power put a spotlight on the increasingly offensive and unprofessional behavior of professional athletes. It's been long overdue.
Go ahead, call me an old man at 50, but I remember the days when fans were awed and inspired by athletes. When we shared their sense of pride and love of whatever game they played. They were heroes back then, not grandstanding, foul-mouthed, steroid-addicted, immature, over-paid ego-maniacs. Outside of the rare scandal (remember the salacious Mike Kekich/Fritz Peterson wife swap of the '73 Yankees?), ballplayers played the game with respect, integrity, a sense of responsibility and team loyalty.
Fault not Lebron James for leaving his beloved Ohio for the constant sun, fake boobs, low taxes and potential NBA championship in Miami. Basketball today, like all sports, is big business...and he's a 25-year-old red-blooded American male who, along with his pals and new teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, is gonna tear up that town and save an extra $10-million. Can ya blame him? But we can put James on our eternal shit-list for how he handled his departure from the only burg he's known, and which gave him his start and his eventual throne as King James.
Lebron didn't even have the decency to provide advance notice to Gilbert. Instead, as the angry owner wrote in a scathing, well-earned public excoriation of his former star, James staged a "narcissistic" ESPN circus--complete with his own paid interviewer, Jim Gray--and literally left Gilbert to find out about Lebron's decision at the same time as I did. And I did absolutely nothing for the King these past seven years.
So yes, thank you Dan Gilbert, for calling James out on his self-aggrandizing, time-wasting slap in the face of Cleveland and sports fans everywhere. Thank you for feeling such visceral disgust that you felt compelled to write your open letter to your heartbroken fans in which you branded James as shameful, selfish and cowardly.
But I'd like to take Gilbert's rant a step further. Personally, I'm sick of all the showboating, arrogance and low-class behavior of athletes in general. I want football players to stop dancing like MC Hammer every time they score a touchdown. I want basketball players to stop angrily screaming "muthafucka" and looking like they could kill someone whenever they block a shot or dunk the ball (are you listening, Kevin Garnett et al?). I want athletes to stop jumping in the stands to fight with fans. I want them to stop juicing themselves to the point of physical absurdity. Is that too much to ask?
In the wake of the NBA's free-agent frenzy, Lebron's behavior just gave folks like me religion; a reason to devoutly root for the Heat's colossal failure. As a die-hard Knicks fan, I congratulate Miami for taking over the top spot from Boston on the teams-I-hate list. As for Lebron, he'll go to Miami, he'll make gazillions, and he may, just may--if he, Wade and Bosh can check their egos and shooting obsessions at the door--win an NBA title someday. But what he lost last week he will never get back: respect and adulation from the fans.
As actor, fellow Knicks fanatic and NY Post guest columnist Matthew Modine put it Saturday, "F--k Lebron James." Amen.