Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Why Call It "Free" Agency?

Why shouldn't LeBron James play wherever he wants? If he can make more money in Cleveland than he can in Miami, more power to him, right? Why not sell his services and talents as a basketball force of nature to the highest bidder? This is the world in which we live. The Wide World of Sports. And Money.
Four years ago, King James left Cleveland, where he had played for the Cavaliers without winning any championships. He drew great ratings for sitting down with sportscaster Jim Gray and chatting about all the places where he might go to win many championships. After some thirty minutes of discussion, James arrived at his "decision." The Miami Heat was the team for him, and the folks in South Florida rejoiced. The basketball savior had arrived. In Cleveland, a city sports triumphs have conspicuously avoided for more than fifty years, fans were not so happy. Angry. Vindictive. Even vengeful. The rich, it seemed, were getting richer and Clevelanders were going to spend another half century waiting for the Indians or the Browns to come up with some way to bring a trophy home.
For four years, LeBron played his best for the fans in Miami. He helped his team win two NBA championships in what seemed like decisive fashion. Just like he said he would. But a funny thing happened this past year: the rest of the National Basketball Association kept playing even when it seemed as if the rest of the world was content with simply handing over the hardware to The Big Three, even though common practice is to put five players on the court for each team. That is precisely what the San Antonio Spurs did this season when they quite handily beat the Heat and those Big Three in five games. Suddenly, the Decision didn't seem too clever after all.
While San Antonio celebrated their championship, The King started making other plans. He had become a free agent, and it was time to pick a new place to go and win. The basketball world was suddenly in a tizzy once again, trying to anticipate where LeBron James would land. Like Oddyseus, James decided to return home not to Ithaca, but to Cleveland. Just like the Browns found their way back when the NFL felt a wave of sympathetic nostalgia and rewarded The Forest City a replacement franchise for the one that was taken from them by unscrupulous owners in 1995.
In 1995, LeBron James was eleven years old, a very impressionable age. It could be that it was during those formative years that he determined a path for himself in professional sports based on the model he was presented with by Art Modell. The Browns didn't really come back to Cleveland. They turned into the Ravens and they won a Super Bowl. Two of them. The New Browns have been to the playoffs, but still no championship. It's still Cleveland. Now LeBron James makes his triumphant return, pockets a little more full, and fans mostly forgiving. But not me. I'm still stuck trying to explain to kids who, at eleven years old, have decided to give up on school to play in the NBA. Just like LeBron. And that all worked out for him, didn't it?

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