Jun 12, 2012, 8:01 AM EDT
I did a national sports talk radio interview the other day and the first question asked was “is this really the good vs. evil finals?” It caught me a little off guard.
But they were not the first to ask it — it’s been a national story line for a while. The themes are simplistic and easy to grasp.
The Thunder are good because they built their team through the draft and picked up some smart free-agent role players. The Thunder are good because they are humble and Kevin Durant announced he was staying with the team on Twitter with no fanfare.
The Heat are evil because they “copped out” by joining forces as free agents to chase a title. The Heat are evil because LeBron James had an hour-long special on ESPN to announce his intentions, then they threw a huge pep rally in Miami for fans where LeBron said he was coming to town to win “not one, not two, not three…” all the way up to not seven championships.
That’s simplistic. And wrong. It’s a partial picture.
Why don’t we ask the people of Seattle how pure the Oklahoma City Thunder are. Others have said this more forcefully than I. Durant was drafted a Seattle SuperSonic, but thanks to inept politicians and an new owner in Clay Bennett who had no intention of keeping the team in Seattle, that fan base got screwed over. They lost their team.
What was Seattle’s big sin? The population refused to tax themselves to subsidize a billionaire with millions more for a new arena. The people of Oklahoma City — who have been a rabid and loyal fan base, one of the best in the league — voted to tax themselves to upgrade their arena to NBA levels for a team and to revitalize downtown. People tried to tell me on Twitter how this was just capitalism at work. No it’s not — public subsidies for an arena are the antithesis of capitalism — the private sector isn’t picking up the tab. You can decide for yourself if that tax money might have had a better use.
I think the people of Seattle did the noble and right thing and thought their tax dollars had higher uses. But sure, it’s the Heat who are evil.
If you’re going to argue that knowing how to play the system like OKC did to get a team is acceptable, then how is playing the system like Pat Riley did to build the Heat roster not acceptable? He took the huge risk to strip the roster down so he had cap room, he convinced three big stars all to take less money to play together and win — and isn’t that what we ask our stars to do? Don’t we want them to win more than get the largest paycheck? LeBron would be richer in Cleveland, but he wanted a ring more.
And spare me the “those three getting together is the easy way out” crap. Magic Johnson had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy — Kareem forced Milwaukee to trade him and the Lakers got the rights to draft Worthy in a deal so lopsided the league banned future ones like it. Larry Bird had Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen and some other quality players around him. Bill Russell had more Hall of Famers than you can count. Super teams are what win, and the NBA has always had them.
Meanwhile, the public hatred of LeBron James has become overblown. What was his big sin? Hubris. He (and his advisors) handled his exit from Cleveland and choice of a new home base poorly. The Heat’s pep rally for fans was a public relations mistake. That none of LeBron’s advisors saw what this was doing to his reputation speaks poorly of them.
But of all the problems we have with professional athletes, is having a really big ego the biggest one? One that deserves this level of backlash?
Baseball and football have guys on HGH and steroids. The NFL has a concussion issue, as does the NHL. There are guys in every major sport getting arrested for ugly crimes, blowing through their money living a rock star lifestyle that fans don’t relate to.
LeBron’s done none of that. He’s still with his high school girl, is by all accounts a good father, never been arrested or ended up the focus of a TMZ scandal. He’s not perfect, but his sins are not so severe as to warrant the backlash that has come his way.
And remember, with his first contract after his rookie deal, LeBron did what Durant did — he stayed in Cleveland. He left after that deal ended when he wanted the chance to win more than a bigger paycheck.
By the way, Durant and LeBron get along really well. They worked out together during the lockout. They will team up this summer to represent the USA in the London Olympics.
You don’t have to hate the Thunder. You certainly don’t have to love LeBron and the Heat. Root for the Thunder, hope the Heat fail. Pull for where your heart lies.
But you need to do better than the simplistic “good vs. evil” storyline. Because it just doesn’t work. It’s more complicated than that.
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