LeBron Proves You CAN Go Home Again.

I’m back. Get it?

It’s a good thing for both LeBron James personally and for the city of Cleveland specifically that after a bitter four-year estrangement, he’s coming back to the Cavaliers to try to finish what he started. It’s an even better thing for those of whom live in Ohio where this whole “is he or isn’t he” scenario has played out in real-time.

The way James handled The Return beat the hell out of the public relations fiasco that was The Decision. Everything about The Decision was overstated, overblown and a barely concealed flipping the middle finger to Northeast Ohio where James toiled seven years carrying a Cavaliers team mostly devoid of talent. Bitter feelings and bad karma abounded on both sides though Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert carried it too far with a poison pen letter soaked in Haterade that could be found on the team’s website as recently as a week ago.

“I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER ‘KING’ WINS ONE

You can take it to the bank.

Not one of Gilbert’s non-James teams finished above .500. The bank stayed closed.

That letter has since been scrubbed from the Cavaliers website, but the Internet never forgets no matter how much Gilbert wishes it would.

LeBron’s words to Sports Illustrated (and quite noticeably not ESPN) were far more gracious in showing the grace, class and maturity he had developed in four years that were missing in Gilbert’s published temper tantrum.    If you haven’t read it you definitely should.   It’s pretty damned impressive reading.

I’m not having a press conference or a party. After this, it’s time to get to work.

When I left Cleveland, I was on a mission. I was seeking championships, and we won two. But Miami already knew that feeling. Our city hasn’t had that feeling in a long, long, long time. My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.

I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn’t know when. After the season, free agency wasn’t even a thought. But I have two boys and my wife, Savannah, is pregnant with a girl. I started thinking about what it would be like to raise my family in my hometown. I looked at other teams, but I wasn’t going to leave Miami for anywhere except Cleveland. The more time passed, the more it felt right. This is what makes me happy.

To make the move I needed the support of my wife and my mom, who can be very tough. The letter from Dan Gilbert, the booing of the Cleveland fans, the jerseys being burned — seeing all that was hard for them. My emotions were more mixed. It was easy to say, “OK, I don’t want to deal with these people ever again.” But then you think about the other side. What if I were a kid who looked up to an athlete, and that athlete made me want to do better in my own life, and then he left? How would I react? I’ve met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man. We’ve talked it out. Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?

Michael Wilbon, who is from Chicago, said it well when he noted James has “Midwestern values” and he honestly LIKES living in Northern Ohio. James could live anywhere  on the planet. What’s so terrible about going back home?

When LeBron left four years ago and more importantly, HOW he left was awkward, clumsy and a hot mess of hype, bad juju and ugliness. He went out like a punk. I called him “LeGone” and meant every word of the contemptuous vitriol I spat his way.

But a funny thing happened over the last four years. My harsh feelings toward James disappeared. How he played on the court with the Heat and how he lived his life off the court with his family won me over. We never hear about James getting in trouble, being busted for drugs, shooting up strip clubs at 2:00 am, banging women coast to coast and dropping’ Little LeBrons all over the U.S.A. From all appearances, James is a solid, stable Family Guy who stays out of the headlines with all the usual non-sports related shenanigans.

Will the second time around be just dust in the wind for James?

As regards Dan Gilbert goes he was a total a-hole the way he handled LeBron taking his talents to South Beach. He spewed contempt for his lone superstar. But for all his bluster, Gilbert had to know how screwed he really was once James left town. He said they would win a championship before James did but it didn’t quite turn out that way.

Check the Cavs record since the ’09-10 season.

09-10: 61-21 (James’ last year in Cleveland)
10-11: 19-63
11-12: 21-45 (lockout shortened season)
12-13: 33-49

If you were Dan Gilbert wouldn’t you pretty much kiss LeBron’s ass to get him back?

Dwayne Wade weighed in with his own thoughts on his former teammate’s return to the Buckeye State:

As a friend and a teammate, I am sad to see my brother LeBron leave to begin a new journey. In 2010, we decided to come together all for one goal — to win championships and we succeeded. We were friends when we first joined the league and created an unbreakable bond the past four years. Our collaboration will always be very special to me both personally and professionally. We shared something unique and he will always be part of my family. LeBron made the right decision for him and his family because home is where your heart is. I know this was not an easy decision to make and I support him in returning to his roots. As an organization, a community, and as individuals, we achieved the goals we set when we first signed on together. We are champions.

Washington Wizards v/s Miami Heat December 18,...

King James and D-Wade say goodbye to all that.

Classy, but then the Miami Heat is a class organization as other well wishes to Lebron from team owner Micky Arison and general manager Pat Riley have echoed Wade’s sentiments. When James returns to Miami in the future he knows he will hear the boos of the disappointed fans, but they will likely be drowned out by the applause of the grateful ones remembering the four consecutive championship appearances and two wins King James led the Heat to.

If Wade is ready to move on, why should I hate on LeBron for coming home to take care of unfinished business? Sure he may never win a championship with the Cavaliers, but it won’t be because he didn’t come back to try.

There are plenty of unlikable owners who own great teams. I am not going to boo the Cavs because their boss is a jerkwad. Plenty of us have worked for bosses who were bastards, but we did the job and cashed the check anyway. Why should we hold James to a higher standard then we do ourselves?

Let’s be honest here. James did what he thought was best for him and his family.  I know there are “fans” who honestly believe LeBron should have put their needs ahead of his own.   They need to set the alarm clock and wake the hell up.

Welcome Home King James.   Now can I get back to focusing on NFL football camps opening Friday?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s the “Return of the King.” You got a problem with that?

 

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The Brave One

michael-sam-brandon wade_AP

Michael Sam (photo: Brandon Wade/AP)

So we’ve got an openly gay man that wants to play in the NFL?  And he’s good enough to deserve a shot?  What’s the problem?

Michael Sam came out publicly on Sunday, likely setting himself to become the first openly gay player in the National Football League. And then a group of league executives reminded everyone why such an announcement probably didn’t happen sooner.

Speaking anonymously to Sports Illustrated, the executives said that the All-American defensive end from Missouri probably hurt his draft stock with his announcement.

“I don’t think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet,” an NFL player personnel assistant told SI. “In the coming decade or two, it’s going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it’s still a man’s-man game. To call somebody a [gay slur] is still so commonplace. It’d chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.”

One longtime NFL scout said there’s “no question” the announcement will make teams less apt to select Sam in April’s draft.

An assistant personnel director said it will take “one confident general manager or head coach” with firm job security to take Sam.

Or at least a general manager or coach confident enough to go on record and declare, “I don’t care if he’s gay.  I care if he can help us win!”

I can’t remember the name of the player but a few seasons ago there was a guy the Tennessee Titans drafted who was supposedly “too cerebral” for the NFL.   This is a league that drafts guys with criminal records, “off the field” issues, disciplinary problems and drug dependencies.  This is a league that has guys who have committed crimes including drug dealing, gang affiliations, DUI’s, and a couple of murder raps (Aaron Hernandez, Rae Carruth, Jovan Belcher, O.J. Simpson, Ray Lewis(?).

Open the door, NFL or I'll kick it in."

Open the door, NFL or I’ll kick it in.”

The NFL makes all the right noises about being diverse and inclusive, but in all the ways that counts it’s no different from the days when Reggie White was saying he never played with a gay teammate.  Which of course is a crock.  White always played with gay players.  He just didn’t know they were gay and for Sam there is still a lot of  White’s homophobic ignorance in the NFL.

But this is no longer White’s NFL and in this case that is a good thing.

Maybe because of his size, Sam will have to play as a linebacker instead of a defensive end, but he’s got the credentials that say he should be able to play on Sundays as well as he did on Saturdays.

Sam never hid his sexual orientation at Missouri and from what is being reported, he went public with it before someone else did.  Let’s be real here.  College and pro football is like ham and eggs.   There are coaches in college whom are friends with coaches in the pros and they talk.   Does anyone really think they don’t talk about the players on their teams who might be gay or are?

There will be proclamations of how wonderful this is for gay rights and how far we’ve come as a country and my, look how progressive and enlightened we are!  Which is why in 2014 an openly gay football player is the lead story on programs that don’t do football stories, right?   Let us not be naive.  Homophobia and gay-baiting/bashing won’t be ended in a NFL team’s locker room anymore than it has in Vladimir Putin’s Olympic games.

Sure Michael Sam will be called names and subject to gay-baiting.  So what?  What rookie isn’t given a hard time? What Sam will go through will be a bit different sort of hassle.  As long as he makes plays on the open field that will matter far more than what he does behind closed doors.

I don’t concern myself with the sex lives of grown-ups as long as its only with grown-ups in their sex lives.   If Joe Montana and Jerry Rice turned out to be secret lovers on the down-low creep it wouldn’t lessen one bit the joy I received from all those victories they racked up.

We will see who’s brave enough to get past the ignorance on Draft Day.  The NFL is on the clock.

It will be a great day when the NFL is troubled less by players who kiss men than players who have killed men.

Coming to sack a QB near you next season?

Coming to sack a QB near you next season?

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Mike Tyson: First comes rage and then redemption?

The Baddest Man on the Planet in hs raging bull days

 

Has there ever been an athlete who burned as brightly and flamed out as spectacularly as Mike Tyson?  The former  “Baddest Man in the World” tore through two marriages and $400 million, fathered seven children with four women,  spent three years in prison for rape and did another 3 1/2 months for beating up two people following a traffic accident, recently lost his four-year daughter, Exodus in a tragic accident,  and has just generally been the poster boy for waste, excess, selfishness and self-destructive behavior.  

As the saying goes, look up “disaster” in the dictionary and you’ll find a picture of Mike Tyson.  Most likely with a chunk of Evander Holyfield’s ear hanging from his mouth. 

So when this week’s edition of Sports Illustrated landed on the coffee table with their annual “Where Are They Now” stories, I was unpleasantly surprised to see a cover teaser  reading “MIKE TYSON—NO JOKE:  HE’S A NEW MAN.” 

I thought,  No shit?  Good.  Because the old man was an asshole. 

I’m sure the editors of Sports Illustrated were sorely tempted to put Tyson on the cover instead of an old photo of baseball star Stan “The Man” Musial.    I’m also sure they were scared nobody would buy it and some subscribers would simply chuck the magazine in the trash saying, “Oh God, not HIM again.  How is it this thug isn’t dead or in jail.” 

But surprise, surprise.   When I read Pablo S. Torre’s story I first found my interest piqued.    The more I read the more engrossed I became.   By the time I finished I concluded it was one of the powerful and compelling pieces of writing I had read this year and in many years before.   After the  multiple black eyes sports journalism has been hammered by with ESPN’s slavish fawning LeBron James dog-and-pony show and jerk wads like Jason Whitlock bumping their gums about crap, it was a pleasant surprise to read such a sharp and savvy article about one of the world’s best known and least sympathetic figures. 

Before he went vegan, Tyson was truly a heavyweight.

 

Even if you only buy Sports Illustrated during football season or just the swimsuit issue (ya perv) this issue is well worth paying for (or stealing if you’re a thief).  If you’re broke as a joke go read it at a library.   “Borrow” a friend’s copy and forget to give it back until you’re finished reading.   Do this now.  Trust me on this. 

There’s outtakes from the interview on SI.com, so you can get a small flavor of how deep down the rabbit hole it goes  including how Tyson, who had ballooned to over 330 pounds dropped over 100 of them to get down to a  fighting weight of  220  because as he says,  “I don’t want to be grotesque about it, but when you’re 330 pounds it’s hard to wipe your ass.”     

Mike may have cleaned up his act a lot but he’ can still serve it up real raw at times.   

Who can say if Tyson has really changed his evil ways or this is just a temporary visit to sobriety before falling back into his bad habits of violence, drugs, and dumb stuff?   If  the past is prologue, then the odds aren’t in Iron Mike’s favor.   But I found myself pulling for him just a bit more when I read this story he related to Torre. 

In 1989, three years after becoming the youngest heavyweight champion ever, at age 20, Tyson accepted an honorary doctorate from Central State University, a historically black college in Wilberforce, Ohio.  “I got there and, and all these girls are happy to see me, ” Tyson recalls.  “I’m having a ball;  I think I’m somebody.”  So atop the daïs the next day, he devised a punch line:  “I don’t know what kind of doctor I am,” Tyson proclaimed, “but from the look of all these pretty black sisters, I hope I’m a gynecologist.” 

Back then, at least some people laughed.  Today, however, there is dead silence in the room, finally broken by Tyson’s rasp.  “Two years ago,” he says, “I talked to some people about my mother.   And I learned that she went to school right down the street from [Central State].”  His voice grows louder.  “And I was down there and said some stupid, dumb ignorant shit like that.  My family waited to get a motherfucker like me”–even louder now—“and I embarrassed 500  years of our family!  As they waited for me to get there!  To say something for them!  And I embarrassed them! ”  Tears are welling in Mike’s eyes when Kiki (Tyson’s wife) interjects, “They were proud!   You were a kid, honey!”  

“Baby,” Tyson says, “No.  That was a real bad one.   No excuse…My mother and her family thought that education made them somebody.   I could have said something awesome!  I could have explained how my mother went to school.   But the first thing I thought about was my dick.”  He pauses.  “If I didn’t have a dick,” he quips, exasperated, “I could’ve run for president or something.” 

I sincerely doubt there has ever existed an alternate reality where Mike Tyson could be the President of the United States and I have serious doubts  whether the redemption Tyson seems to have found is lasting or written in sand to be washed away with the next debacle.   I do know that all with a hard fall comes painful wisdom and no one has fallen as far and harder than the former Baddest Man on the Planet.    

Then again, it doesn’t matter how far you fall as long as you can find the strength to rise again.

The Doctor is down, but not out.

Get Well, Dr. Z.

Get Well, Dr. Z.

Every day that goes by seems to provide yet another reason why journalism would be one of the very last careers I would suggest to a young person.   Newspapers are either laying off,  filing for bankruptcy or going out of business.  Magazines are shrinking down in size, dumbing down in content or just disappearing entirely.   There never was any money in journalism, but at least there was a little security.   Now even that’s gone.  

What’s left?  No money.  Not a lot of respect.  Maybe not even much of a future.

What’s left are the reasons newspapers and magazines beat the hell out of cable news, the Internet and yes, blogs, dear readers.    The best writers aren’t bloggers or talking heads on CNN, MSNBC  or Faux News.   

The best writers are real journalists.  Trained  in journalism schools and born and bred on the inverted pyramid (Who, What, When, and Why) and The Elements of Style.

I feel sorry for anyone who loves sports and thinks sports journalism means ESPN or their dorky yak-fests like Mike and Mike in the Morning, Around the Horn and Pardon the Interruption.    That’s not journalism.   That’s The View with more testosterone and less bitchiness.

If you think the news has been overrun by amateurs and hacks who have no business being given a public outlet for their asinine opinions and observations (I’m looking at you, Sean Hannity and Faux News),  get a whiff of some of the crap that rolls out of the mouths of the “experts” that appear on  Sportscenter and other ESPN programming.

It takes a sportswriter to make sports journalism special and nobody writes about pro football with the passion, the humor and the total absence of bullshit as Paul “Dr. Z.” Zimmerman, a senior writer who covers the NFL for  Sports Illustrated.

You have to understand that for a media junkie, guys like Zimmerman are as vital to the enjoyment of pro football as the games themselves.   Any idiot can sit in front of a microphone and tell you who won and who lost.   It takes a real writer to make you care why and how they won or lost.

Zimmerman recently suffered two strokes and has lost the abilty to walk or speak.   He will be starting rehabilitation soon. 

There are a few writers who can make me laugh out loud and Zimmerman is among those few.   Like me, he’s a fan of the San Francisco 49ers during their non-sucking seasons when Joe Montana, Bill Walsh, Ronnie Lott and Eddie DeBartolo were the guidling lights to the team’s glory days. 

Unfortunately,  Sports Illustrated isn’t immune to the layoffs that are ravaging journalism.  As part of the TimeWarner media conglomerate, SI has had to take its share of cuts among the 600 staffers that have been slated to be dumped from the magazine division.   There are reports that Zimmerman, whose contributions to the magazine have been primarily limited for several years now to the online edition and NFL preview issue was scheduled to be forced into retirement or let go entirely. 

Peter King,  Zimmerman’s colleage at SI recently wrote a column hailing Dr. Z as “The Best Football Writer of Our Time”

Is a title like that  hype?  Not as far as I’m concerned.   Dr. Z doesn’t do basketball, baseball, boxing, golf or any of those other second-rater sports.   He’s a football guy all the way and a NFL football guy  no less.  

If I can have a career in journalism half as prolific, talented and memorable as Paul Zimmerman’s it will have been a wildly successful one. 

Get well, Dr. Z.    A NFL season without your thoughts about it isn’t much of a season at all.     I know what we’re missing.   It’s a damn shame more sports fans don’t.