Why I hope LeBron fails



While the rest of the world was avidly following one of the best World Cups in years, the American sports world was focused on LeBron James, one of the most overrated basketball players in years

Would he remain in Cleveland? Would he move to Miami? Would he sign with the Bulls? Would he accidentally fill out a contest entry form at a Simon Mall and end up under contract to the Pacers? The media was full of talk about this all week long.

Me, I was watching the World Cup. The winning-ugly strategy of the Netherlands overcoming the grace of Brazil; the Germans struggle against Spain; the sound of the vuvuzelas; that was my passion.

But I couldn't help but pay at least passing attention to the LeBron saga, which to me represents the worst aspects of American sports. Certainly there is greed, narcissism and self-aggrandizing in soccer and other world sports.

But only in America is avarice and shameless self-interest celebrated and commercialized to such an extent. James' move to Miami had nothing to do with a principled change of scenery or even an opportunity to win a championship title.

It was all about LeBron's ego and his desire to stay at the center of attention despite having lost every big game he's ever faced in his career. It was about endorsements, being the number one story on SportsCenter and, of course, money.

As crazy as Ron Artest is, he has more championship rings than LeBron. So does Rasheed Wallace, Tim Duncan and countless other players. James took a mediocre Cleveland team to the brink of success -- and then choked, over and over again, all throughout his career.

And now we're supposed to praise him because he's moving to a bigger media market and a better team? No thanks.

Reggie Miller never won any championships, either. But he displayed integrity and class by sticking with the Indiana Pacers even after the Knicks offered him more money. Indiana was good to him and he reciprocated that affection by bringing the state more basketball excitement than it had seen in decades.

The NBA's best days are behind it, not ahead of it. Since the day Michael Jordan retired, it's been nothing but declining ratings and decreased public interest in pro basketball. No amount of promotion or marketing can undo the league's reputation for selfishness among its players and unbridled greed among its teams' owners.

Success in the NBA seems to be defined more by how many mansions and luxury cars its top players have than by teamwork and victories. That doesn't augur well for the game's future.

When NASCAR increased its popularity in the 1990s, it was because its top performers went out of their way to be as down-to-earth and approachable as possible, signing autographs for hours and seeming like average guys.

This whole LeBron saga may be a tipping point of sorts. It may have been the beginning of the end of the celebration of excess in American sports. Our major sports long ago priced the average person out of buying tickets and may well alienate them from following teams on TV as well.

Basketball, and to a lesser extent, NFL football, have ceased to be team sports in a literal sense. They've become one or two superstars surrounded by anonymous role players, playing in billion-dollar arenas where the best tickets cost thousands of dollars.

In contrast, high school basketball and football teams operate largely with strict concepts of teamwork and sportsmanship -- and the games are played in our local communities. They dominated our collective attention until the advent of television in the 1950s. I could see them making a comeback.

Which brings me back to European soccer. The World Cup showed the planet that teamwork and selflessness are virtues to be rewarded. France, the one team filled with ball-hogging superstars with bad attitudes, left the tournament in disgrace, having been beaten by lesser opponents who happened to have bigger hearts.

All throughout Europe, even as the largest and most successful soccer teams fill their arenas, smaller towns with loyal fans still thrive. England alone has four major leagues; Germany, France and Spain two.

World-famous teams like Manchester United and Barcelona compete at the same time as tiny squads such as Scunthorpe and Tenerife. The concept of sporting events as sources of local, not national, pride has not died there.

So I hope LeBron and his mercenary teammates fall flat on their faces. More than that, I hope people tune out and stop caring. It might produce a shock to the system and bring a much-desired end to the era of destructive egotism in American sports, something which would only benefit the rest of us.


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