Relative to the events of the past week, three questions for Bruce on “who”, “what” and “why” we feel the way we do about these current sports topics.
PPM: Bruce, everyone asks why so many are still hating LeBron after winning the NBA title. Is there any question in your mind…that people are just tired of hearing about LeBron?
There’s no question people in Northeast Ohio are tired of hearing of LeBron’s success, but they’re definitely not weary of criticizing him for his exit from Cleveland and venturing what that says about him.
I’ll admit LeBron looked like he figured something out in the playoffs, rising to the occasion when his team needed him most. For Cleveland Cavaliers’ fans, that only deepens the disdain for LeBron, because he had that responsibility during his seven years with the Cavs and grew less comfortable with it the longer he played.
By definition, if LeBron gave more to the Heat in this championship effort, or if he grew as a player since his departure from the Cavs, it follows that he didn’t give Cleveland everything he had while he was there.
That’s a legitimate reason for Cavs fans to loathe him, because he essentially held out on them, or held back something from them, throughout his time there.
Let’s assume LeBron’s failure in last seasons’ finals against the Mavericks forced some revealing introspection that prompted him to raise his game, maybe intangibly, or perhaps tangibly, by adding some low-post moves.
Cavs’ fans have every right to resent that, because why couldn’t LeBron have learned those same lessons after getting swept by the Spurs in the NBA finals in 2007? Everyone told LeBron then that he needed a low-post game. Why didn’t he listen? Instead, he preferred to blame his supporting cast and continued to play the way he preferred, pounding the dribble and eating the shot clock until launching just before its expiration.
How many times did we see that dreadful occurrence in Cleveland?
Far, far too many.
Why don’t we see it now in Miami?
Because LeBron finally bent his stubborn will and demanded more of himself.
Good for him, but bad for us.
So don’t expect me to root for him now, or ever. As great as he was in Cleveland, he still cheated the franchise and its fans.
Those who want him back give James license to quit on them or short-change them again. That seed is in him, and it will always be in him, no matter how successfully he kept it from germinating in this year’s playoffs.
PPM: On the topic of the NBA, rank, in your opinion, where the league stands in terms of popularity with MLB, the NFL, and the NHL.
The NBA had astronomical ratings for the Heat-Thunder championship series, but ratings don’t prove its superiority to either the NFL or Major League Baseball. The NBA has a huge problem, given that a sizeable portion of its ardent fan base believes that significant portions of the league’s two most-important events are fixed.
Every year, no matter the result, the draft lottery endures widespread speculation that Commissioner David Stern stacks the deck toward whatever team he prefers obtain the No. 1 overall pick. That belief arose when New Orleans won the rights to grab Kentucky’s Anthony Davis, just as it did when the Knicks wound up with Patrick Ewing, the Cavaliers fell into drafting LeBron James and Kyrie Irving and the Bulls gained home-town stud Derrick Rose.
Stern contends that no matter how the lottery falls, conspiracy theorists will howl. He’s right, of course, because had Davis wound up in Brooklyn and its new arena, with Charlotte and owner Michael Jordan or in Cleveland to play with Irving, the result would have looked as fishy as going to New Orleans, which at the time still fell under the ownership of the NBA’s league office.
It doesn’t matter that the lottery you see on television is actually just a representation of a process played out in front of every participating team and a horde of media members. It doesn’t matter that Big Five accounting firm Ernst & Young sanctions the entire process.
Most people still believe the lottery is fixed, just like they believe Stern masterminds which teams will advance through the playoffs by regulating how officials call personal fouls in the post-season.
That belief traces to rogue referee Tim Donaghy and his admission that he bet on games, and his allegation that other referees do, as well.
Stern gets exorcised over the allegations his league is fixed, but no matter how passionate a case he makes, circumstances always seem to feed the conspiracies instead of debunking them.
Much of that traces to the difficulty of officiating NBA basketball, which is the most – new word alert – “unofficiatiable” sport going. Much like the NFL, where holding could be called on any play, an NBA official could call a foul on every play, but on either the offensive or defensive player on every play. That official could also reasonably end any offensive possession with a traveling, double-dribble, illegal screen or three-second call.
Officials can’t call too many fouls, and they can’t call too few, and they can’t call an imbalance of fouls or the outcome seems pre-determined.
And if they try to keep track of fouls and even out the totals, that leads to make-up calls which are clearly bogus and lend legitimacy to the theory that NBA officiating is fixed.
PPM: A recent writer to PPM was highly critical of the site for its lack of coverage on soccer. Given that the European championships are in full swing, and that MLS is selling lots of tickets in places like Columbus, will soccer ever become the #1 sport in America, as this writer claimed?
Let’s see, when did I first hear the ol’ soccer-will-be-king argument? I think it was when the Columbus Magic were playing the “beautiful game” on the Astroturf pitch of Cooper Stadium in 1979.
I attended one Magic home game; watched all 90 minutes of action, then some mysterious additional stoppage time for which there was no running clock on the scoreboard, and trudged out of there wondering what I was missing from the 0-0 final?
And then it hit me, I was missing the entertainment value…BECAUSE THERE WAS NONE!
I’m not a soccer hater. I’m a “Soccer Fan” hater. Why? Because “Soccer Fan” can’t just love his sport; he loves it so much that he has to insult me as an unsophisticated boob if I don’t love it as much as he does.
No other sport does this. If you love the NFL, MLB or the NBA, you don’t begrudge NHL Guy his devotion to all things hockey. Whatever works for him is fine. NFL Guy can love the pros and College Football Guy can love the undergrads and they peacefully coexist. But it isn’t enough for Soccer Guy that he gets all the nuances of the sport. I have to embrace them, too. And if I don’t, he’ll lecture me about my limited understanding and how I’m not smart enough to grasp what makes soccer so special.
Good for you, Soccer Guy. You can have your blaring vuvuzelas, yellow cards and penalty kicks. Enjoy your stars prat-falling and diving as if they’ve been felled by a deer rifle at 10 paces.
Just do me a favor and spare me the recruiting speech. I don’t need to be convinced your game is something that will make the air fresher and the sun warmer if only I devote myself to understanding it.
I’m quite happy here in my blissful ignorance that football isn’t spelled, futbol.
Maybe you’re right. Maybe soccer will take over America. But it seems to me that little kids have been playing it for the better part of 25 years and it still hasn’t taken this country by storm.
My daughters play it and I enjoy watching them, but I doubt they will grow up devoted fans of the sport professionally, because that just hasn’t happened in this country over the past quarter-century.
Major League Soccer remains a niche sport, unable to attain the popularity here that professional soccer enjoyed in the late 1970s when the New York Cosmos were packing 50,000-seat stadiums with Pele, Georgio Chinalia and Franz Beckenbauer.
If Soccer Guy is right and his sport eventually dominates the professional sports landscape here, I’ll be happy to congratulate him.
I just hope he waits to tell me until halftime of whatever football or basketball game I’m watching.
Bruce Hooley is a former sports editor of the Troy Daily News and the author of “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”
Bruce hosts The Hooligans from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR in Cleveland. Email Bruce firstname.lastname@example.org Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz